Conn presents viewers with a distinctly beautiful group of women, yet these portraits are far from passive. The confident, direct gazes of the sitters propose a tête-à-tête with viewers, as artwork and observer contemplate each other. Accompanying text passages offer a deeper glimpse into the lives of the models, from a woman who escaped an arranged marriage, to a woman who moved from Sierra Leone and became a successful business owner.
The faces Conn portrays are unique landscapes. She creates an intriguing textured surface by coating the watercolor paper with tissue paper, glue, and gesso. Layering strokes and drips of watercolor and glazes results in an effect reminiscent of veined stone. Thanks to the paper’s uneven terrain, “The paint gathers in the nooks and crannies. There’s an interplay between what the paint wants and what the painter wants,” Conn stated. The painting’s marbled surfaces also evoke the whorls and ridges of a fingerprint—befitting for portraits that showcase both the uniqueness of the sitter and the distinct hand of the artist who crafted them. Her color palette is gentle, washed with lustrous shades of sapphire and earthy terracotta, yet Conn delights in abstracting the faces with fanciful skin tones, seen in the evergreen complexions of Shelia and Ellalyne.
Deborah Conn has been painting in watercolor for 20 years, and she first began by taking classes at The Art League School. Her work appears in national and regional shows, and recent awards include a first place in Potomac Valley Watercolorists’ exhibition at NOVA’s Ernst Community Cultural Center, an Award of Excellence at the Virginia Watercolor Society 2016 exhibit, and an honorable mention in The Art League’s April 2018 Open Exhibit. Conn teaches beginning and intermediate watercolor in her Falls Church home studio as well as on Cunard, Celebrity, and Azamara cruise lines.
Exhibit dates: May 9-June 3, 2018