This week’s cover art may surprise those who know Lisa Argentieri’s work. “Pansies,” a small, texturally rich acrylic done with a palette knife that crowds flower heads in a riot of bold color, is not what admirers most readily associate with her work. She’s typically a watercolorist, with an approach that is loose, intuitive and free-flowing. She moves on instinct, no preliminary drawings or studies, and she usually finishes a painting in one sitting. Ironically, she attributes her sense of freedom and spontaneous expressionist style to her classical, formal training. Argentieri cites as inspirations master Impressionists Matisse and Van Gogh, as well as Gerhard Richter, John Singer Sargent and Wolf Kahn.
Argentieri is honored, she says, to have been selected by the world famous art brush manufacturer Escoda, and by Daniel Smith Artists’ Materials, as their featured artist. In 2014 she was voted Best Artist of Nassau County, and she is a member of the Salmagundi Art Club and local art leagues. Drawing since she was five years old, Argentieri has a B. F. A. from the School of Visual Arts.
You took a break from the world of fine art to become a graphic artist. When did watercolor emerge as your preferred medium?
When I got back to painting I wasn’t too confident, but a Facebook friendship with the late watercolorist Nicholas Simmons changed that. He was so encouraging. He became a mentor. Like my husband, Giorgio, he was always urging me on. I’m also inspired by old wave Rock ’n’ Roll and the ocean—my paintbrush goes with the music. I had been doing smaller canvases until Simmons got me to go looser and larger in both watercolor and acrylic. I wound up doing a series of little flower paintings. It was like putting icing on a cake. And, I did acrylics with my hands—what a mess, but what fun! I never know what I want to paint until I’m halfway in.
What is distinctive about your work?
My paintings are very free-flowing, loose and bold with color. I dive right into the dry paper without hesitation, with a loaded brush full of lush, vibrant color. What sets me apart from most watercolorists, I think, especially with my figurative work, is my use of negative space—more important than positive space for me. I love watercolor because It’s often unpredictable. I like controlling the chaos that happens when water and pigment dance on paper.
You do figures, solo and groups, landscapes and still lifes. What do you most enjoy?
People tell me I’m an extremely versatile painter, but I love doing figures and flowers most of all. Figures show anatomy, and I can do them in 10 strokes. I wish I had a studio—I would find a muse and do more.
You work with Daniel Smith’s Quinacridone colors, pigments that dazzle with bold hues. When did you discover them?
I read an article about them and bought a tube of gold, and that was it. I always use this color in my watercolors. It’s my go-to color. The colors are like jewels, so vibrant, and they mix well with each other—I don’t mix colors on a palette but let them freely merge together on the paper, not bounded by outlines. Also, what you see is what you get, there are no surprises when the painting dries, it doesn’t dry lighter.
Lisa Argentieri donates paintings to various charities. Her work can also be seen on her website, lawatercolor.com.