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Artist of the Month - February 2007

Webb Sight
by Annabelle Numaguchi

Carolyn Webb
Carolyn Webb

Every person perceives the world differently than the next. The great gift an artist possesses is the ability to accurately document, not just what the eye sees, but also what the heart and brain interpret. Perusing the portfolio of a visual artist is an opportunity to experience a slice of the world through that person’s eyes.

The vision Carolyn Webb depicts in her paintings is one I want to live in.

Webb, who paints primarily in watercolor and acrylic, is difficult to peg into a category since her style and subject matter range considerably. The unifying element in her work is the welcome with which each piece greets the viewer. She achieves this feeling by imbuing her art with strong color, agreeable subjects and a feeling of nostalgia.

The remarkable feat is that Webb manages to create these pleasant depictions of people, still lifes and landscapes without crossing over into cheap sentimentalism. Her paintings neither put the viewer on the defensive nor do they use easy tricks to pull on the heartstrings, but rather they seem to say “isn’t this a warm world, even when it’s not.”

Webb never had any formal training in art, though good hand-eye coordination and patience led to jobs involving design and illustration. The United States Geographic Society (USGS) recognized this natural disposition in her back in the 1970’s. Having returned to her native Denver, Colorado from overseas service in the Peace Corps, she was employed by the USGS as a topographer, which included creating painstakingly detailed contour maps.

This experience led to other jobs that unwittingly honed her drawing skills. She worked for an oil company as a geological draftsman, the only woman within the company who wasn’t employed as a secretary or receptionist. She also worked as an illustrator for a land architect during a large environment study, which included rendering accurate drawings of endangered animals.

When the opportunity to own her own insurance agency arose, she took it and spent the next twenty years running it while raising three daughters with her husband, Bill.

A turn of events in her personal life galvanized Webb to sketch as a diversion, discovering artistic skills she had inadvertently developed in her early professional life. She began painting with watercolors, often considered the most difficult medium, in part because of the difficulty to control color saturation.

Webb’s first painting, a still life of a bouquet of flowers against a deep purple background, reveals her innate ability to create a flow of energy in her composition and an uninhibited use of color.

This comfort with a wide palette surfaces in most of her work, and can be seen in the rosy cheeks of the young boy’s portrait, the plaid underlay of a red rock landscape or the luscious cantaloupe in a kitchen still life.
Another element that surfaces in these paintings is a feeling of nostalgia, which appears in the choice of subject or its arrangement. In a pastel depicting a grandmother touching foreheads with a baby, the inclusion of the child’s hand reaching for the older woman’s face gives the moment life and warmth. In “Silverthorn Church,” Webb depicts a white clapboard church and steeple in an overgrown garden, using strong strokes and shades of green that defy a trite sentimental rendering.

Each scene implies a story behind the captured moment, and Webb enjoys calling herself an illustrator. She harbors a great admiration for one of America’s most well known and successful illustrators, Norman Rockwell, and what attracts her to his work clearly surfaces in her own.

In her current series of paintings, and she enjoys exploring techniques and ideas through series, Webb is intentionally limiting her palette. When she and her husband moved to Moab in 2003, they lived in the community of LaSal for almost a year, where she witnessed a cattle drive that inspired the paintings she will be entering in the Moab Western Art Show and Competition that will be exhibited at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center (MARC) this month.

For this series, she has limited herself to using only two or three colors, diluting, layering and mixing them to create depth and shadow in the painting. She manages to evoke the warmth of the sun, the feel of the dust and the sound of pounding hoofs in these watercolors, illustrating the energy of the West.

Webb has been active in the arts community, starting in Denver where she began painting. She is now involved in developing Moab as a destination not just for artists but also for admirers and collectors of art. Parlaying the organizational skills she developed running her own business for two decades, she is contributing in launching annual events to showcase local artists, such as the Studio Art Tour and the upcoming Art-at-Home Show.
Spawned by the success of last year’s use of a newly-built unsold home on Arches Drive as a venue for an arts show, this latter exhibit will feature a well-selected group of Moab visual artists whose works will be displayed within eight new homes over two weekends.

The list of Webb’s accomplishments, artistic and otherwise, testifies to her exuberance. This vibrancy and belief that the world, though not perfect, is perfectly beautiful, full of light, warmth, energy and tenderness, permeates her paintings. Seeing through Webb’s eyes is a pleasant, uncomplicated experience that leaves the viewer feeling satisfied, not manipulated.

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