Paper Canvas at SOBA this month: An artist stretches the medium.

“Look at 100 different watercolorists and you’ll see 100 different styles.”  That’s what artist Mary Ann Putzier told me as her paintings went up at SOBA gallery in Bluffton, South Carolina for the exhibit, Paper Canvas, showing March 4 through 30.

Chief, by Mary Ann Putzier, one of the portraits in Paper Canvas at SOBA.

I think she’s being too modest.  I think her paintings are more declarative, more colorful, lifelike and emotional than what I usually expect to see in watercolor.  Stop in and have a look for yourself at the Society of Bluffton Artists’ gallery on the corner of Calhoun and Church Streets.

The Chief who greets you as you enter the exhibit is a good example, and more surprises wait within.  Mary Ann’s work seems to prove that watercolor does not have to be soft-focus or lyrical.  It can be forthright and colorful, with a strong sense of line.

Still, some suggestion of “impressionist” is there despite Mary Ann’s realistic style.  You can feel her fascination with architectural shapes, light and shadow.  You sense that you stole a real moment from the lifelike birds she

Sun and shadow open a closed door in Italy.

painted, because they seem to be caught in the act of living.  Even her flowers seem to live, rather than to pose, with Mary Ann’s clear-eyed treatment.

A special attraction in this show is “Il Camino,” a dozen paintings of centuries old Italian chimneys from the artist’s visit to Umbria.  In Todi, a small town of this mountainous region north of Rome, Mary Ann discovered chimneys that stand like personalities above the ancient streets.  Her paintings of them testify to the artist’s ability to see infinite specificity where many might generalize, or even overlook.

Florals and scenes get the Paper Canvas touch.

The paintings of Il Camino demonstrate the literal meaning of the show’s title, Paper Canvas.  Special grades of paper are stretched over a wooden frame – as a canvas would be – and then sealed with wax.

I find another meaning in the title, too.  Oil paints on canvas are sometimes thought to be the medium for power, intensity, vibrant saturation and dramatic line.  In the Society of Bluffton Artists’ show of Mary Ann Putzier paintings, we see that watercolors can communicate with that same power.  In the right hands, of course.

People, animals and birds get the Paper Canvas treatment. Including a young Redwings fan.

Make time to see this exceptional exhibit.  And meet the artist at a special reception, 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 10 at the SOBA Gallery, Calhoun Street at Church Street in Bluffton.  Call 757-6586 or visit http://sobagallery.com/ for more information.