Walking a fine line as artist and teacher

“Figure: Bright Yellow-Orange Scarf,” watercolor and pencil on arches text laid, 2005 by David Dewey
“Figure: Bright Yellow-Orange Scarf,” watercolor and pencil on arches text laid, 2005 by David Dewey

David Dewey believes that an education in the fine arts requires learning from real artists who are making fine art.

His show, "Painting the Figure With My Students," on view at Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts (LACFA), is a reflection of this conviction. It features 48 selected figure watercolor and pencil drawings spanning a 30-year period from 1979 to 2010 that have not only proved highly instructional to his students but are works of art on their own.

Randy Melick, LACFA's assistant professor and chair of classical drawing, describes the paintings in the exhibit as having "a beauty that is both fine-spun and venturous," adding that they are "visually sparing-daringly so."

Dewey, who lives both on the coast of Maine and in northwestern New Jersey, is a professor emeritus at LACFA, where he taught from 1994 to 2008. He also taught for many years at New York's Parson's School of Design and National Academy of Design School, and continues to conduct workshops in New York, New England and Europe. He is author of "The Water Color Book" (1995) for serious watercolor painters and educators.

The artist's works, primarily of the landscape, are regularly exhibited throughout the U.S. and are included in major museums, as well as public and private collections.

It all starts with color

Dewey says he never tires of painting the figure because each painting begins with an idea based on color — and what happens with the color as it's put down on the page is always new and different.

"All becomes intuitively driven, based on the beginning color or colors placed in some place on the page," he says. "It's the nucleus of where the painting is going. It's always a surprise.

"Color is self-determining. It has its own nature, psychology-emotionally, visually-as opposed to a line," he continues. "My mantra is teaching color, and watercolor is my medium, but I always try to go beyond the traditional boundaries of what is expected of the medium."

The way space is handled in a painting is also very important, he says.

"The figure on the left or right side...a lot of deleting, refining the figure down to primary components. It's very structural. There's an architecture that's important-the way the space is framed up; how you develop form and space.

"In terms of teaching," he adds, "as I painted with my students over the years, it was to demonstrate those core principles that become part of the engineering of the idea that's developed with a painting?I think I have somewhat of a unique way of working with my students in that everyone finds their own ways, metaphors, of expressing things that are hard to express. So I enjoy doing these (figure) paintings."

Dewey says that putting on the educator hat helps him figure out problems in his own work and that as a result, he is more able to articulate what is difficult to talk about.

"You have to be on the inside of a painting or a work of art," he says. "You have to be a working artist truly involved in the work to really communicate things that are important to artists, otherwise it's an academic exercise."

Dewey's notes in the exhibition catalog encapsulates his philosophy of creating and teaching art: "Making paintings that speak and using language that reveals, expresses and imagines, has been a lifetime pursuit and challenge for me as a painter-teacher."

"I gave a lot of thought to that quote," he says. "It really represents a kind of style and the way I speak to problems. It outlines the entire scope of the way I work with students and speak about their work."

David Dewey's “Figure: Red Umbrella with Black,” watercolor and pencil on arches text laid, 2006.
David Dewey's “Figure: Red Umbrella with Black,” watercolor and pencil on arches text laid, 2006.


What: "David Dewey: Painting the Figure With My Students"

Where: Chauncey Stillman Gallery at Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, 84 Lyme St., Old Lyme

When: On view through Feb. 2; gallery is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Cost: Admission is free; most of the works are for sale.

Associated program: On Jan. 17, Dewey will give the first in a series of three Thursday evening lectures titled: "Inside My Studio: The Artist Revealed," sponsored by the college and its alumni association. Robert Taplin is the featured speaker on Jan. 24, followed by Tula Telfair on March 28 with a 6 p.m. reception; lectures start at 7 p.m. Seating is limited; reservations required. $5 donation suggested at door.

Reservations and information: call Ann de Selding at (860) 434-3571, ext. 117, or email adeselding@lymeacademy.edu.


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