Karen Leigh, “Journey: A Painter’s Life”

Watercolor artist shares delicate paintings at Hockaday Museum in Kalispell

Art Beat
"Nuts and Bolts No. 2"
“Nuts and Bolts No. 2” by Karen LeighPhoto © Karen Leigh

Karen Leigh has been painting most of her life.  Through Jan. 21, the Hockaday Museum of Art in Kalispell hosts a retrospective of her delicate transparent watercolors in an exhibit that encompasses more than 40 years of painting. Her sketchbooks and painting memorabilia are also on display.

Although she has exhibited as part of many group exhibitions at the Hockaday Museum, this marks her first, long overdue, individual show.

Most of her works are done in transparent watercolor on paper – a medium she finds seductive because of its mystery, the delicate balance of freedom and control, and its luminous washes and layers of color.

Choosing subjects and materials that are traditional in nature and in application, Leigh says she is always on the lookout for “accidental magnificence,” and often discovers beauty in unexpected places.

Leigh has been an adjunct professor at Flathead Valley Community College longer than any other professor to date. She has taught beginners as well as professionals in nearly every corner of the Flathead Valley and beyond.

Leigh believes that she and her students form a “tribe” with a comfort level in learning together, bringing different views, experiences and expertise to the table.  She loves teaching and learns as much from her students as they do from her.

“As a teacher as well as a painter, I owe much to the many masters of the medium with whom I have studied over the years and am honored to pass on that knowledge to my students,” she says. “Becoming visually aware is, I think, the most important lesson of all.”

The sketchbooks presented in this exhibit reflect the many places that Leigh has sketched around the world, from cafes and junkyards to Monet’s gardens in Giverny, France, and the canals of Venice. She believes art journaling offers a powerful way to learn to see.  When artists spend time drawing something, they slow down to observe color, light, pattern and the subtleties of their subject.

“I want to share what watercolor can do,” she says. “The viewer should be reminded of their own experiences and what the painting says to them. I hope they find beauty, even in unexpected places!”

Learn more at hockadaymuseum.org.