If you think that watercolors are simply paintings made with water-thinned paint, a new Portland exhibit will help you expand your understanding of the medium.
A show called “Rethinking Watercolor: Innovative Watercolors by Leo Rabkin 1959-2014” will feature three-dimensional sculpted watercolors, watercolors on wood and works suspended in Plexiglas boxes and composed on folded, pleated and crumpled paper.
The show at the Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation on Brown Street opens Friday with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. It will be on view, by appointment, through Jan. 2. Some 40 creations will be on display, all made by the late Rabkin, a New York-based artist whose work is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, among others. Rabkin, who made colorful abstract sculptures from antique boxes, among other forms of art, died in 2015 at the age of 95.
Some of the earlier watercolors by Rabkin, from the 1950s and 1960s, are large in scale and feature powdered pigment on Japanese mulberry paper, said Susan Larsen, executive director of the foundation. Many of the works in the exhibit show off Rabkin’s focus on light in his works.
“Some of his friends were theatrical lighting directors, and he was always fascinated with the subject (of lighting),” said Larsen.
The watercolor exhibit is the fifth being held at the foundation’s space since it opened about a year ago, said Larsen. Other exhibits have included one focusing broadly on Rabkin’s art and one focusing on his sculpture. Besides housing Rabkin’s art, the foundation also stores the collection of 19th- and 20th-century American folk art amassed by Rabkin and his wife, Dorothea. Another of the shows in the past year included some of those works.
Located in a building that formerly housed the Museum of African Art and Culture, the foundation is based in Portland partly because of Larsen, a longtime family friend of the Rabkins who has lived in Maine for
more than 20 years and is a former curator at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. Portland was also chosen because of its thriving art community.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Rabkin went to New York City to study art after his service in World War II. His wife grew up in Berlin, Germany, where her Jewish father died early in World War II. She was hidden by several families during the war and came to America in 1949. She died in 2008.
The foundation was founded in 1999 to preserve and share Rabkin’s work and to give grants in the field of visual arts, including to journalists who cover the visual arts. Bob Keyes, who covers arts for the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, was awarded a $50,000 grant from the foundation in July.
WHAT: “Rethinking Watercolor,” paintings by Leo Rabkin between 1959 and 2014
WHEN: 5 to 8 p.m. Friday; also open during First Friday Art Walk events and by appointment through Jan. 2
WHERE: Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation, 13 Brown St., Portland
HOW MUCH: Free