In art school, Alexander Creswell says, he was taught that watercolor was an apologetic medium used by little old ladies.
He set out to prove that maxim wrong.
“It was like a red rag to a bull,” the master of the medium – now one of Great Britain’s most successful living artists – says. “I paint only in watercolor to rival oil in size, magnitude and the degree to which it’s worked up.”
His paintings are as large as five feet by three and a-half.
During the past 30 years he’s chosen to explore the milieu of “artist-traveler,” the role played out by J.M.W. Turner, Edward Lear and John Singer Sargent, each of whom influenced his work.
In the tradition of these watercolorists, Creswell incorporates a modern approach to his work. He enhances the quality of light in his paintings by layering his pigments, which are then literally scratched away down to the paper. The technique yields the feeling of a fleeting moment.
Architecture is his chosen subject matter, though he recently recorded two monumental, royal events: the wedding of HRH Prince William to Catherine Middleton and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
“I’ve been painting Venice a lot, from a boat I use as a floating sketch pad to get away from prying eyes,” he says.
The time scale in Venice is different from other places, he believes. “It’s incredibly powerful, with a deep history and great monuments,” he says. “I never tire of painting it.”
One of his favorite subjects there takes place on warm July evenings during the Festival De Redentore and its celebratory fireworks at midnight. Dating from 1577, the event was first held to celebrate the city’s deliverance from a terrible plague, and the construction of Palladio’s “Redentore” (Redeemer) Church.
“People have dinner and drink a lot, and then watch the fireworks from the water,” he says. “The buildings lit by fireworks have a kind of feral and wild unpredictability – it’s quite something, visually and experientially”
Creswell usually can be found front and center, seated in a boat in St. Mark’s bay, canvas and brush or charcoal at hand.
“It’s the culmination of architecture and water combined in such a beautiful manner,” he says. “It’s about the meeting of curved stone and gently lapping water.”
He’s fortunate enough not only to see it and feel it, but to paint it for the rest of us.
His work is on display until Oct. 13 at Hirsch & Adler, 730 5th Avenue, at 57th Street, on the fourth floor.
For more information, go to http://www.hirschlandadler.com/