Selected examples by historic California artists


Z.Vanessa Helder (1904‑1968)

San Pedro Stable, c. 1945


Watercolor on paper, 17 1/2 x 21 1/2 in. (inside mat); signed: l.l. "Z.Vanessa Helder"


In the 1930s and 1940s, most of the watercolorists in California worked in The California Watercolor Style, using large papers, wide brushes, and bold and sketchy brushwork.  Not so, Vanessa Helder.  California’s women artists seem to have the facility of shutting themselves off to the demands of the crowd, to go off in a corner, and to come up with highly individual styles.  “Z. Vanessa Helder (Paterson)… could be classified as a Precisionist, a style associated with the East Coast … Precisionism is characterized… by precise paint application, sharp edges, simple shapes, and industrial subjects.  Helder had been working in this style in her native state of Washington in 1943 when she married and moved to Los Angeles.”  In San Pedro Stable …. The crisp edges and absence of bleeding suggest that her paper was almost dry when she applied the pigments.  In addition to a sizable proportion of gouache (opaque watercolor), she employs the dry-brush technique…[where] a brush, almost devoid of pigment, is dragged lightly across the high points of the paper’s texture, leaving trails of texture rather than pools or swaths of pigment.  Helder willingly uses favorite Depression-era colors such as browns and blacks, and although her trademark is the black-limbed, bare-branched tree, her scenes do not come across as depressing.” (from California Art: 450 Years, p. 250.)

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