“God is in the details,” famously said Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the eminent pioneer of modern architecture. Reston painter Dana Scheurer would probably heartily agree.
Her large, bold, surreal and often whimsical watercolors, with their precise, well-defined edges, swell with details — details that portray not only specific subject matter but also myriad inventive images that personally delight Scheurer and have become hallmarks of her work.
Architectural and geometric forms in dream-like interiors and exteriors are juxtaposed with arts-related vignettes — old master paintings and sculptures (famed and fanciful), paintbrushes and palettes, dancers, musical instruments and keyboards. It is not unusual for unexpected objects like transportation vehicles, fish and flowers to be woven into the visual mix, too.
“Inspiration may be found in the most unlikely of places and times,” according to Scheurer. “Particular influences include the works of Picasso, Matisse, Moore and Leger.” Of those four influences, Scheurer’s work is especially reminiscent of that of French cubist Fernand Leger, whose idiosyncratic form of cubism emphasized cylindrical shapes.
Although exceedingly slender herself, Scheurer, 61, an accomplished marathoner (who has completed three Boston Marathons) and triathlete, paints highly muscular and robust people, suggestive of Colombian figurative painter Fernando Botero, whose figures are characterized by exaggerated volume.
There is so much to see and ponder that viewing a Scheurer watercolor invites multiple visits.
“Art should not be a passive experience,” said Scheurer, who finds it “really rewarding to see people being entertained by something I’ve created.”
Twenty-two new works (21 original watercolors and one limited-edition giclee print) by Scheurer, done over the past two years, are now on exhibit through April 16 at Hyatt Regency Reston’s Market Street Bar and Grill in Reston Town Center. Sponsored by the Greater Reston Arts Center, a longtime supporter of Scheurer and her work, the exhibit’s opening reception was Jan. 30.
“It is so exciting for us [GRACE] to highlight the works of one of our locally grown artists,” said Erica Harrison, associate curator at GRACE, who worked with Scheurer in organizing and hanging the exhibit.
Describing Scheurer, whose work also has been exhibited at Washington, D.C.’s Zenith Gallery and is in a number of corporate and private collections, as a “consummate worker who is always producing,” Harrison added, “It was such a pleasure to so easily get through the logistic part and jump right into the creative part.”
Scheurer explained, “When I do a show like this, I like to have a little bit of everything I do … everything I enjoy.”
Scheurer’s highly recognizable and representative painting style did not truly develop until after she moved to Reston from Indiana in 1981 with her husband of 41 years, Michael, 62, the Northern Virginia representative of the Virginia Housing Development Authority, which finances affordable housing.
Although now very identified with Reston, whose places are the subject of many of her works, Scheurer chose Reston as the place to live because of her husband’s study of urban planning and career in community development. Their eventual friendship with Reston founder Robert E. Simon and his wife, Cheryl, who own several of Scheurer’s paintings, has been a delightful bonus, she said.
Among Scheurer’s recent commissions is an installation for the lobby of Heron House, a landmark high-rise in Reston’s Lake Anne Village. Scheurer also recently completed an installation for the Jordan, a new 90-unit residential building in the Ballston section of Arlington, designed by Bonddtra/Haresign and developed by AHC Inc. (the Arlington Housing Corp.).
Initially juried into GRACE as a fiber artist, Scheurer, whose proud father sold her teenage pen-and-ink drawings of “big-eyed children” to office colleagues, made her biggest artistic leaps under the decade-long mentorship of Luba Dryer, then director of Washington, D.C.’s Touchstone Gallery. Fellow well-known Northern Virginia artists Connie Slack and Ann Barbieri, who remain good friends, introduced her to Touchstone, Scheurer recalled.
“Everything exploded after that once I started working in watercolor. … I loved [Luba]. She’d bring in images to stimulate me; she got me to open the room up,” Scheurer said.
She added: “Had I not met her, [there’s] no way would I’d be doing what I am doing now. I’d be [still] painting bunnies and bears for a company in Indianapolis, schlock work that paid well, but I knew it was schlock.”
Scheurer’s paintings are now triumphs of precise technique and a vivid, informed imagination. She credits their emphatic forms and defined edges to “an exact pen-and-ink and printmaking background.” With an extremely seasoned hand, she drafts and then paints with the smallest of brushes.
She laughed thinking about her inability to color within the lines as a kindergartner, suggesting the assiduous work of her teacher might have contributed to the fierce precision of her current work.
Known for intensely working on her detailed paintings for hours on end, Scheurer suggested that her family, including two grown daughters who also live in Northern Virginia, might primarily remember her sitting at her drafting table alone working … and working.
But her evolution as an artist was far from a solitary journey. Her husband Michael, whom she wed when he was 21 and she was 20, has been a steady, encouraging force every step of the way, she said.
“I’ve been an eyewitness to her growth as a master artist,” said an obviously proud Michael Scheurer, who also is the president of the all-volunteer, nonprofit HomeAid Northern Virginia, a group of developers who renovate and develop affordable housing and other facilities for groups like Reston Interfaith.
One of the benefits of being the “talentless” supportive spouse of an artist, he said, is being able to view the world through her sharp artist eyes. “Dana pulls me out of my world and into hers,” he explained. “Artists are not standard creatures. Artists see the world differently. … I enjoy being a part of it; I’m in awe. And when she’s done [with a painting], we go off and celebrate.”
Even before Scheurer’s Hyatt exhibit opened, its centerpiece painting, the 42-inch by 32-inch “Magic Garden,” sold. The purchaser is fellow artist and longtime friend Connie Slack. But friendship had nothing to do with her purchase, Slack said.
“When she sent the invitation, I was floored with how gorgeous this piece was. The more I looked; the more I saw. It’s so different from my work, and I thought it would be so much fun to live with,” said Slack, who is a purely abstract artist.
Despite their stylistic differences, after discussing with Scheurer her thinking when she was creating the painting, Slack was struck by the similarities in their process. “Like me, her ideas just grew as she worked. … All artists work that way. A lot of us just let it grow.”