Culture- ART FEATURE- Sugar water: Regan's languorous landscapes

It's time I confess: watercolor is not my favorite artistic medium. More often than not, watercolor paintings strike me as too weepy, too seep-y, too tooth-achingly sweet and easy. Which is why when someone like landscape painter Jeannine Barton Regan deviates from the norm, it catches my attention.

In the artist's statement accompanying her exhibition "Places of Refuge" at the McGuffey Art Center, Regan explains she originally used traditional watercolor techniques to create her landscapes. "[The paintings] were pretty, but seemed dull and lifeless," she writes. "I felt very limited in expressing what I wanted."

So Regan began experimenting with innovative surfaces, painting on smooth panels and textured deckle-edged paper, and changing up techniques to evoke more moody, less literal interpretations of tree-and water-filled vistas. The results, displayed in "Places of Refuge," are somewhat hit and miss– though, in the end, probably more hit.

Where Regan goes astray is when she sticks too closely to realism and incorporates candied colors into her palette, leading to saccharine results like "Spring Moonrise." Occasionally, she veers dangerously close to "Thomas Kincade, Painter of Light" territory, as in "Solitude," with its lonely little boat moored on a moonlit yellow-green pond.

Fortunately, Regan is freer in her expression elsewhere, allowing her landscapes to take on an abstract quality. The sponged-over hazy hilltop trees that blur into the rosy sky in the golden-hued "Path from the Beach," create a soothing, dreamlike experience. 

It's almost a cause-and-effect relationship: the more Regan risks, the more interesting her impact. For "Stillness II," she opts to use a near sliver of vertical canvas to brush in dark-green strokes, suggestive of trees, set perpendicular to lower horizontal strata of reds and browns. 

One of the show's most evocative images is the small "Indigo Moon." Against a deep turquoise sky, indistinct yet recognizable black tree shapes flank a downward sweep of a path. Behind the trees' branches, a butter-colored moon is barely visible. The edges within the painting are at once watery and ethereal, capturing the way daylight's details seem to elide into darkness at night.

Paintings aside, Regan's presentation of her work is also problematic. Although the gilt frames she's chosen tie into the warm cast of many of the landscapes, they are so portentous, I found myself distractedly thinking, "Wow, that's some gold frame."

But the best of Regan's pieces overcome what surrounds them. And they even push aside my watercolor prejudice.

Jeannine Barton Regan's exhibition, "Places of Refuge," is on view at the McGuffey Art Center through July 2. 201 Second St. NW. 295-7973.