MARQUETTE - The last year or so has been amazing for Kathleen Conover, the noted Marquette watercolorist.
"A whole new little world has opened up for me," she said. "I never would have imagined I could do this."
"This" being becoming an international traveler whose artwork is featured in exhibits in Belgium, France, Greece and China, among other countries. "This" being putting on workshops for students in these foreign lands. "This" being meeting artists from around the globe.
“Cola Fans: Industrial Evolution” is a close up of an alley of businesses that still use wooden sign posts to label their businesses. They are punctuated with the American Cola cans opened up like a whirligig to draw attention. Conover said along with the ancient technology of paper lanterns and centuries-old “nests” of wires, she observed the contrasts with high rise buildings, cables and telecommunication towers: A technological and cultural collage through the ages. (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Conover)
In fact, as this story is published, Conover is back in China, part of a group of artists invited to particpate in an exhibit and to teach.
The new world started opening when Conover was chosen for an exhibit in Chenzhen, China.
"I sort of feel like a quote from Woody Allen applies here. '90 percent of success is showing up.' I feel like that's what happened," Conover said. "I went to this reception in China after my piece was accepted for the exhibit and met other international artists along with Chinese dignitaries.
"I got to talking with other National Watercolor Society members," she said. "Then I met (Chinese watercolorist) Zhou Tinya and we started talking about a Chinese-American watercolor exchange. I met some key people, people who loved my work."
Conover is working on a series called Industrial Evolution.
"It starts with the changes our country is going through, with manufacturing and business changing," she said. "And there are changes in power in the world. Countries and people are finding new positions.
"I looked at 200 years of change in history here, but then you look at China, and there's 3,000 years of change. It's mesmerizing."
The mix of centuries old paper lanterns with Coca-Cola cans and scattered cell towers fascinates Conover.
"The layers of time and culture are wonderful to see," she said. "My whole concept in painting has broadened."
Recently, Conover visited Turkey.
"I was teaching and touring," she said. "There was a village on the old Silk Road where I noticed amazing layers of culture. There amid the wires and TV dishes and solar panels are minarets and mosques."
Her current visit to China is by invitation.
"I had been invited to send three paintings to the Quingdao Museum in Quingdao, China," she said. "It's a brand new watercolor museum. It's strictly watercolors. They call Quingdao the birthplace of watercolor, so this is truly exciting."
Conover is one of 40 international artists invited to spend three weeks in China, honored at a reception Sunday night.
"After that, I will teach workshops. We're taking a group to the Henan Province Mountains to paint for a week," she said. "So I will get to teach, to attend this wonderful reception and to paint. It's something to look forward to."
The artists have been told that collectors will be purchasing something from what the artists are showing.
"I am at my gallery unframing original works to take with me," Conover said. "They want to see our original work."
Places like China are the future for watercolor artists, she said.
"For watercolor artists, the next market is the international one. Our country is saturated," Conover said. "The cultured group is aging. And young people don't have the money."
Meeting other watercolorists from around the world has been "amazing," Conover said.
"Since last December, I have had a lot of international opportunity," she said. "One of my paintings is the Bourgogne Castle in Belgium. Two pieces are in Greece and now three in China.
"One difference I see is that in our country, I don't see another generation of watercolorists coming along. It takes decades to learn this technique," Conover said. "Now we have young people with computers who are used to instant gratification. I see a few, a scattering, of young watercolorists.
"In other countries, especially China, they do pay attention to watercolor."
With all this excitement, is there anything in particular Conover is most thrilled about?
"It's the painting. It's still about the painting," she said. "It's my favorite activity. It's the best thing to spend my time at."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 240.