Moving color makes paintings come alive

July 01, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Watercolor artist F. Dennis "Denny" Clarke's paintings cast hills in vivid red and mountains in chartreuse. Buildings bounce blue and yellow shadows across fluid landscapes. Boats float in vibrant cobalt and ghostly pale waters that reflect surrounding objects like funhouse mirrors.

The watercolorist wouldn't dream of painting a sky blue, grass green or a barn red.

"That's the worst painting I can imagine," said Clarke, 66, of Martinsburg, W.Va. "Why don't you just take a photograph?"

Clarke said some have dubbed his painting style "representational impressionism" - a translation through hue, form and line of real images into imaginative paintings designed to evoke an emotional response from viewers. Thirty of Clarke's watercolor paintings are on display at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown's City Park. The exhibit will continue through Sunday, Aug. 1.

"My inspiration comes from shapes versus objects," Clarke said. "I like the light in a painting to bounce all over the place."


The exhibit's paintings come alive with this moving color - sunlight's shining yellow illuminating boathouses and reflecting in plum waters, the brilliant greens of banana leaves, bold but featureless faces that draw the eye to a piece of fruit, a loaf of bread.

A former real estate broker who began painting in 1989, Clarke now devotes time each day to his craft. He creates an average of two to three paintings per week, he said. Clarke might sift through a stack of photographs for ideas, note colors he might use, draw sketches or paint in his basement studio. But he usually takes his easel, brushes and paints outside when the weather's nice, scouting out subjects to paint on location. He's painted landscapes, waterscapes, buildings and other subjects from northern Maine to near his winter home in Naples, Fla., he said.

The current exhibit includes paintings of fishing shacks in Maine; Burnside Bridge at Antietam National Battlefield; a church in Shepherdstown, W.Va.; boats in Galesville, Md., and Beaufort, S.C.; and nudes in Naples. Clarke also keeps a camera handy when traveling in the United States and abroad, snapping photos of subjects that he might one day reinvent with his watercolor palette and imagination.

"I just make up all kinds of stuff," said Clarke, pointing to several ladders he incorporated into a work in progress to improve its composition.

The creative part of his craft is easier for the painter than the planning it takes to transform an idea into a marketable watercolor, Clarke said. He pushes profit margins from his mind while painting, but he said he destroys finished works that he doesn't consider good enough to sell. Clarke then works to get those paintings that make the cut into art shows, galleries and private collections.

He never expected to make a living after retirement as a watercolor painter, he said, but business is booming. Nearly one-third of the paintings on display at the museum had sold within the first two days of the exhibit.

"It's getting better all the time," Clarke said. "Almost every painting I do outside is bought right away."

Clarke can be reached at 1-304-263-5002 or by sending e-mail to

If you go

Paintings by F. Dennis Clarke

Washington County Museum of Fine Arts

91 Key St.


Exhibit runs through Sunday, Aug. 1.

Museum hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, call 301-739-5727.

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