Paper, Water, Dreams

It’s not uncommon to be familiar with the changes a landscape seems to undergo when we view it from the window of an airplane—what is craggy becomes smooth, what is vast and undefined becomes organized by shape and color, by the unfolding of sharply-defined symmetries where from the ground there appear none.  Less common is the view from above that is not so aerially high: say, the height at which we fly in our dreams.

It is this dreamy, mid-range perspective that is highlighted in exhibit of watercolors by Zoya Scholis, at the Pacific Grove Art Center.  Scholis’s paintings, a selection of works from 2009 to the present, celebrate the imagination with rich colors and an unusual balance of precision and dreamy abstraction.

In “Dog Park,” the scene is one of joyously unruly motion, dogs running on the grass and paths that Scholis has delineated with the use of stencils.  The energetic bird’s eye view is both blurred and precise, a dynamic quality that informs many of the works on display.  I was reminded of the way the vivid setting of a dream can seem both mystifying and yet utterly precise.

Another work is “After Kandinsky,” suggesting the influence of an earlier painter of vibrant geometries, but throughout the exhibit I was reminded more of Diebenkorn and Thiebaud, especially in a painting like “San Francisco Roof Gardens,” with its striking perspective, both looming and collapsed.

“Aquatic Floral” (above) is a gorgeous, sumptuous work, in which the dense rainbow layering of color and form results in a celebration of biological exuberance, the flowing arc of life contained in a single bouquet.

I was less drawn to three other floral still lifes, grouped together on the same wall, in which a starker relationship between foreground and background suggested to my eye something brittle and unsettled.

Many of the works on display are presented without frames, and this offers those of us who are passionate about paper the opportunity to really enjoy the full paper-ness, soft-rough edges and all, of these fine watercolors.  A good watercolor is as much about the paper as the water; a frame and translucent covering can sometimes obscure that.

Most of the works here are abstractions or still lifes, but one delightful narrative piece reveals Scholis’s skill at telling a story.  In “Sailing by the Book,” a girl sits in a boat, wearing a peach-colored bonnet, absorbed in a book whose cover is red.  Under a speckled sky the boat is becalmed, safely fastened to the deck; somewhere in the sky there is a pale imprint of a boat, like a watery shadow from above.  The painting seems to offer a quiet homage to the creative imagination: the boat has no sail, but then none is needed when the transport of words, of art, is at hand.

“Magic Carpet Ride,” a selection of recent watercolors by Zoya Scholis, is on display in the Elmarie Dyke Gallery at the Pacific Grove Art Center, 568 Lighthouse Avenue, through August 30.  Open Wednesday through Saturday, 12:00-5:00, Sunday 1:00-4:00.