In Wistful Watercolors, An Artist Relives Travels in Venice and Havana

The typical traveler might not draw a parallel between Venice and Havana—but Boston-based artist Lee Essex Doyle felt a connection between the two cities. Her delicate mixed-media studies of the two destinations form the basis of “Illuminated Moments,” her current show at Childs Gallery.

Judging by a quick overview of the pieces—combinations of ink, watercolor, charcoal, colored pencil, tempera, and oil pastels—the moments of illumination didn’t happen at the Doge’s Palace in Piazza San Marco, or the Catedral de San Cristóbal in Havana. Doyle’s studies portray real places, clearly labeled, many of which are palaces: the Palacio de la Condesa de Revilla de Camargo in Havana, Palazzo Polignac in Venice, and so on. And unexpectedly given this subject matter, the series focuses on doorways and stairwells, wrought-iron railings and light fixtures, marble banisters and tiled floors. Doyle is interested in architectural details, not postcard-style illustrations of tourist attractions; therein lies the exhibition’s sophistication.

Doyle is known for her travel-themed series. Raised in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Kenya, she’s a world traveler; her series include “Postcards from India,” inspired by travel in Rajasthan, and “Dreams of Dawnridge,” depicting Tony Duquette’s California estate. But her decision to pair two seemingly disparate places for a single exhibition is an intriguing one. 

Doyle is a perennial visitor to Venice, returning year after year, but only after a recent trip did she notice a connection between her painterly studies of “La Serenissima” and the Cuban capital. It was in the quality of light, she later said, and the color palette. She’s quick to point out, though, that while the pieces are studies of real places, the artistic process is also pushed forward by the imagination. “A finished painting,” Doyle says, “is the act of fixing in time an impression of millions of feelings, thoughts, images, and longing, and like all memories, there are so many versions that are true.” Indeed, these wistful watercolors and quietly dreamy scenes, absent of human figures, capture the beauty of palaces and exquisite architectural details, but perhaps moreover, the uniquely reflective experience of traveling alone.

Bridget Gleeson

Illuminated Moments” is on view at Childs Gallery, Boston, Jan.17th – Mar. 7th, 2015.

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