The Way of Watercolors: Lena Reznik's “Morning Model” and Ali Cavanaugh's “Why? What?”
By Camryn King, winter 2023 intern
This season at the Marietta Cobb Museum of Art, there is an inspiring selection from the permanent collection on exhibit alongside Michael Heffernan’s solo exhibition, Wayfinding: The Synthesis of Poetic and Visual Language. Included among the standout pieces in this display of the permanent collection are paintings by Lena Reznik and Ali Cavanaugh. These artists use watercolors to evoke emotion in their subjects and, in turn, the viewers. The techniques and effects of Reznik’s Morning Model (2016) and Cavanaugh’s Why? What? (2015) are perfect examples for exploring the use of watercolors in fine art.
Lena Reznik, born in 1964, is an Atlanta-based artist who works in oil, acrylic, watercolor, and textile. Her piece currently exhibiting at MCMA is Morning Model (2016). The piece depicts a woman’s profile in watercolor pools of blues, browns, reds, and yellows. Reznik painted this on Yupo paper, which is a synthetic, slick, and non-absorbent material that, although challenging to use with this medium, perfectly produces pockets of color. In the painting, the woman’s expression is serene, matching the flow of the colors that make up her face and upper body. While this work’s use of watercolor is recognizable due to the flow of the colors, Reznik’s technique of using concentrated colors on a white background produces an almost stained-glass effect. The colors of her face and hair appear to be fitted together like a puzzle because they do not bleed together as much as traditional watercolors might.
Why? What? (2015) is Ali Cavanaugh’s painting of a child’s face and upper body, painted in pinks, blues, and browns. Cavanaugh, born in 1973, developed a unique process she calls “modern fresco,” in which she carefully layers watercolors on a wet kaolin clay surface using synthetic brushes. Unlike Reznik’s piece, Why? What? appears to be a more traditional watercolor painting. The colors are pastel and bleed together more than they pool. The subject looks as if she fell like a raindrop from the flowy, blue shape at the top of the piece.
Reznik’s and Cavanaugh’s pieces complement each other in color, technique, and even subject matter. Each work has the delicate touch of a careful hand while the strokes also feel deliberate and confident. Although they are relatively small paintings, they both have a presence that makes them stand out among the larger works in the exhibition.