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Philip C. Curtis: Watercolors
January 10 - April 11, 2004
Philip C. Curtis is one of the best-known of Arizona's modern artists. His surrealist images of circuses and fantasy landscapes, populated by a cast of characters from days gone by, are beloved by local audiences. Yet Curtis had another, little-known side as an artist. At periods throughout his career, he made casual watercolors that are the antithesis of his paintings -- loose, gestural, and full of exuberance. In keeping with its goal of bringing to light the history of contemporary art in Arizona, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art [SMoCA] presents "Philip C. Curtis: Watercolors," an exhibition of more than 40 of the artist's rarely seen works. (right: Philip C. Curtis, "Untitled" (undated), watercolor on paper, Collection of Ellis Family. Photo credit: Scott Farence)
"These watercolors, infrequently shown, reflect the sheer joy of Curtis's vision and his skilled observation of nature," remarked Susan Krane, director of SMoCA and curator of the exhibition. "In them, we see the artist's eye and hand dance in perfect harmony -- with a pleasure that similarly absorbs the viewer."
Spanning nearly five decades, "Philip C. Curtis: Watercolors" follows the evolution of Curtis's career and includes examples of his early Social Realist and Cubist-inspired imagery of the 1930s as well as mature works from the early 1980s. Curtis painted most of his watercolors outdoors in the Arizona desert he knew and loved so well. With great technical skill and bravura, Curtis was able to describe the boulders, mesquite, cottonwoods, palo verde and mountains of the Valley abstractly, with a few brilliantly placed strokes of his brush. He captured the subtle patchwork of green that carpets the Sonoran Desert, the saturated blue of morning sky and the crisp light that casts this landscape into sharp, sculptural relief. If it took him more than 20 minutes to complete a watercolor, Curtis claimed it could be "no good." The artistic freedom of his watercolors reflects Curtis's aesthetic alter ego--and offers an intimate view into his practice. (left: Philip C. Curtis, "Untitled," 1966, watercolor on paper, Collection of Ellis Family. Photo credit: Scott Farence}
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Curtis was born in 1907 in Jackson, Michigan. He attended Albion College and started law school before studying art at Yale University from 1932-35, after which he supervised mural projects for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in New York. He was sent to Arizona in 1936 to start the Phoenix Art Center (which became the Phoenix Art Museum in 1959), and in 1939 similarly went to Iowa to start the Des Moines Art Center, now one of the nation's premier museums of modern and contemporary art. After undertaking museum studies at Harvard University, which were interrupted by his service in World War II, Curtis returned to Arizona to live in 1947. He died in Scottsdale in 2000.
The exhibition is accompanied by a free illustrated brochure, designed by Nargess Salaas, with an essay by Susan Krane.
"Philip C. Curtis: Watercolors" was organized by the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art in collaboration with The Philip C. Curtis Charitable Trust. The exhibition is made possible in part by the Scottsdale League for the Arts, The Arizona Republic, The Philip C. Curtis Charitable Trust and the SMoCA Salon, with in-kind support from Armstrong-Prior, Inc.
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