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Colfax Cutural Center 2004/February 6, 2004

Local color
Abstract painter Victoria Webb inspired by surroundings

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 Center.

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 right away."