Colfax Cutural Center 2004/February
Abstract painter Victoria Webb inspired by surroundings
WEEKEND: VISUAL ARTS
By JULIE YORK COPPENS
South Bend Tribune Staff Writer
South Bend artist Victoria Webb discusses "Succulents and Burt
Lancaster" and her other abstract paintings, now featured at the
Colfax Cultural Center.
Since moving to South Bend from San Francisco -- after stints in
Atlanta, New England and abroad -- Victoria Webb has noticed some
dramatic changes in her painting.
"It's more horizontal," she says with a laugh, turning to take
in the progression of work now on display at the Colfax Cultural
Her densely packed, mostly up-and-down compositions, inspired by
such picturesque West Coast locations as Golden Gate Park, have
flattened somewhat in response to her new Midwestern environment.
Her palette, too, has gotten a northern Indiana makeover, reflecting
the deep blues, grays and penetrating whites of our long winters
as well as the many subtle hues that transform the agrarian landscape
from season to season.
"There's a lot of green here -- lots of land, lots of empty space,"
Webb says. "I respond more to the areas outside of town, the farmland
and fields. ... I find that horizon, the sky and just the expanse
of the surroundings kind of liberating, in a way."
That sense of freedom infuses every canvas, from the loose organization
of space to the spontaneity of the brush work to the bold (sometimes
improbably bold for subjects drawn from nature) color choices.
"They come from what I see," Webb says with a shrug when asked
to explain how, for instance, flashes of hazard orange wound up
in a piece capturing a winter's dawn in South Bend.
"You can see really deep reds and blues on a day like today, in
the tree bark and in the shadows on the snow," she adds. "But you're
right -- somebody else might not see that vibrancy. As an artist,
you learn to exaggerate and dramatize. It's kind of like writing.
I think nature is glorious; it comes through to me that way."
There was a time, though, when Webb aimed for a more literal representation.
Her mother was an accomplished portrait and landscape painter, and
Webb initially followed in her footsteps. Webb also developed a
parallel career in film and video editing, in this case emulating
her father, who edited movies and television commercials.
The two pursuits never exactly converged, but it's possible that
all that time working with animated graphics and live-action video
has nudged Webb toward a more kinetic painting style. (If nothing
else, after sitting at a computer all day, Webb needs to pick up
a brush and move.)
"It's just condensing," Webb says of the abstract technique she's
arrived at. "Maybe the shapes are there, but the form isn't as relevant
to me as color. The expression of my emotions, at this point, is
more important. ... But I guess when I look at the work, I kind
of see it (the subject) right away."
There's an actual bowl of produce embedded in "Green Tomatoes,"
for example, if the viewer stares long enough at the lime and other
parti-colored streaks in this painting that radiates a luxuriant
summer heat. And anyone who's been to Golden Gate Park should recognize
the towering cacti, however stylized, in Webb's "Succulents and
Burt Lancaster." (Don't look for the movie star, though; the title
refers to a friend who accompanied Webb to the park that day and
made her laugh with his manly Lancaster impression.)
It's the South Bend-inspired images, though, that should resonate
most with local viewers, so long as they open their imagination
to Webb's heightened ways of seeing.
"Someone should be looking at it as they read poetry and not a
novel," the artist says. "To me, painting is a lot like listening
to music. ... People shouldn't expect to go in understanding everything