La Jolla watercolor artist wins regional contest

La Jolla resident Marion Mettler in her Bird Rock studio
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

“ ‘Seated No. 6’ has total emotional impact at first viewing,” reads the jurors’ comments about La Jolla resident Marion Mettler’s submission to the Western Federation of Watercolor Societies (WFWS) upcoming show.

“There’s wonderful design, shape, color, line, and impact — it’s very entertaining. It uses all of the tools in our toolbox to make great compositions. It’s abstract but, on closer inspection, you find that there are figures. It’s not non-objective — it’s truly abstract. There are alternating warm and cool colors. The spot of yellow is repeated just enough to keep us moving through the painting.”

Mettler’s “Seated No. 6” was selected as Best of Show at the upcoming WFWS annual exhibition, which is held once every decade in San Diego. This year, it will be on display in the month of May at the San Diego Watercolor Society, 2825 Dewey Road in Liberty Station. A reception will be 5-9 p.m. Friday, May 2 as part of the Friday Night Liberty walk-through.

‘Seated No. 6’ by La Jolla artist Marion Mettler Courtesy

The WFWS is comprised of 10 watercolor societies west of the Mississippi — among them San Diego, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico — which rotate hosting the annual show. San Diego Watercolor Society communications director Stephanie Van de Wetering said it’s “a really big deal” to have the exhibition here this year. The submissions are judged “blind” (jurors don’t know who produced the works or where they reside), and San Diego Watercolor Society members won many of the top honors this year — including Mettler’s Best of Show.

“I was shocked and surprised to win Best of Show; it’s an honor and unusual thing to achieve,” Mettler told La Jolla Light. “I was delighted.”

Calling the San Diego Watercolor Society “a nice home,” Mettler said she’s been a member for years, dedicating more and more of her time to art once she retired from the publishing world.

“I do a lot of figure drawing, so these days, my watercolor works stem from the drawings I’ve done. I was a 12-year member of a group called the Fig Group, short for figure drawing group, which recently ended, so I’m going to the San Diego Watercolor Society’s drawing session most Thursdays, and that gives me a change to draw my figures. I use that material. I often do drawings on a kind of translucent paper and if I draw on that, I can put it over something else. I use pages from old books and pages as background.” From there, Mettler watercolor paints over the whole thing.

Of her Best of Show piece, she said: “Seated No. 6 is a recent work with two figures put together to make one piece.”

Van de Wetering opined: “(Mettler) brings collages and watercolors together. In her work, there is an abstracted figure, but she doesn’t fill in all the blanks; she allows you, the viewer, to bring your own understanding to it. It’s a balance.”

She added that the watercolor medium presents its own challenges — creatively and technically — which many artists enjoy.

“If you paint in oil, which is a classic thing to do, and make a mistake, you can cover it with white, or wipe it off and start over. There are canvases where experts have done X-rays and found layers underneath, so oil is an additive medium. Watercolor, not so much. In fact, not at all,” Van de Wetering said. “The only white you have is the white of the paper, so you have to preserve your whites and be extremely mindful as you’re painting because you can never get them back. At the same time, you have to let watercolor do its own thing. You can never recreate the same watercolor twice.”

In addition to monthly showcases of member works, the San Diego Watercolor Society also offers workshops, three levels of classes, a permanent collection from top watercolor artists, an international show in October (which is open to anyone in the world, not just members), a plein air show in December, a library of resources for members, a small gift shop,and more.

IF YOU GO: For this show only, the San Diego Watercolor Society, 2825 Dewey Road in Liberty Station, will be open from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Admission is free. (619) 876-4550.