Review of Elizabeth Ockwell and the Paris Opera House
By Alan G. Artner
Tribune art critic
Published January 26, 2007
I first saw Elizabeth Ockwell's watercolors of European buildings 20
years ago in an exhibition that brought together interior and
exterior views the artist encountered in Rome, Paris and Dresden. Now
her first solo exhibition at the ArchiTech Gallery is a tour de force
devoted not only to a single city but also one building: the Palais
Garnier in Paris.
Ockwell is not an architect, so the images of this 19th Century opera
house--indeed, all buildings--are less renderings than evocations.
Her opulent Palais Garnier therefore has been conditioned by art of
that time, say, bejeweled watercolors by Gustave Moreau, but
expressed by Ockwell in a personal style that balances crisp, firmly
defined passages with almost improvisatory sections of wiry doodling.
She begins work at the site, drawing in pencil often rudimentarily
and using watercolor only sparingly. On this drawing she typically
records comments made to her while working, but they drop out of the
images she transfers to larger sheets once she gets back to her
apartment. These more finished pieces generally have a great deal of
watercolor, all contributing to the animation and conviction of the
scene though, as in the instance of the Palais Garnier's grand
staircase, it is personal and fanciful, not literal.
Those who know the building will have the sense of it being
reinterpreted for them at the same time that those who do not will
receive what feels like an on-the-spot transcription. Whichever,
Ockwell has captured the spirit of the place to perfection, through
images so exuberantly self-sufficient that one scarcely notices they
all are unpeopled.
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