Watercolors more than juvenile play

Local exhibit displays diversity within united community.
Columbia resident Mike Seat browses various watercolor paintings during the Missouri Watercolor Society's annual show Thursday afternoon at the Columbia Art League. The show features 69 different artists and will hang at the gallery until Oct. 12.

Watercolor paint carries a stigma within the artistically naive. Memories of its use and application trace back to haphazard kindergarten projects, sloppy sheets of paper smeared with translucent clouds of color and thick, parallel trails left by excess water. But to view it through this narrow lens would be to tell only part of the story. Watercolor, in reality, is an artistically legitimate medium, deserving of equal respect to less-questioned mediums like oil, acrylic paint and clay.

Just ask George “Papa” Tutt, executive director of the Missouri Watercolor Society, a statewide, 400-member confluence of water-medium artists. Tutt has been around the block with mediums, ranging from acrylic to oil paints, but remains with watercolor for reasons maybe not intended.

“I consider myself a water-media specialist, but I used to work extensively with oil paints,” Tutt said. “Funny thing is I started developing health conditions from the fumes, so all of that work basically had to be put to an end.”

Tutt said he relies on watercolor and other water-based paints for the majority of his work, but his subject matter and style never stay the same.

“I do everything from non-objective work, or what other people would consider abstract, to realistic, concrete subject matter,” Tutt said. “I just get bored doing the same thing all the time. I usually have five projects going on at once, and it's the only way I feel comfortable working.”

Tutt admits it sets him outside of how artists traditionally comport themselves.

“In the art world, galleries sell style, they sell a concept of art,” Tutt said. “It drives galleries crazy that I don't label myself as one kind of artist who works in style or one concept.”

The Missouri Watercolor Society has been in existence since 1999 and in the past few years has seen membership rise by more than 100 people, representing urban and rural corners of Missouri. The Members' Invitational, a yearly exhibit which takes place at the Columbia Art League, showcases the work of MOWS members who voluntarily submit a single piece of their work.

Columbia Art League Executive Director Diana Moxon noted certain aspects of the Members' Invitational limit what art is displayed.

“The Members' Invitational is comprised of work that artists themselves must carry in, so this generally limits the show to fairly local artists,” Moxon said. “We do have pieces submitted by non-Columbia residents, but generally the show features a small part of the Missouri Watercolor Society.”

Tutt said the Members' Invitational is a relaxed environment compared to other more rigorously judged competitions that have traditionally defined the concept of an art exhibition.

“To be honest, the Members' Invitational is more of a state fair-type show in that everyone brings their art if they choose and they put it on display for non-competitive reasons,” Tutt said. “It's not the type of event where to even be displayed requires approval by a judge. It's a relaxed place where people get awards but not through extreme competition.”

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