Fine Art: Watercolors Observed and Imagined

“Still Life With Folding Picture Freight Train Book” by Harry I. Naarcourtesy photo 

When Professor Harry I. Naar began teaching at what was then Rider College in 1980, the school had just a few rooms sometimes used for art displays. Now, almost 40 years later, the school can boast a state of the art gallery that offers the public two shows per semester drawing artists of known stature regionally, nationally and some internationally.

But Professor Naar is retiring and the local art community is lamenting his imminent departure not only for his important contribution to Rider University, but for his own artwork that has enriched so many of the area’s exhibitions.   Watercolors Observed and Imagined,” drawn from his body of work is currently on exhibit in the gallery he founded and nurtured all these years.

As with all the exhibits in the gallery, this show too is accompanied by a full color catalog. Rider is the only school in the region to offer a catalog free to visitors and, according to Naar, that has been a strong drawing card for artists. While in past show catalogs include a lengthy Naar-led interview with the artist, this catalog includes a Naar biography and essays by Mel Leipzig, renowned Trenton artist and professor emeritus Mercer County Community College, and Dan Bischoff, art critic for The New Jersey Star-Ledger.

Naar reminisced with me last week about his beginning interest in art and teaching. “I had a really terrific art teacher. He was my main impetus to become an artist,” he said. “He taught a lot of art history and he painted in the class. We got to see the creative process from someone we admired. Until then art was a mystery. With him it became alive. That’s when I knew it was something I wanted to do. I went to Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts) and then to Indiana University Bloomington.” (Where he received his MFA degree.)

Speaking about the dual foundation of a fine arts and a liberal arts education, Naar says, “A lot of people think you just paint. But in order to create a visual image you need to read a lot and be exposed to a wide variety of things. I had professors that gave me a liberal arts education focused on visual art. That’s what I’ve tried to do here at Rider.”

On view now in the gallery he founded, are 32 of his watercolor paintings. An example of what he meant when he titled the exhibit “Watercolors Observed and Imagined,” is his painting, “Still Life with Folding Picture Freight Train Book” which he says he painted for his children. “Almost everything I paint has some personal attachment and that painting relates not only to me but to my family,” he says. “That painting was invented and observed. I invented the table but the book on the windowsill and the shell on the table and the fruit were real. I bought the fabric and draped it over a chair. It looks like I might have used washes but I don’t paint like that. I paint watercolors like oils. I mix a color and put it down using a small brush and small strokes, the way Cezanne painted.”

His “Distant View of Rocks” was also done with small strokes. Some pencil drawing shows in this one and, he explains the darker areas are simply covered with more strokes. The lighter areas happened when he let more of the paper show through, and the background, though it looks as if he used washes, is simply the color of the paper he used.

And about “Rooftops, Beach Haven,” he says that was a direct painting. The beach house had a roof deck with an 180-degree view and he liked to go up there and paint. “I was focusing on distance,” he says. His view that day was a limited palette view across many-angled roofs, some chimneys and utility poles, and off in the distance a sliver of blue ocean on the far horizon.

“What’s important to me,” he says, “is I paint in a representational manner but I want people to recognize I’m painting and not trying to fool the eye. I’m not painting super realistically. You can just take a photo. My paintings are about what I’m looking at. I’m not literal. I change colors and positions of things because I’m thinking in terms of trying to create a satisfying composition.”

In addition to Naar’s always being faithful to creating his own body of work, to his teaching, to his curating exhibits in the gallery, he is also the founder of the Rider University Art Collection to which the public is always invited to visit and enjoy. The works are displayed in areas of the University campus accessible to the public such as the library, North Hall that houses the education program, and administration offices, to name just a few. I encourage you to take that tour. It’s an important collection of works by artists who have shown their works at Rider during Naar’s distinguished tenure.

Professor Naar has exhibited in more than 30 one-person and over 100 group exhibitions throughout the country in such venues as The Corcoran Museum of Art, the New Jersey State Museum, the USSR Artists Union Gallery (Moscow) and the Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales, Havana, Cuba, among others. His works are held in many museums and corporations throughout the U.S. and he has been the recipient of prestigious awards and fellowships.

And now as he retires to move with his wife, Barbara, to be with their children and grandchildren in Seattle, Washington, he says, “I hope I was an important influence on the direction of the University, but also in terms of being able to express to students a variety of ways one can go in developing a visual image. There isn’t one best way. I felt it was really important to have an opportunity to experience a class the students might not find in another place and be able to take. It’s important not only to learn what you think you are interested in but to be exposed to classes that might change your direction or add to your experience, to know about other things. That’s the importance of a liberal arts education. I hope I was able to impart that.”


WHAT: Harry I. Naar, Watercolors Observed and Imagined

WHERE: Rider University Art Gallery, Bart Luedeke Center, 3rd Floor,

                        2083 Lawrenceville Road, Lawrenceville

WHEN: Through November 30. Hours, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday;

                        Noon-4 p.m., Sunday. Naar talk: 7 p.m. November 7.

CONTACT: 609-896-5168. www.rideredu/artgallery

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