This is a review of Consume, an original watercolor by Ali Cavanaugh. The artwork measures 12" x 12" and was purchased by the author in May of 2016.
Pros: A stunning piece of watercolor. Visually raw, yet nuanced in its execution, it carries the full weight of modern symbolism with all the character and beauty of romantic realism.
Cons: A smaller study, it lacks the scale and detail of her other work.
My art credentials do not extend far beyond a degree in Fine Arts and a career in Commercial Design, but as the owner of this painting I have had the opportunity to spend a few years contemplating its deeper meaning. First, from the artist herself: Cavanaugh writes, "I strive to paint not only the delicate features of the external person but to capture the tender unseen presence that transcends understanding in the depth of a soul. In my experience in working with the people that I paint, I repeatedly discover the profound mystery of existence."
In the simplest terms, Consume captures the struggle to see and understand. From one perspective, what the child's face illustrates is a dawning realization, the first ray of light, the initial spark of knowledge that we all experience as life is revealed to us. Eyes wide in wonderment, mouth open in shock, this is a young mind in the process of concept formation. It is an expression of intense focus, and the more one looks at the painting the higher the stakes become, like a stare held with a stranger.
The painting begs the question: What has this child realized? Will he/she be happy or hurt in the following moment? Therein lies the beauty and power of Consume, as each of us will have a different answer. We cannot help but project ourselves onto the art, recalling our own childhood joys and traumas. The old trope of art "looking back" has never been truer in this case. As the child struggles to find meaning, so do we. The watercolors reinforce this point wonderfully: life is an ongoing process of going from a hazy blur towards something clearer and sharper.
From another perspective, the child's face will never change; understanding will never be achieved. We are confronted with the uncomfortable truth that some questions do not have answers, that life's mysteries may never be unraveled. The painting forces us to come to terms with the fact that even as adults we still lack the answers, and more, the curiosity we once had.
Viewing this painting is a daily meditation. It stares intently back from a simple wooden frame hung on a bare white wall. The selective emptiness of the painting commands such a sparse surrounding. To the introspective mind, this painting is the perfect starting point—It asks all the questions one could want without breaking the silence required to answer them.
The richness of the watercolor is in its subtlety. The gentle hues and soft colors shift and blend in a way unique to the medium. Ali Cavanaugh's unique approach is apparent from the surface quality of the paint. She uses a wet kaolin clay instead of paper, which is why she terms her works "modern frescos" instead of a watercolors. The result is a smooth, almost translucent surface.
Two years after purchasing Consume, I was fortunate enough to meet Ali Cavanaugh at NeoCon 2018, and express my appreciation and thanks for her artwork. It is my hope that her talents, character, and unique approach to the medium will continue to gain recognition in the art community.