PEACHY. “Peach Pear Tango” displays Roberta Combs’ mastery of the pastel medium. Her paintings have a photo realist quality.
Pastels, crayon-like sticks of pigment and binding medium, have a venerable pedigree dating back to the 1720s when the Venetian pastelist Rosalba Carriera was a hit among the European nobility. Her fashionable pastel portraits spawned legions of converts to the medium. Though passion for pastels has ebbed and flowed through the subsequent centuries, a visit to Tacoma’s own American Art Company is all it takes to prove the charm and versatility of this medium that has made it a perennial favorite among artists.
The American Art Company is currently host to the Northwest Pastel Society’s 22nd open exhibition. The walls are hung with 70 lush pastel paintings that were selected from among 260 entries submitted by some 110 artists from across the United States and Canada. The paintings that made the final cut were culled by juror Margot Schulzke, author and a “Distinguished Pastelist” of the Pastel Society of the West Coast.
The works in the exhibition show those qualities of pastel that make the medium so compelling. Pastels enable quick execution and use of a wide range of colors. Their soft blending of one color into another makes them suitable for rendering beautiful effects such as reflections on water, warm skin tones and the atmospherics of light and shadow.
A large portion of the pastel paintings in the exhibition are landscapes. Of these, a great many feature water. Jerry Balcom’s “Quiet Morning in the Canyon,” Ralphie Hendrix’s “Across the South Fork,” and Barbara Beneditti Newton’s “Dream a Little Dream” are just a few examples of paintings in which pastel is expertly used to catch the reflective quality of the surface of water.
Bill James’ “Luckett’s Barn”- winner of the Best of Show award - is an exquisitely, almost pointillist scene of a barn and tree caught in silhouette by a setting sun. The solar flare washes out a corner of the scene. The silhouette is a rich mingling of oranges, reds, blues and greens. The tops of the tree’s leaves catch the nimbus of the sunset.
Roberta Combs, working in an almost photo-realist style, combines the warm glow of light with depiction of the human form in “Inside Out” in which a woman in a nightgown stands in the illumination of a bedside lamp. With her back to the viewer she eclipses the window as she looks out at a frozen landscape.
Combs has also done a stunning still life called “Peach Pear Tango.” In a display of virtuosity, Combs depicts two peaches and a glass pear along with clear dishes and glasses upon a striped tablecloth. Here is a master of the medium at work.
A visit to American Art Company to view this exhibition is sure to cause artists of any level to dig out that box of pastels that is squirreled away somewhere.