Did you know that one of the most famous artworks in the world is a watercolor art piece? It dates back to 1502, and it was created by German painter Albrecht Dürer. Young Hare is being kept at Albertina in Vienna, and only recently I wrote about the fact it can’t go on view that often, because of its scarce condition. The truth is that watercolors are quite sensitive, and are also one of the oldest mediums and artworks in the world, said to originate as far as the cave paintings of paleolithic Europe. Next to drawing, it is perhaps the most common and the “simplest” method of creation, in terms of what you need to do it – a supporting base, usually paper, a brush, some paints and, of course, water.
As a recognized arts form, watercolor art began its journey with Renaissance, remaining present through the centuries to follow. Today, we know of famous watercolors artwork by great painters like William Blake, J.M.W. Turner, James Whistler, John Singer Sargent, Paul Klee, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Edward Hopper, for instance. This form of painting found its way among the avant-garde movements as well, such as Neo-Expressionism, in the oeuvre of Francesco Clemente, Gerhard Richter, Eric Fischl and Anselm Kiefer, among others. With the development of the medium’s characteristics, watercolors are now as durable and colorful as oil or acrylic paints, and many contemporary painters continue to practice the art as the main or one of their interests.
Here are our top 10 contemporary watercolor artists !
Editors’ Tip: Watercolor: Paintings of Contemporary Artists
Watercolor: Paintings of Contemporary Artists is where you’ll find portfolios of more than 20 of today’s top watercolor artists from every corner of the world, many of whom are also included in our list below! Watercolor is taking the art, fashion, and home décor worlds by storm. With artist profiles, an informative history of the medium, and an inspiring preface by DailyCandy’s Sujean Rim, this is the guide to a beautiful revolution. From the evocative visual journals of Danny Gregory and Fabrice Moireau, through the fashion-inspired portraits of Samantha Hahn and Virginia Johnson, to the indie art stylings of Jane Mount and Becca Stadtlander, Watercolor stunningly showcases painterly brilliance.
When we talk about contemporary art in Turkey today, and in the world at large, one of its most interesting figures surely is Şükran Moral, a woman who is not afraid to shock and speak her mind among the conservatives. Although her watercolor art perhaps does not have a big part in her practice, it is as provocative as her performances, installations, videos and poetry. Şükran Moral’s work tackles everything out of order, or norms of the acceptable: immigrants, transsexuals, prostitutes, mentally ill. Her ideas are deeply rooted in feminism and the way religion affects women in her country, and herself in particular.
Featured images: Şükran Moral. Image via mnm.is; Bordello, 2014, courtesy Galeri Zilberman
Perhaps most famous for his sculptures, Larry Bell also does elaborated works on paper, using mixed media and watercolors too. These are often inspired by his leanings toward Abstract Expressionism, as they depict geometric compositions and stand right next to his geometric compositions in three-dimensional form, known as Cube sculptures. Larry Bell also introduced “vapor drawings” and “mirage works”, which involve the use of thin film deposition technology and the colouring sheets of various paper materials, strips of PET and laminate film. Very often, these works are squared, with the drawing occupying a small portion of their surface.
Featured image: Larry Bell. Image via scmp.com; New Fraction, #216, 2003. Image via maxkansascity.org
When someone says Don Bachardy, many people instantly think “Hollywood”. It is the artist’s most famous collection of watercolor art, which features portraits of the most familiar faces of the biggest movie industry in the world. He started his career in the midst of Abstract Expressionism too, guiding his portraiture towards figurative art of great visual impact. Ever since, Don Bachardy has been managing to transmit powerful emotions through the faces of many who were willing to sit for him, those often being pain, suffering, even anguish. This is all emphasised by a rather bold use of watercolors, in a manner that has turned this artist into one of the best in the field.
Featured images: Don Bachardy. Image via latimes; Left: Bea Arthur, 1994 / Right: Johann Ericsson, 1994, courtesy Craig Krull Gallery
Highly abstract and representational at the same time, the art of Cecily Brown incorporates nudes and figures immersed in rich colors and expressive brushstrokes. It sometimes takes a viewer a while to understand what they’re seeing, because of an apparent constant flow of colors, forms, lines. Cecily Brown is a painter who works on canvas and paper, and produces prints as well. Her watercolor art seems to be more focused on natural topics, animals, hares, perhaps inspired by Dürer, they tend to be simpler in color but less figurative in depiction, giving a sense of ambiguity, a chaos that somehow resides in harmony of colors.
