Two Things in Art You Have to Learn

“Spring Street” (watercolor and casein on paper, 12 x 9 in.)

“There are two things in art you have to learn,” says Anne Hightower-Patterson. “First, the compositional elements like line, shape, value, and texture. And second, how to put it all together.” Hightower-Patterson’s focus on design is evident in Spring Street, which ostensibly shows a somewhat run-down city street along which an elderly man walks; further down the sidewalk, a woman walks her dog. Notable here is the geometry of vertical telephone poles and architectural columns, horizontal clapboards, and diagonal telephone lines and shadows.

“Morning Snaps” (watercolor and casein on paper, 11 x 14 in.)

Good composition is always based on horizontals versus verticals,” the artist explains. “That becomes the armature upon which I build my compositions; those elements move the eye through the artwork.” Still, it is the sense of place (“an area of downtown Charleston not yet gentrified”) and the people who live there that give Spring Street its pathos.

When she isn’t painting people, Hightower-Patterson depicts still lifes, flowers, and outdoor scenes such as city streets or waterways with wildlife or boats. When we see such works as Morning Snaps or Fiesta in Glass, with their prisms, reflections, and juxtaposition of objects and textures, we might think, “This artist is showing off.” And, to a degree, she is. “It is partly to show that glass and that shiny object in light, because people are always fascinated and don’t know how you do it,” the artist observes. “So it’s kind of fun to leave them in wonder.”

“Fiesta in Glass” (watercolor on paper, 24 x 22 in.)

Hightower-Patterson quickly relates these subjects to an important forerunner, Carolyn Brady (1937–2005), who specialized in hyper-realistic watercolors of flowers and table settings. Another watercolorist who has made an impact is Carrie Waller (b. 1976), best known for depicting empty and filled Coke bottles, Mason jars, and light bulbs that reflect and refract bright light. The two artists have never met, but they communicate through Facebook.


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