Watercolorist Deborah Conn celebrates inner resilience and strength through luminous, large-scale portraits of women in “A Sense of Herself,” on view at The Art League gallery, May 9–June 3, 2018.
Conn presents viewers with a distinctly beautiful group of women, yet these portraits are far from passive. The confident, direct gazes of the sitters propose a tête-à-tête with viewers, as artwork and observer contemplate each other. Accompanying text passages offer a deeper glimpse into the lives of the models, from a woman who escaped an arranged marriage, to a woman who moved from Sierra Leone and became a successsful business owner.
The faces Conn portrays are unique landscapes. She creates an intriguing textured surface by coating the watercolor paper with tissue paper, glue, and gesso. Layering strokes and drips of watercolor and glazes results in an effect reminiscent of veined stone. Thanks to the paper’s uneven terrain, “The paint gathers in the nooks and crannies. There’s an interplay between what the paint wants and what the painter wants,” Conn stated. The painting’s marbled surfaces also evoke the whorls and ridges of a fingerprint—befitting for portraits that showcase both the uniqueness of the sitter and the distinct hand of the artist who crafted them. Her color palette is gentle, washed with lustrous shades of sapphire and earthy terracotta, yet Conn delights in abstracting the faces with fanciful skin tones, seen in the evergreen complexions of Shelia and Ellalyne.
“A Sense of Herself” coincides with the recent swell in the women’s movement, a coincidence that Conn, a vocal supporter of women’s rights, finds serendipitous. “Art creates an emotional connection with the viewer. It can give us the strength to say things like ‘me too’ or ‘time’s up,’” Conn remarked. She hopes that viewers will leave her exhibit feeling more connected to their own sense of self, buoyed by the confident faces and the remarkable stories represented in her show.