Watercolor Connection

Guests discuss the work on display at the Cannery Gallery. Photo by Bob Toy.

The group exhibition showcases the work of 15 students, alumni and instructors 

By Nina Tabios

Many artists dream of having their work posted in galleries. At Academy of Art University, the galleries host a plethora of hand-picked student, alumni and faculty work throughout the year, but for its recent exhibition, curation was handed over to 2017 School of Fine Art (FA) alumna Ellie Marcial.

On July 6, the Cannery Gallery opened its doors to present Marcial’s first ever group exhibition, “As Told in Watercolor.” Displaying a total of 55 pieces by 15 different artists (a mix of current students, graduates and instructors) spread out through three rooms, Marcial said she wanted to use her curator debut to highlight watercolor as a medium.

“Watercolor can [be used] to create a full painting—not just a small illustration, not just for sketches or for some watercolor swatches,” she said. “Watercolor requires a ton of patience, but once you build up that color saturation it also has a beautiful finish.”

Each room had a theme. The first, called “Storytime,”featured illustrations that could be found in children’s books. Many of the pieces were bright and colorful, playful and whimsical. B.F.A. School of Illustration alumna Amy Huang’s paintings featured cartoonish, fantastical animals, such as a cat diving in a submarine and an owl telling campfire stories. For a bit of contrast, FA watercolor instructor Julie Downing’s storybook drawings work carried a more realistic aesthetic.

The adjacent space, “Perspectives,” carried still life and realism paintings of people, scenes, objects, both mundane and symbolic. There were a few countryside landscapes, but cityscapes were frequent; one painting done by B.F.A. painting alumna Natalie Gabriel was an panoramic replica of a San Francisco alleyway, recreating the individual graffiti pieces plastered to its real-life counterpart, another etched the inner-working of a subway tunnel.

School of Fine Art alumna and exhibition curator Ellie Marcial poses next to her work titled, Post and Kearney, watercolor on aquaboard. Photo by Bob Toy.

Marcial’s own watercolor cityscapes were mounted in this room where guests could see up close the precision and attention to detail for such a hyper-realistic portrayal of the Financial District.

“I paint in cityscape because it’s not what the public expects,” Marcial said of her work. “With cityscapes, it takes a lot of patience to tighten up the watercolor. I wanted to push those boundaries to what watercolor can do.”

Academy Galleries Manager Kevin Goring said he initially asked Marcial to do a solo gallery after seeing her art at the annual Fine Art Auction and Spring Show. But curating a group exhibition fell more in line with her studies. Though she completed her B.F.A. last year, Marcial returned to school to earn her M.A. at the School of Art Education and wanted share the opportunity with her peers and like-minded artists.

“I wanted to get as many watercolor artists that I [could]—some are close friends, some were connected by friends of friends,” she explained. “I wanted to create a connection, a community to where watercolor artists have a voice.”

Rachel Connor is an online M.F.A. fine art – painting and drawing major and had her first ever gallery piece at Marcial’s watercolor exhibition. Her painting, “Morning Dew,” hung in the last room, titled “Organic Beauty.” Made up of mostly nature landscapes and floral pieces, the third gallery room was meant to feel like a garden. And Connor felt her own inspiration and creativity blossom seeing her painting side-by-side with other artists.

“It’s great to just be in this space and surrounded by all this wonderful artistic energy,” said Connor, who flew in from Virginia just to be present at the gallery opening. “As an online student, you just need that sometimes.”

As Told in Watercolor” will be up in the Cannery Gallery through July 28, located within the courtyard of the historic Del Monte Cannery complex at the heart of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf district.


Featured photo: Guests discuss the work on display at the Cannery Gallery. Photo by Bob Toy.

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