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The Intelligencer: Light as Air May 13, 2015

Light as Air
An artist gives the breath of life to watercolor.
The Intelligencer
May 13, 2015

Art comes late to some painters. It did so twice to Dolores “Izzie” Barth, 83, of New Britain, who is enjoying a creative renaissance in a specialized watercolor technique.

Barth painted in oils when her sons were young. In her 50s, she began studying watercolor, developed an unusual method of applying paint to paper, and exhibited her work widely.

About six years ago, she stopped painting and showing her work in juried shows, finding the latter “expensive and tiring.” But recently, what she calls “the itch” came back, and with it a flood of painstaking studies executed in a method she calls “the poor man’s airbrush.”

Barth devised this decades ago in a watercolor class devoted to experimentation. She took a tool called a spray fixative attachment — used to coat oil paintings with linseed oil and varnish — filled it with watercolors and applied them to paper using lung power.

Said her teacher: “ ‘I think you’ve got something here. I think you should go with it,’ ” Barth recalled. She won first prize in an exhibit with one of her sprayed works, “and it went on from there,” she said.

At one point, she invested in a mechanical airbrush. It did not yield the subtle delicacy she was able to produce on her own. When Barth aimed the tool at her paper, “blooms of color” whooshed out.

“So I gave the airbrush to an art organization. I just couldn’t control it,” she said.

Barth specializes in architectural studies, having painted many landmarks in the Doylestown area and others from foreign travel with her husband, Fritz. “What I like is shape, shadows, perspective,” she said. “I can’t paint flowers.”

Her son Stephen, a scenic artist in movies and TV who lives in Brooklyn, photographed some factory scenes, which Barth used as inspiration for several arresting works that explore the quality of line, space, form and light in industrial settings.

Barth’s surface effects are stippled, giving a pointillist look to solid objects such as pillars, walls and archways. Among her most accomplished works is “Walls of Santorini,” an ascending labyrinth of roofs, stairs, walls and streets that is a marvel of rhythmic composition and light.

Barth uses a complex masking technique to produce her paintings. She draws her subject on tracing paper, then transfers it to paper covered with plastic film. Using a sharp knife to score lines, the artist peels away successive elements of the image and applies color, working from dark to light.

Watercolor is an unforgiving medium in any case. The need for exquisite accuracy in juggling the masks would seem to complicate things even more. This is where the artist’s vision comes in.

“I already have it in my head before I start painting,” she said.