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Contrasts that Complement: An Exhibition of Watercolors by Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker

The Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker Foundation in conjunction with The San Diego Watercolor Society, is pleased to announce their 30th Anniversary year celebrations, which began with the opening of Contrasts that Complement at the San Diego Watercolor Society Gallery in December 2017.

The Grand Opening events on December 8th included a multimedia presentation,  American Masters: The Whitaker’s and the Watercolor Tradition, by former Chief Curator at SDMA, Scott Atkinson and an all day watercolor workshop,  Love of Life: Nature and Culture Through the Whitaker’s Art, by renowned artist and mentee of Eileen Monaghan Whitaker, Ken Goldman.

Established in 1987 by Eileen Monaghan Whitaker, The Fred Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker Foundation was created to preserve the works of her late husband and herself, and to promote the American watercolor medium. Over the past three decades, the Foundation has used innovative programs and technology to breathe new life into the Whitakers’ legacy and inspire the next generation of watercolor artists. This outreach has included a comprehensive online exhibition of the Whitakers’ watercolors through the Google Cultural Institute, publication of the biographical book, Contrasts That Complement, a bi-annual art scholarship program to assist students majoring in art, and the use of social media to engage with artists, curators, collectors, and other watercolor enthusiasts from around the world.

The San Diego Watercolor Society’s connection to the Whitakers dates back to 1965, the year the Whitakers moved to La Jolla. A few local artists asked Fred, knowing his many memberships/offices in art societies, to mentor them in their efforts to establish the SDWS. Fred was happy to assist and consult. The Whitakers were invited to be honorary members of SDWS, exhibited in a number of their shows and occasionally juried shows. Susan Hewitt, the president of SDWS, is a fellow alumna of Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s alma mater, MassArt, and had known her for many years.

The exhibition, Contrasts That Complement, pairs selected watercolors by National Academicians and lifetime partners Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker, evoking a sometimes subtle and often dramatic dialogue between two celebrated artists. From the exquisitely detailed architecture of Frederic’s Baroque Facade, to Eileen’s exuberant rendering of Horton Plaza, this exhibition celebrates the historical magnitude of both Whitakers’ contributions to the American watercolor medium. Featuring some of Frederic and Eileen’s most iconic work, the watercolors in the Contrasts That Complement traveling exhibition highlight the distinctive voice of each artist in such a way that the paintings become counterparts, reflecting a visual articulation of the Whitakers’ professional and personal relationship during their lifetimes.

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Translucent Visions – A Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker Retrospective

The goal of this exhibition was to share the lifetime accomplishments of Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker with a new and global audience,  affording the viewer a more intimate and informative view of their work.  The exhibition reveals the bold vision and creative passion the Whitakers brought to their lives and their art, that made them masters of the most American of mediums, the American Watercolor. The images chosen were done so in the hopes that they reflect an overall understanding of the Whitaker’s art and their unique relationship. Included are essays from the latest book on the Whitakers “Contrasts that Complement” by Jan Jennings : Donelson Hoopes, museum professional and art historian, sheds light on the Whitaker’s place and importance in the history of American Watercolor; Theodore F. Wolff, author and art critic shares his keen insight into Frederic’s working style; and art critic Robert L. Pincus allows us to see and understand Eileen’s creative spirit so evident in her art. As the curator, I strove to examine their respective styles, and how through the fluid vitality of watercolor, they captured the essential spirit of their subjects. Presented in two parts, showcasing each painter, we hope you enjoy this tribute to two extraordinary talented and complementary artists, Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker.

Barbara Cox, Director and Curator, The Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker Foundation  

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The Whitakers and Mexico

The Whitakers’ love affair with Mexico spanned several decades starting at Fred’s favorite restaurant in Greenwich Village, NY “ El Chico”, where Eileen was introduced to Mexican music.

Fred’s business dealings in Mexico City, including the setting up of a rosary making establishment and the procurement of Mexican silver jewelry, had served to whet his appetite for further exploration. An eager companion, Eileen fell in love with the Mexican people she minute she crossed the border.

“About every other year after we met , we traveled to Mexico”, says Eileen. With her affinity for languages , she quickly learned to converse in Spanish… Fred could read and write the language…Together they had no problem chatting with the natives , finding their way around , and getting to know the Mexican people. And together, they passed through “virtually every one of Mexico’s states”, said Fred.

Jan Jennings from the book Contrasts that Complement

Long before their resettlement in La Jolla, Ca, the Whitakers had traveled extensively in the American Southwest and Mexico, accruing inspiration for their paintings. The result was an outpouring of work that reflected their fascination with Native American and Hispanic peoples and the street scenes they inhabited.

