has long been recognized as "one of Wisconsin's more illustrious
artists," as a newspaper article once said of her in 1980. That
understated the fact then and certainly does now. One cannot
write about the watercolors of Elyse "Lee" Weiss- near-abstract
nature paintings—without repeating phrases that have been used
in newspaper and magazine articles of the last 40 years:
54 x 40.
"One of America's finest and most unusual water colorists.
" An ethereal quality in the uniquely transparent depictions
of water rain, stones, sand, grass and forest - quietly sensual
" So sensate one can almost hear things, the rustle of
texture, the swirl of wind and the hush of mist."
"A blend of fantasy and photolike images."
except that Weiss will disagree with the "photolike" characterization.
another appreciation of her work.
will observe her association with the Fanny Garver Gallery,
at 230 State St. in Downtown Madison, with an exhibit of more
than 20 of her recent paintings.
Weiss: In Celebration of 30 Years Together" will open Friday
at the gallery.
was 1963 that we became neighbors on the West Side, and then
friends," Fanny Garver recalled.
But It was a little more than 30 years ago that they became
business associates. Garver had taken a job with the Jane Haslem
Gallery, then in an upstairs location at 638 State St. and Weiss,
already with a good artistic reputation, came on as one of the
gallery artist in 1969. Then Garver bought the Haslem gallery.
worked out so beautifully that I have been with Fanny ever since,"
Weiss said. "She and I have worked very well together all these
years. These days I'm dealing more with John (Garver's son),
but it's still Fanny's baby as far as I'm concerned."
size of her work is one thing, Garver said, when asked about
Weiss's paintings. Several of the watercolors in the show will
measure in the 4-by 5-feet range.
think that big is, I think, kind of incredible - to have the
talent in watercolor, which is especially difficult. It's an
unforgiving medium, and you have to have a wonderful technique
in order to produce the images. It isn't like oils, where you
can paint over. I have always thought that, because her technique
is so polished, she was able to work with some paintings that
were 6 feet long.
the color. I love her color. She can mix red and green and not
ethereal quality has a kind of luminosity to it that is very
Meticulous in her paintings and in her habits, Weiss, 72, still
works in her West Side home, which overlooks, through large
windows, a dense array of hillside greenery. On quiet display
throughout is an art gallery of paintings, of her own and many
by friends or artists whose work she has found interesting or
promising. And by a daughter, Jo Weiss Le, an artist,and teacher
in Washington, D.C. Weiss has paintings in 33 public collections,
including the Elvehjem Museum of Art and the Madison Art Center;
the Milwaukee Art Museum; the National Museum of American Art
and the National Air and Space Museum, both in the Smithsonian
Institution building in Washington: and the Phillips Gallery
Her work in in more than 30 corporate collections. She has had
countless one-woman shows across across the country, from New
York to California. Her work has been shown in seven countries
outside of the United States. At one time she was represented
in a half-dozen galleries.
she has kept at it. "Painting is what I do," she once said.
She works very hard every week when she is at home, although
she travels "quite a lot", as she has for years.
strive for a completed painting each week," she said. "This
week's painting ended up in the waste basket, but never mind.
That's good. I'm painting more for satisfying my own standards
now than I ever have been.
was a period in my life when I had too many galleries, too much
claim on my time. After having had six galleries for a number
of years, meaning three major shows a year - it's every other
year for a gallery- juggling the paintings, taking care of the
shipping and packing and repairs and bookwork, it was overwhelming."
native Californian, Weiss moved to Madison in 1962 with her
husband, Leonard, who was in the economics department at the
University of Wisconsin, and their four daughters.
I came to this town, there was nobody working in watercolor"
she said. "There were no galleries, except for a little studio
galley in a basement off of an alley off of Langdon Street."
forced me into Chicago and New York and California, places I
would never have bothered with. I had it made in California.
I was represented by Gump's, and I had a show at the California
Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. It was a totally
that time, it was a shock to be in Madison. It was not particularly
open to some housewife who paints, nevermind that I had been
doing very nicely for several years before.
It was lonely the first couple of years here, but it was the
best thing that could have happened to me because I developed
something that was totally my own style."
Part of that style was to expand her work into larger dimensions.
She moved form what was then a fairly standard 22-by 30- inch
paper size to the sizes that suited her larger vision.
is my refuge, where I find my inspiration." Weiss said, "It's
infinitely variable. I have the great notion that I can grow
within while working in the same subject matter. if I just pay
I paint something, I see what I did wrong. Then I can see more,
like ripples on the water. The first time I ever tried that,
it looked like a net cast on the waters. Then I began to see
how the waters really moved.
hope is not to fall into the trap of repetition without growth.
And so I'm always experimenting with new papers, with new techniques."
paints from memory, which is why she would not agree with that
"photolike image" statement. And she interprets, as any
good artist does.
I want something that can be discovered: I don't want an illustration.
It needs to be something you look at and see ever more in it.
I start as an abstract., to begin with, warm and cool, light
and dark, things that happen on the paper are so evocative of
memories that I will then be directed by it. There is a point
at which I say, 'OK this is an interesting set of textures,
now I will turn it into a painting.' That's what I do."
While she sees a "couple of hot ones" in her recent paintings,
she noted that nature as she paints it is largely cool: "It's
water and green leaves and all those kind of things, and gray
and snow and times of the year when things are gentle and cool.
But there's strength too. Rock surfaces interest me very much,
and those often are very warm."
retains great affection for her life in Madison. "I have been
treated wonderfully here," she said. "Madison has been extremely
good to me. I am extremely grateful."