In fall of 2009, the Studio Museum explored and engaged its permanent collection with the exhibition A Delicate Touch: Watercolors from the Permanent Collection. Presenting eighteen works on paper, A Delicate Touch brought together works dating from the late 1940s to 2007 that share the same medium.
Watercolor is quick, lightweight and portable. Successfully painting with watercolors requires dexterity, a soft touch and a delicate hand. The medium has an extensive history that dates back to European Paleolithic cave paintings. Scribes used watercolor to decorate illuminated manuscripts in the Middle Ages and European Renaissance. Eventually, watercolor became the technique of choice for artists to make sketches, copies and small-scale versions of larger works. Watercolor’s portability may account for why it was, and still is in many instances, the preferred painting style for depicting nature, wildlife and nautical themes.
The artists in this exhibition use the medium in a variety of ways. John Dowell, whose work Delicate Touch (1977) provided the inspiration for the title of the exhibition, uses watercolor to create meditations on jazz. Other mid-twentieth-century artists, including Romare Bearden, Beauford Delaney and Norman Lewis, chose watercolor for landscapes and nature scenes. Meanwhile, contemporary artists, including John Bankston, Wangechi Mutu and Otobong Nkanga, use the medium to capture forms and figures.
Organized by Curatorial Assistant Lauren Haynes, A Delicate Touch examined the Studio Museum’s collection through a well-known artistic medium and was an exciting opportunity to see works never presented at the Museum before, as well as fragile pieces not often shown. This exhibition gave us the chance to reflect on the treasures in our care while creating and facilitating conversations about them.