Watercolor may be the most demanding of all visual arts. It leaves little room for mistakes and requires a keen eye for color and an exceptional discipline in shading. But it also is uniquely rewarding because, being more transparent than oil paint, watercolor can convey more gentle, lighthearted effects. This gives the medium an extemporaneous feeling that, like a musical impromptu, belies the concentration and practice it requires.

That’s what makes the work of the photorealist watercolorists so remarkable. In the past fifty years, these artists—most notably Carolyn Brady, Paul Jackson, and Steve Hanks—have introduced a new dimension into watercolor, demonstrating that what some think is an art of mere sketches and impressions is capable of the most staggering emotional impact.

Brady began attracting attention in the 1970s with still lifes of flowers that stunned audiences with their realism and vivid palette. Full of virtuoso effects such as refractions in wavy windowpanes and twisting flower stems, her paintings drew viewers into a world of light and energy. Some, such as “September Lunch: The Day’s Mail,” seemed to exist simply for the sake of demonstrating her breathtaking technical skills. But her best work depicted slightly simpler scenes, such as “Emerald Light (Black Desk for Zola),” a calm meditation on the beauty of light; or “Amaryllis: A Study in Red,” which seems alive with appreciation for warmth. And, challenging the stereotype of watercolor as a genteel art form for hobbyists, Brady’s paintings often were enormous. “The Day’s Mail,” for example, is some fifteen square feet. Before her death in 2005 at the age of sixty-seven, Brady had helped revive interest in watercolor and convince critics and fellow artists of its profound artistic potential.

Whereas Brady focused her skills on still life, Missouri painter Paul Jackson has brought his astonishing abilities to bear on architectural, figural, and animal painting. . . .


1.. Keith G. Olson, The Art of Steve Hanks: Poised between Heartbeats
(Bloomington, MN: Hadley House, 1994), 15.

2..Olson, Art of Steve Hanks, 14.

3.. “Steve Hanks Artist Biography: New Mexico Watercolorist,”

4. Sylvia Plath, The Collected Poems, edited by Ted Hughes (New York: Harper
Perennial Classics, 2008), 312.

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