Historically, watercolor as a medium has been thought to be one of lightness and transgression. The painter John Singer Sargent used the phrase dolce far niente, an Italian expression meaning “sweet doing nothing,” for his watercolors of reposing figures that were an opportunity for artistic experimentation, while simultaneously reveal and revel in the more intimate moments of his life. Kim McCarty is known for her watercolors of androgynous, waif-like adolescents, in a moment of transition. In her new series of watercolors, McCarty creates her own species of “painfully sweet” (dolorosamente dolce) creatures—both animal and human—as apparitions staring back at us. Some of the works appear like shrouds, saintly heads floating in space, an ethereal homage of artworks past, and perhaps the artist herself.
The mutability of watercolor allows for a range of expression, from longing to loss, evident in McCarty’s layers of transparent monochromatic color washes. Monochrome paintings are the apex of modernist painting, but McCarty desires the absoluteness of color in a signature palette, colors indicative of the life fluids of body and earth, with little bits of intense color emerging as a stigmatization using paint.
Intrigued by the intractable qualities of watercolor, McCarty works with its transparency, immediacy and unforgiving nature. Keeping the work fluid while using a wet-on-wet technique that is difficult to control, the work is either lost or gained, within minutes. As a result, the artist tends to destroy more than she keeps. It is the element of surprise that most interests her as there is no way to prepare for the resulting image that hovers between presence and absence. The process is strictly intuitive and visceral, allowing the pleasure of feelings and impulses to be expressed within the layers of paint, while complying with the nature of the materials. Seeking out what feels right, McCarty brings a certain authenticity to her work. With a desire to go beyond art’s fetishistic nature, she depicts her subjects sparingly, with empathic identification.
Kim’s work is in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) New York, UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA, Honolulu Academy of Art, Honolulu, Hawaii and The Microsoft Collection.