the history of American art, the role of the artist
as a chronicler of nature has always been important.
European artists accompanied expeditions to paint
in detail the flora and fauna of the Americas as
a documentation of travel and exploration. As America
expanded westward across the continent, groups such
as the Hudson River School created large-scale paintings
depicting the grandeur of the American landscape.
The work of Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt, and Thomas
Moran presented an excitement with which painter
and viewer alike saw the pristine beauty of the
landscape, as if for the first time. In these works
nature was seen as awesome but not threatening and
presented poetically rather than representationally.
Later in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,
Winslow Homer and John Marin created formal works
in watercolor. Thanks to their achievements, a medium
once utilized for studies became accepted for the
creation of formally resolved paintings. By depicting
the forces of nature, particularly in the meeting
of land and sea, these two artists established methods
of representing the natural environment--methods
which have influenced artists well into this century.
The paintings of Lee Weiss are part of this artistic
tradition. Her watercolors are poetic, as are the
works of the Hudson River School artists; but though
she paints in large scale, she is not interested
in capturing the "big picture" in the same way as
those artists who recorded nature's wonders on a
grand scale. Since the mid-1960s, Weiss has attempted
to develop her work from small-scale depictions
of large landscapes to monumental presentations
of landscape details. In this way she presents the
viewer with pieces of nature's wonders, the greater
scene represented in microcosm.
Just as Homer and Marin exploited the ability of
the watercolor medium to suggest subtle changes
in atmosphere and light, Weiss provides clues to
help determine the conditions of light, climate,
and time of day and year, enabling the viewer to
discern a great deal about the scene without observing
the entire landscape.
Weiss's technical ability is unique and, like Homer
and Marin, she has expanded the parameters of painting
by making watercolor an appropriate medium for the
creation of major works. Her paintings are infused
with air, water, earth, light, and movement. Although
they are masterfully executed, it is the spirit
within these paintings that is exhilarating. It
is clear the viewer is not looking at nature
but into it through the artist's eyes.
Weiss chooses to paint in her studio, away from
her subject matter, and does not work from sketches
or slides. The scenes she paints do not exist per
se. Instead they are created from various sights
the artist has observed, distilled, and absorbed;
she stores the details in her memory until she chooses
to recall them in the studio. Away from the location
of her subject, she is forced to consider the painting
itself, to abstract from nature that which she wants
Her paintings are about the essence and aspects
of nature we take for granted. Many of these scenes
could take place at the beach, a neighborhood park,
or in our own back yards if we took the time to
observe, as Weiss does on her walks in the University
of Wisconsin Arboretum near her home. With the conviction
of a conservationist, she emphasizes through her
paintings that nature is fragile and could wither
before our very eyes.
These spiritual landscapes are created by a woman
whose father grew up in China, a father who raised
his daughter on tales of Asia. Weiss is not interested
in consciously creating pieces with an Asian sensibility.
She distills details by showing the larger segments
of nature in the smaller objects making up the whole.
When Weiss represents the essence of an entire mountain
in an image of a few stones, her work relates to
the millennia of tradition in Asian art.
Having developed the techniques necessary to effectively
communicate her impressions, she continues to create
works of power and relevance. Lee Weiss has developed
a unique way of examining the world around her and
extracting a poetic beauty from her observations
that simultaneously reiterates the history of American
landscape painting and advances it.