Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Art Seen: Water works

Pam Mersch discovered her love for art as an adolescent, painting horse portraits for her father. She had two aunts who were longtime active artists, and another who tried her hand at it but then focused all of her energy on her job helping the developmentally disabled.

Mersch’s mother, Gwen Thomas, was always an oil painter. That is until Mersch coerced her into taking a watercolor workshop in Oregon. Now Thomas is an avid watercolorist almost exclusively, much like her daughter. Mersch has done some “smoke paintings,” where she’s utilized the smoke from a burning fatwood stick to “paint” on paper. The effect is quite dreamy and intriguing. She has also done the occasional collage, sometimes utilizing her watercolor pieces in them.

Mersch received an associate’s degree in art from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 1975, and married Steve Mersch in 1978. He is a veterinarian, and Mersch spent many years working for his practice, as well as doing numerous other jobs, including volunteering for local arts groups like the Kenai Art Guild (aka Peninsula Art Guild) and Triumvirate Theatre. Throughout it all, she has continued to explore her artwork, delighting especially in the almost magical nature of watercolor.

Her work will be on display at the Funky Monkey in Kenai for October, with a First Thursday reception from 6 to 9 p.m. The lively piece “Trade” incorporates a new technique she recently picked up at a workshop in Homer. It involves thoroughly wetting both sides of a 140-pound weight piece of watercolor paper, then laying it flat on a gator board. The paper stays flat because of the water saturation, avoiding the pesky curling many watercolorists often contend with. The colors are also more lush and remain more saturated upon drying, and the brushstrokes are especially yummy.

Mersch has traveled to Italy for a workshop and recently lived awhile in Sherborn, a town in Dorset County, England. Steve had a stint as a resident veterinarian and Mersch used this opportunity to sketch and paint her new surroundings. Every Tuesday she walked into Sherborn to paint with a watercolor group. Tea was served promptly at 3 p.m., without fail. The watercolor group that meets here locally at the Kenai Fine Arts Center every second and third Saturday is a great source of camaraderie and inspiration for her, as well. (Call 262-7040 for information on that.)

I asked Mersch what her advice to aspiring artists would be, and she quickly responded, “Live it, breathe it; even more than I do. Experience as many mediums as you possibly can and be brave.”

And then she laughed, because sometimes we teach best what we most need to learn. Mersch’s work is certainly lively and curious, and any new direction she may choose to go is likely to yield inviting results.

Zirrus VanDevere is a local mixed-media artist and owns Art Works gallery in Soldotna. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.

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