By Bonnie Gangelhoff
At first glance, a visitor to Arleta Pech’s studio in Arvada, CO, focuses on a series of shelves stuffed with silver teapots, china cups, and antique wooden toys. It comes as no surprise to learn that these are a few of Pech’s favorite things—objects that grace her still lifes and set her imagination on fire. But there are other objects of creative desire for this painter, too. For example, on a nearby easel there’s a painting titled A PROCESSION OF TIME, which depicts an array of six clocks. It’s headed to her upcoming retrospective this month at Abend Gallery in Denver.
Each of the clocks in the painting displays a different time. Most appear to be resting on a mirror, which captures their reflections. Thus, time in the case of one clock appears reversed or going backwards. Meanwhile, another clock appears to be floating above the others. Perhaps it’s a reference to the notion of time being suspended?
PROCESSION OF TIME is an intriguing painting, and the more it’s studied, the more is revealed. That’s precisely what Pech relishes—a viewer puzzling over meanings and bringing their own narratives to the table. “I want people to use their imaginations,” Pech says. “I seem to think a lot about how time is such a big factor in daily life and how time seems to move so fast. Time is everywhere, on our cell phones and emails.”
Pech has been letting her imagination roam since she was a little girl growing up as an only child on a farm in rural Illinois, where she spent hours coloring and drawing. But in first grade, she recalls, the seed for her fine art career was sown. Her great-grandmother, Oma, read her Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the tale of
girl who falls through a rabbit hole. Pech fell in love with the story and its characters. Today, she keeps a copy of the treasured book in her studio and refers to it when she’s looking for a new object to portray in her paintings.
A self-taught artist, Pech’s career originally consisted of careful study of art books and eventually moved on to independent studies with painters Mark Thompson and Daniel Sprick. Watercolor was her medium of choice, and she painted a variety of subject matter, from landscapes to figures. But Pech finally settled on florals and still lifes. Not only did she enjoy painting them, but collectors responded enthusiastically to her up-close-and-personal renderings of roses filled with light and drama. In 1989 Pech signed with Mill Pond Press to reproduce her popular pieces. In the years that followed she traveled around the country, taught workshops, had solo shows, and cemented her reputation as one of the top watercolorists in the country. In 1998 North Light Books (Southwest Art’s sister company) published her book, Painting Fresh Florals in Watercolor.
Although Pech became a well-known watercolorist, about six years ago she switched to oils and soon mastered that medium as well. Last year, she published another successful book, Radiant Oils, also with North Light Books. Over the years she has participated in a number of national museum shows, including the International Guild of Realism’s recent traveling exhibition, The New Reality: The Frontier of Realism in the 21st Century.
The transition to oils went smoothly, Pech says, in part because she has developed a technique of applying thin glazes of oil paint to her canvases, giving her works a transparency and luminosity reminiscent of watercolor. In her upcoming show, A Procession of Curious Things, Pech returns to some quintessential Alice in Wonderland characters, objects, and themes. There are images of friendly felines, tea parties, rabbits popping up out of drawers, clocks whose hands read backwards, and keys that seem suspended in mid-air. “Arleta’s works appeal to collectors who love realistic images but who also want art that takes them to places unimagined,” says Abend Gallery owner Christine Serr.
As this story was going to press, Pech was hard at work finishing paintings for the upcoming show. When asked about her future goals, she responds quickly, “I want to paint paintings people love and hopefully collectors will buy. I’ve had notoriety through teaching and painting, but my world is simpler now. I just want more time to explore my imagination, because I’m having an awful lot of fun.”
Abend Gallery, Denver, CO; Horizon Fine Art, Jackson, WY; Highlands Art Gallery, Chester, NJ; www.arletapech.com.
Solo show, A Procession of Curious Things, Abend Gallery, May 6-June 24.
Featured as an “Artist to Watch” in May 2011.