Donelson Hoopes from the book Contrasts that Complement

A great achievement of their art is that is conceals the effort of creation; it seems immediately realized and instinctive. For both artists, in exceedingly different and individual ways, a great amount of thoughtful preparation and execution lies at the core of each picture.

Given the extensive image collection of Mexican subject matter from the Whitaker Foundation archives and painting database, the decision was made to feature one artist at a time, starting with Frederic on one of Mexico’s best known holidays, Cinco de Mayo.

Viva Mexico! Part 1: Frederic Whitaker

“…he had a vision of art that was poetic and mildly romantic, one that demanded he look beyond the surface appearances of things to those deeper qualities and attributes of nature that help illuminate the meaning of life and give art its significance as well.”

                                      Theodore F. Wolff, from the book Contrasts That Complement

Arguably, nowhere is this more evident than in the Frederic’s paintings of Mexico, giving the viewer a pleasurable glimpse into a different world, imbued with color, movement and the artist’s obvious love for his subject.

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Viva Mexico! Part 2: Eileen Monaghan Whitaker

“With their abiding love and fascination for Mexico and its people, the Whitakers’ almost made Alamos, in the province of Sonora, Mexico, their home”

In 1965 the Whitakers’ journeyed  to Mexico to research the option of moving there. Although they decided against it and ended up settling in La Jolla, Eileen said “We loved it…We stayed a month, mingled with the natives and did lots of sketching and painting”.

“For a long time Eileen felt that if she were ever reincarnated, she would like to be Mexican…”

Jan Jennings from the book Contrasts that Complement

With her affinity for the people of Mexico, and perhaps more specifically the women, Eileen certainly shows that she understood their lives,  routines and culture. Her beautiful paintings inspire the viewer to visit Mexico and perhaps, experience the same joy that inspired Eileen.

Put some Latin music on, pour yourself a margarita, and enjoy!

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Both Eileen and Fred delighted in using flora and fauna as subject matter. Depending on their surroundings, the Whitakers’ fauna reached from domestic animals and pets of friends, to wildlife they encountered in the canyons of their La Jolla neighborhood, travels to the exotic, and the world famous San Diego Zoo and Animal Park. With a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean from their home, seagulls became a frequent subject for both artists.

“But there is Eileen’s characteristically keen attention to small things, such as a pair of California quail. Few artists render birds with as much sensitivity as she does. To her, they are clearly a prime emblem of the beauty of nature –  and finding a form to fit that beauty is clearly a bedrock passion for the artist. She captures a reverence for nature that links her more to nineteenth-than to twentieth-century artists; they expressed a sense of wonder about flora and fauna…At the same time, the free use of space in and around figures and objects, presented as color-saturated atmosphere with soft traces of objects, subtly bonds her to the modernist tradition cultivated by the likes of Arthur Dove and John Marin. Achieving such effects requires a mastery of one’s medium. The end result is a form of delight for the viewer, which runs parallel to the visual pleasures of the world itself.”

Robert Pincus from the book Contrasts That Complement

“Fred’s range of subjects was remarkable. Nothing was too humble or too difficult for him to tackle. He was as interested in the minutiae of nature – insects and flowers, for instance – as he was in the windswept seascapes, complex urban vistas, and depictions of human character. Animals, architectural details, and foreign people and places… also received his careful attention.”

Theodore F. Wolff, from the book Contrasts That Complement

“Frederic Whitaker had an innate sense of composition, which he expressed with a sure hand. He painted a wide variety of subjects but delighted in rendering those that offered compositional solidity in a variety of textured surfaces. Slow -Snails at Work, a striking design filling the sheet from edge to edge with the variegated, nautilus-shaped shells of three snails feeding on long green leaves. These watercolors, among many others, impressed me in their demonstration of Fred’s talent for seeing the infinite composition possibilities to be found in nature – be they grand or intimate.”

 D. Scott Atkinson from the foreword of Contrasts That Complement

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On Valentines Day, 1943, artist Frederic Whitaker met artist Eileen Monaghan at a one-man exhibit of his work at Ferargil Galleries in New York City. It was the beginning of a personal and creative partnership that would last for nearly forty years.

Their far-reaching talent and prolific body of work as watercolor artists are featured in this traveling exhibit,Translucent Visions – Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker, A Retrospective in Watercolor.

The work is diverse in scope and subject, chronicling their individual careers as well as the passing of decades. Some paintings reflect the ways in which they shared perception and artistry; others reflect their unique and

distinct individuality. Throughout their lives both artists received national honors and extensive recognition through duo, group and solo exhibits and museum acquisitions