Featured images: Cecily Brown. Image via prabalgurung.com; Untitled, 2012. Courtesy Two Palms
On the dark side of watercolor art lives Dima Rebus, a young artist born in Russia. His works are, to say the least, unsettling: floating between reality and surreality, they depict humans and their eerie situations, accompanied by often cheeky titles that evoke the contemporary times we live in. Dima Rebus creates artwork for himself, but also does illustrations for magazines and publishing houses: just recently, one of his works became the image of National Geographic film Saints & Strangers. His technique is impeccable, extremely detailed and thought-provoking, inspired at times by his Russian roots.
Featured images: Dima Rebus; Left: Life in my city implies heavy consumption of carbohydrates, 2015 / Right: They used to share the laundry box, 2015. Courtesy the artist
Scenery of sex is most probably the oldest topic in history of art, but in the case of Nadine Faraj, it is turned into watercolor pieces that aim to add a more humane note to it. This technique is the artist’s main focus, as her spilled colors float over paper, forming nude bodies engaged in erotic intercourse or simply being. Their provocative note ends up in the background, while the very characteristics of watercolors serve the whole narrative with some sensitivity, sensuality, a more intimate approach. These artworks by Nadine Faraj can now be seen all over the world, recognized for their unique visual ambivalence in depicting sex and sexuality.
Featured image: Nadine Faraj. Image via sva.edu; All These Forms and Faces in a Thousand Relationships to Each Other, 2015, Courtesy SVA Galleries
A swarm of flowers, some looking like mere ink stains, others evoking retro designs of wallpapers; patterns of color, saturated stripes, drops and circles, quite inspired by design. That’s how one would describe the art of Lourdes Sanchez, a Cuban-born artist and textile designer currently residing in Brooklyn. According to her website, the artist is now focusing on fine art painting, although her watercolors are the ones having everyone going nuts over her work, wanting it to hang on their walls so desperately. Lourdes Sanchez is beautifully poetic, serene and incredibly capable to transmit all that through sometimes quite narrow palette.
Featured images: Lourdes Sanchez. Image via christinaloucks; Left: Implied Velocity 4, 2016 / Right: Anemones 8, 2015. Courtesy Sears-Peyton Gallery
If you’re looking for watercolor artist depicting iconic architecture, you can stop right here, since you’ve found the perfect one. Amy Park is known for being an expert on the topic, with her large scale works executed to perfection. Among her subjects, there are Donald Judd’s structures in Marfa, curiously designed houses across California, examples of Modernist architecture, New York City trademark urban landscape, and much more. Amy Park’s watercolors are based on her own photographs of these major landmarks and skyscrapers, and it is simply captivating how she managed to paint them with such accuracy.
Featured images: Amy Park. Image via artstar; 1200′ Bank of America, NY Times, and Chrysler Building , 2014. Courtesy Morgan Lehman Gallery
A self-taught Modernist painter, Italian artist Antonio Calderara was also a draftsman and a graphic designer. He is known for his non-figurative imagery, inspired by the works of Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian and Josef Albers, thus it is based on geometric abstract art which relies on the power of color field painting as well. His two-dimensional squares and serigraph works became the artist’s only practice after his participation at the 1959 Venice Biennale. As a watercolor artist, Antonio Calderara employs the same visual ideas, through works on paper and cardboard.
Featured images: Antonio Calderara. Image via fondazionecalderara; Acquarello (Watercolor), 1959. Courtesy Stefan Hildebrandt Gallery
Ekaterina Smirnova is a large-scale watercolor artist whose work is inspired by space, and the position of humans within such a vast void. She paints with large hardware brushes on rough textured paper, by splashing, spraying, wiping and washing. Her works can be even 2,5 meters tall rolls of paper, which allows her to go beyond the medium’s typical physical boundaries. According to Ekaterina Smirnova’s website, the artist has started implementing electronics into her watercolor works recently, as a result of collaborations with scientists, musicians and engineers. Now that’s a fine example of how this art form can get as contemporary as ever!