The Grand Canyon of Painting

24 Apr 2014

Joan Becker's watercolor painting, Cascading Seasons.
Joan Becker's watercolor painting, Cascading Seasons,
is a riot of color and texture.
When I first saw watercolor artist Joan Becker’s work, the word that came to my mind was pageantry because her work is colorful, rich, and all about giving the viewer an amazing visual spectacle. Take a look at any watercolor painting of Becker’s and chances are it is filled from top to bottom with an array of colorful objects and items.

Gardens scenes run riot with a tangle of flowers and foliage. Sumptuous fabrics in every pattern imaginable teeter in a floor-to-ceiling stack. High heels, toy figurines, and artificial flowers adorn a prop shop’s overflowing shelves. Becker seeks out compositions that allow her to get her fill of color and pattern.

“It makes me joyful to put colors next to each other and I always try to experiment,” she says, often building layers of color to make each more striking and exploring variations of the same hue. She never uses formulas when determining how to paint with color mixes and works with a fairly standard palette, though she often paints with specialized colors or high-key pigments straight out of the tube. That way, her washes are incredibly bright while still remaining transparent. “I wanted to see how luminous I could get my watercolors. Laying watercolor is breathtaking. It is like the Grand Canyon of painting,” she says.

Joan Becker's watercolor painting, Ascension.
Becker loves color and pattern as shown
in the watercolor painting, Ascension.
But Becker also paints with lush, eye-popping color and frenetic patterns because that is simply how she sees the world. “People say to me, ‘Where do you come up with these colors?’ But I see what I paint,” she says. “I see green, blue, and pink in the flesh tones of a human leg, for example.”

The ability to see patterns of color everywhere—even in the human skin—has allowed Becker to delve into abstraction with her painting techniques, using pattern to cover almost every surface in her compositions. “It’s related to shape—allowing something to go flat and pulling out shapes within shapes,” she explains. “Whether I’ll ever be a pure abstractionist, I don’t know. But allowing the figure to dissolve into something else—allowing it to become something else—I would like to do that.”

Joan Becker's watercolor painting, Tiki Bar.
Becker's watercolor painting, Tiki Bar, is
larger than one might think: 70 x 43 in.
Above all, Becker is a voracious consumer of all things visual, devoting a wall in her studio to images that stimulate and inspire her. When I spoke to her, she had a picture of Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, an Egon Schiele work, a photo of Amy Winehouse dressed as Snow White, and a magazine cutout of Alexander McQueen’s runway fashions. And that’s just a few. Becker’s eye is always busy, pulling more images into her orbit, and pushing her in new creative directions.

Becker has the way of it—a sheer love of her own unique process coupled with insights about the watercolor medium. It is a winning combination that certainly inspires me, and you’ll find artists and instructors with the same type of balance in every issue of Watercolor Artist. From cover to cover you’ll find art that inspires and artists talking frankly and openly about the methods and materials they use to get there, and the May/June issue is out now. Enjoy!

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