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The never-fading garden

Art endures where nature sometimes falls short. Lisa Williamson's garden artistry captures colors that cannot fade, as well as blossoms that the eye has never seen.

By BRANDY STARK

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 7, 2001


photo

[Slow Peel Series #6 by Lisa Williamson.]

The rainless skies do little to help the flora and fauna of the Tampa Bay area. As plants and people alike begin to wilt in the heat, at least one kind of garden remains unaffected by lack of precipitation.

Blooming with bright colors and swirling with nearly palpable energy, the "Gardens: The Wild, the Timid and the Invisible" is an exhibit of the textile works and paintings of Lisa Williamson.

Williamson grew up in rural Kentucky, but maintains studios in New Smyrna Beach and Washington, D.C. Her art career spans more than 25 years and includes many media, from cloth to acrylic, oil painting to woodworking.

Many of the works combine a variety of media layered one on top of one another. In a reversal of this technique, Williamson also removes layers to expose images. Russell's Trees, watercolor and collage, is a prime example. A wreath of cool blues and greens frames hot oranges and reds. Large infinity symbols cross the backdrop, a sketched tree bisecting one of them. To draw the eye inward, patches of papers containing more of the artist's work are placed on top of the painting.

The exhibit also features several grouped works. The Voo-Doo Lily Series consists of tall rectangles divided into five or seven sections and containing flower-like abstract shapes. Williamson creates the frame-within-a-frame motif found in many of her works by using small squares of color that contain free-form shapes suggestive of an imagined alphabet.

The images are based on her experience at the Florida Botanical Gardens, adjacent to the Gulf Coast Museum of Art. Williamson noticed a series of plants labeled "Voo-Doo Lilies" but was unable to find any in bloom. She decided to use her own imagination to create various possibilities of the way the flowers might look.

Williamson may be best known for her textile art. Using fabric reactive dyes built up in layers from light to dark, she makes vibrantly colored pieces. She often augments her works with stitching and applique to create a quiltlike image. The largest of her fabric works, Home and Gardens, alternates images on a patchwork background. Some squares contain bright-pink flowers, while others hold simplistic houses placed against a swirling painted background.

The contrast of the simplistic, energy-conserving images against the dynamic swirls creates tension within the piece.

Williamson does not limit herself to two-dimensional artwork. She has several free-standing wooden works, including Sweet Blue Wind, an acrylic and oil on birch plywood. A six-paneled work, it creates the sense of energy and movement common in Williamson's style. Flowers spread across the face of each plane. A single blue oval draws separate panels together, forming one unified whole.

"Lisa was chosen to display at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art because of her wide variety of works. She employs various aspects of the natural world in symbolic ways to her works, which also parallels her own life experience. She has a tremendous passion for life and sees it revealed in the natural world as well," said Ken Rollins, the Gulf Coast Museum of Art executive director.

PREVIEW

"Lisa Williamson: Gardens: The Wild, the Timid and the Invisible," through June 24.

Gulf Coast Museum of Art, 12211 Walsingham Road, Largo. Admission: $3 adults; $2 seniors and students with valid identification; and children 12 and younger and members free. Galleries free to all on Thursdays. Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Wed. and Fri.-Sat.; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Thur. and noon-4 p.m. Sun. (727) 518-6833.

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