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Robin Zefers Clark Tames Unruly Watercolors

robinBy Jeff Martin

It may seem a bit odd that the very thing Robin Zefers Clark once hated is the very thing she’s become quite famous for.

Clark, an Otto resident, remembers when she first tried watercoloring. Trained professionally in oils, Clark remembers the intense unpredictability of watercolors. She called the medium “unruly,” a stark contrast to the malleable oils she began painting with as a child.

“When I first tried it,” Clark said, standing in her studio on an unseasonably warm October afternoon, “I hated it. I just couldn’t get it. I was an oil painter.”

She was in her last year at Rochester Institute of Technology, where she was finishing her master’s degree. Driving home one afternoon, in full panic because the class was abstract-based, she saw a group of cows gathered at a fence. She saw their spots and was instantly transfixed. Their hides, she realized, were abstract images.

She began painting the spots — painting after painting after painting. She never revealed the source of her inspiration, not even to her instructor, until after the class was finished.

That was years ago. After graduation, Clark taught art at Cattaraugus/Little Valley High School, a position she held for 33 years until her recent retirement. During her off time, Clark painted. And painted.

Now she has amassed an impressive gallery, Brookside Studio Watercolors, 8363, Otto-Maples Rd. in Little Valley. It’s an Amish-built shed with hardwood floors and a second floor workshop. There’s a patio where she often sits and watches the world pass by quietly.

The shed was once located on a former property, but Clark moved it to its present location. And by moving it, thus giving her an experience of looking at different geography through the same windows, she’s illustrated what good artists do best: they look at the world differently through the same eyes.

There is no fixed subject Clark paints exclusively. There are portraits, landscapes, architecture. In one piece, Clark narrowed her eyes and her brush on tree limbs and trunk, creating what she called “a moody” piece.” In another, she depicted the vibrancy of autumn colors.

“Sometimes the autumn colors in this area just blinds you, and that’s what I was trying to do,” she said.

As a realist painter, Clark incorporates only three colors: cadmium red, cadmium yellow and Prussian blue. Depending on the subject, sometimes she uses a single color, or she combines the colors to create other colors.

Clark paints on commission and independently. Some of her more favorite works are portraits — of families, of dogs. There is not one specific subject she likes to paint more or less.

Clark’s studio is one of three that will offer an open house soon. Part of the East Otto Artist Series, which is held the first weekend of November each year, Clark will be present to show the public her working studio and paintings on Nov. 2 and 3 from 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

“We’ve been offering the open house event for over 20 years,” she said. “A lot of people come, and they’re glad they did because it gives them a chance to see the studio itself. It really gives the person a good idea of what it’s like to create.”

Clark is accustomed to the shows. She’s had several solo and group exhibitions. In addition, her work has been featured in Country Woman magazine, The Buffalo News and Focus. She’s won several awards and her work has been featured in many private collections throughout the world.

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