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Monday, December 3, 2018

Katie DeGroot at Galerie Gris, Hudson

Blue Diva - watercolor on Arches paper 4'x3'
Sometimes, when I am explaining my aversion to spending too much time on the internet, I will tell people "I'd rather just stare at a tree." I wouldn't know whether Fort Edward painter Katie DeGroot cares for the web or not - but she has me beat soundly on the second count.

DeGroot's solo exhibition of prints and watercolors at Galerie Gris in Hudson is a delectation of trees: Their branches and leaves, along with the other living things that thrive in their company, including lichens, mosses, fungi, and ferns, are the stuff of her personal obsession.

Hah! - watercolor on Arches paper 30"x23"
DeGroot has spent many years now with her method of collecting intriguing fallen branches, or whole logs, and then lugging them to her studio, where she paints lovely, playful interpretations of their forms and colors on pure white grounds. This latest crop of paintings (all from the last nine months) is joined by a series of monoprints, aptly entitled Fall, that depict gatherings of leaves.

On a recent visit to the gallery, DeGroot explained to me that the monoprints are made by painting in watercolor on a polypropylene sheet called YUPO, and then transferring the paint to paper. The result has characteristics that are subtle in their differences from a direct watercolor on paper; and the process gives the artist a more spontaneous experience, both because the paint lays down in unexpected ways and because the image is reversed. I enjoyed the simple directness of this series.

Accessories III - watercolor on paper 24"x18"
But the paintings really captivated me. It's possible I brought a bias to the show - I'd just returned from the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington, where mosses et al reign supreme, so I was primed. But DeGroot's work is winning enough all on its own: Surprisingly colorful (she insists the shades are representational), dancingly gestural, at times outright goofy, and, in these newest pieces, often more textural and patterned than in the past, they reward close and repeated viewing.

I noticed that some of the paintings play less with chromatic range and more within a black-and-white palette. This is natural, as many of the subjects are birch branches, but it also appears to be a purposeful narrowing of focus by the artist.

Apart from the fun and fascination of the bigger works' colors and shapes, the details of these paintings reveal a world of plants (and things that may not be properly termed plants) that one not accustomed to the natural sciences may be surprised to discover. My amateur herbalist wife, for example, would immediately see and identify species here that I can only guess at - but even to the untrained eye, DeGroot shows how rich and real this world is, with its many characters living in symbiosis, and records it in a delightfully fresh way.

The show, informally titled "The Singular Elegance of Trees," after an article by DeGroot that was published last year (read it here), is on view through Jan. 18, 2019. Gallery Gris' hours are Friday-Sunday, 11-5, or by appointment.

Inonotus Obliquus Duet - watercolor on Arches paper 60"x45"