She brought along some watercolors on a 30-day rafting trip through the Grand Canyon in 1975, and her first efforts were so bad that she had to quickly title them so her traveling companions would know what they depicted.
But Black, who has had what she describes as a "checkered career" as a nurse, river guide and community activist, never gave up on her art in the nearly 30 years since, and that perseverance has paid off in spades.
A beautiful group of five watercolors and 20 oil paintings are showcased in a solo exhibition at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder, a breakout offering that should help significantly boost her profile in the local art community.
Unfortunately, these pieces are displayed not in the Dairy's main gallery but in what is essentially a large lobby. And despite having to compete with tables and chairs, Christmas trees and other distractions, the work - to its great credit - still commands the room.
The show, titled "The River and the Town," is divided into two distinct bodies of work, the largest devoted to her images of the Grand Canyon, which she has seen close up during more than 20 trips through the magnificent natural wonder.
Arguably the best of these selections are the five watercolors, especially "Matkatameba VI, Mile 148, On the Grand," a 6-foot-tall and 40-inch-wide vertical composition looking almost straight downward into a narrow slot canyon.
This piece is remarkable on a number of levels, including her nuanced modulations of light from glaring brightness on one side to shadows on the other, and the sense of depth and dynamism she brings to the water swirling through the canyon's base.
Another noteworthy one of the same size is "Nankoweap Granaries, Mile 53, On the Grand" (see a color image of it on Page 14FF). It incorporates an extraordinary palette of colors to depict the light dancing off a foreground Anasazi cliff structure skillfully balanced against the river flowing into the far distance.
Black's other body of work is devoted to the fascinating and sometimes troubling intersections of nature and Boulder's ever-expanding suburban frontiers. In these six 30-by-64- inch paintings, she shows herself to be every bit as adept in oil as she is in watercolor.
Every one is strong, but especially notable is "From a Distance, Jay Road Near Diagonal," in which a row of new homes can be seen on the horizon. A backhoe passes by a traditional-looking farm, an ominous omen of the property's future.
A skilled use of perspective marks the work, from the fluffy clouds in the background forward to a steel fence post jutting into the foreground. And bushy grasses along the fence line have been evocatively rendered with vibrant brushwork.
Some purists will probably take issue with these works, because most have been composed in part using photo projection. Black freely admits to employing this approach as a tool to assure accuracy and deal with the scale of many of these pieces.
Many artists, indeed, more than most viewers probably realize, employ similar techniques that are validated or not by the results. In this case, Black's evocative images seem to more than justify their use.
Elsewhere at the Dairy Center in a show with Sarah Parker, Jill McIntyre of Boulder is showing a group of 19 often-haunting pastels that inhabit the ambiguous world of the offering's apt title, "Real and Imagined."
Highlights include a trio of three masterful, monochromatic pastels that have a forlorn, oddly storybook quality. None is more memorable than "Blackbirds," in which the creatures can barely be seen atop the snow at the base of a tree.
Rounding out the Dairy's offerings are smart pairings of chromogenic photographs by Giselle Restrepo, a promising artist who graduated from Colorado College in 2002.
Fine arts critic Kyle MacMillan can be reached at 303-820-1675 or email@example.com .
"The River and the Town"
THROUGH DEC. 24|Exhibition of paintings and watercolors by Elizabeth Black|Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder|Free|9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays (303-440-7826 or www.thedairy.org.
All images created and copyrighted by Elizabeth Black
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