To Build a Kite

Beth Gouldin
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Art has been in my life for as long as I can remember. It existed in basic forms of imagery and objects viewed by people, admired in museums, and bought and sold in galleries. As a child, I was always drawing but would never have called myself an artist. Artists were almost mythical creatures in my eyes: men and women of museum and gallery legend. I, on the other hand, was always exploring nature and science. For me, representing the physical world through art was a way of better understanding its functions and processes. That childhood drive to experiment and explore has continued to be important in my work.

I was first exposed to using watercolor as a medium in a community college class. I needed electives to fill out my hours while working on an associate of science in chemistry. Watercolor painting had a rich history in life illustration, so it was a natural tool for someone interested in representing the physical world. I reveled in its range and nuance, its tendency for watermarking and blooming. It had a dual nature, seeming to be remarkably simple – pigment plus water – yet retaining a complexity that intrigued me. Its reputation as the most challenging of painting mediums only made it all the more appealing due to its similarity to the problem-solving demanded in my study of chemistry. I was determined to learn watercolor painting’s languages of control and automatism. Later, I learned of wabi-sabi, the Japanese concept of embracing beauty in imperfection. It is a perfect description of the aesthetic of watercolor painting.

Japanese aesthetics was the other major influence on my creative mind. My mother had a close Japanese friend with whom she bonded through homeschooling, motherhood, and as lonely wives with busy working partners. Their relationship deepened as my mother supported her friend through the birth and death of a severely handicapped child. For several years, our families’ lives were intertwined through life and death, pain and beauty. From early in the relationship, there was a constant dialogue about our separate cultures. My mother’s friend wanted her children to grow up experiencing all things American, and my family was curious to appreciate Japanese tradition. My mother became interested in Asian art and artifacts, often purchasing unmarked pieces from estate sales, craft shows, and antique stores. The two women would muse over these little treasures, her friend often scornfully stating, “This is not Japanese.” Those opinions never changed my appreciation for the objects of foreign origins that occupied a shelf in my mother’s home. Our West Texas, country-styled house became host to exotic traces of Japanese and other Asian cultures. They held a beauty that my American Midwest heritage seemed to lack.

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