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Watercolors shine at new La Jolla Library exhibit

‘Three pandas’ by Joseph Chen
‘Three pandas’ by Joseph Chen
(Will Bowen)

Some think of watercolor painting as being “watered down”— a soft, bland, pale, childlike, minor art form, lacking the drama, intensity, detail, boldness and challenge of oils or acrylics. This notion is proven quite wrong at the new show at the La Jolla Library Art Gallery, which has the long title: “Past and Prologue: A Retrospective of the Works of Suzanne Geller and Georgeanna Lipe with Current Works by the San Diego Watercolor Society.”

In this show, we see clearly that watercolor can be a richly colorful and detailed visual surprise with an emotional depth alluring you into the complexity of the painting and the life it portrays.

The exhibit began when La Jolla resident Jackie Newman approached library art committee chief Patricia Jasper Clark with the idea of honoring her late mother, Susan Geller, a longtime community leader and artist, and her mother’s colleague, Georgeanna Lipe, who for many years had a gallery on Girard Avenue.

Arlene Powers and Patricia Jasper Clark of the library art committee
Arlene Powers and Patricia Jasper Clark of the library art committee
(Will Bowen)
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The art committee liked the idea and embellished it by bringing in some contemporary artists from The San Diego Watercolor Society, which Geller and Lipe had been members of. The show ended up consisting of a number of historical paintings by Geller and Lipe, plus contemporary works by society members Ralph Kingery, Beverly Tuzin, J.W. Buscher, Joseph (Keming) Chen and Cherry Roper. Here’s some background:

Kingery joined the Peace Corps when he was a young man and went to Somalia as a teacher. In Somalia, he said he felt safe because of the U.S. military presence and happy in his work because his students were so motivated.

However, when he returned to the California to continue his teaching career, he experienced disappointment in the educational system and switched careers to environmental planning. After many years of working in Arizona, his job brought him to San Diego, where, after retirement, he took up painting.

“I like to paint nature and urban areas, focusing on shapes and colors,” Kingery said. “I am also trying to open up my appreciation for abstract art. Art is fun for me and I like to sell my work. But what I really hope to do is to teach people to look at and appreciate the world around them. I’ve observed that many people have let their minds go dead and they have no interest in the wonders and mystery of the world. I hope to wake their interest through my artwork.”

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Tuzin, who has been a member of the watercolor society for two-and-a-half years, likes to paint portraits. She has two in the show that are quite striking. One is of an African-American woman who has something to say, another is of an older man with a beard and a hat (who may be a fisherman) looking down at an object of interest,

“I like to do portraits,” Turzin said. “For me, it is a challenge to try and capture the personality or the character of the person I am painting. I don’t want my paintings to be just like a photograph. I want to convey something of the essence of the person.”

Buscher considers himself to be more of a graphic artist or illustrator than a painter. He started in art by winning a T-shirt logo contest for the Ocean Beach Chili Cook Off. “I didn’t really know what I was doing. But somehow I won, and the prize money was $300, which was a lot of money in those days,” Buscher said.

The Ocean Beach resident likes to paint landmarks, including the OB Pier, The Black (a head shop), and Ortega’s Restaurant. “I try to paint things that people want to buy — like keepsakes or memories of their neighborhood. My long-term goal is to enter more contests, gain recognition, and evolve as an artist.”

Chen was born on the southeast China coast. When he was a boy his family fled to Taiwan to avoid the communist takeover. He came to the states in the 1970s to pursue a master’s degree at State University of New York, where he studied electrical engineering. For many years he worked at a cable television company. Two years ago, he retired and began to paint 10 hours a day.

“Painting is my hobby,” said Chen. “It is for fun. I do watercolors because I don’t like the smell of oil paints.”

Chen is not sure how good an artist he is, but for the last two years he won first place in watercolors at the Del Mar Fair. In many of his highly detailed colorful paintings you can see sparks of greatness. It’s as if he has transcended the limitations of his medium. His animals, such as pandas and dogs, and his portraits of people are simply astonishing. It’s hard to believe they are watercolors. He has two paintings in the show, a landscape from Balboa Park and one of La Jolla Cove.

Roper likes to paint flowers. She has two paintings of roses in the show that warrant close inspection. Although she worked as an accountant, she found her passion in painting. “I like to paint what I think is beautiful, and I strive to capture the light and color differentiation,” Roper said. “Painting was first a hobby and then it became an obsession! Painting makes me feel so much more alive, creative and expressive.”

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Adam Hostomsky, who teaches piano at La Jolla Music, provided the entertainment at the opening reception on Jan. 16. Hostomsky said he was born in Prague, escaped the Iron Curtain with his mother and sister through Yugoslavia in 1987, and the family was later joined by his father, an exchange student at Cal Tech.

Hostomsky attended Torrey Pines Elementary and La Jolla High Schools before earning a B.A. in chemistry from UC Santa Barbara. He then went on to Cal Arts here he earned an MFA in piano performance. During the reception, Hostomsky improvised and played everything from Joplin to Chopin, much to everyone’s delight.

The watercolor show is on view during library hours until Feb. 7.


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