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Monday, Oct. 3, 2011

Wilson Center Shares Musolff's 'River Journal'

Art Review

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Wisconsin artist Katie Musolff demonstrated an expert talent for portraits while working as the 2010 Pfister Hotel artist in residence. Among others during her tenure, Musolff committed to canvas the Pfister's longtime pianist, Jeffrey Hollander. Her current exhibition at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts (SLWC), titled “Katie Musolff: River Journal,” goes in another direction. For this exhibit, Musolff uses delicate watercolors on paper to uncover the beauty found in dead specimens gathered along the Mississippi River in Stoddard, Wis.

The 30-plus sketchbook drawings and paintings reflect Musolff's encounters with bluegills and herons, dragonflies and snakes—creatures that mostly go unobserved in the urban environment. For many of the paintings, Musolff records astute, heartfelt thoughts in handwritten entries that offer insights on the landmark river's biology.

Musolff's ability to see what others miss—and then put it on paper—is worthy of considerable admiration. In one piece, exacting detail surrounded by subtle shadows transforms a swarm of mayflies into an intricate, winged pattern. Another painting pictures a majestic great blue heron, while a small work titled Black & Yellow depicts a warbler feather, bumblebee, yellow sulphur butterfly and tiny goldfinch. Even in small pieces, Musolff's paintings open viewers' eyes to the world's diverse species and coloration.

Each painting revives wildlife specimens through exquisite watercolor technique, even though the images primarily represent what has died. While mesmerizing to study, an element of melancholy permeates these paintings.

Musolff's signature figurative work and portraits radiated with mirthful spirit—vibrant pieces that sparked an immediate relationship with the subject. The watercolors in “River Journal” reflect keen observations, and definitely have a place in her artistic journey, but Musolff's rare talent finds its best expression by breathing life into canvases through the profound illumination of humanity.

“Katie Musolff: River Journal” continues through Oct. 23 at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts.