Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Visual Arts Center Unveils Masterpiece Painting Project

A version of this article was published in the June 20, 2013 edition of Florida Weekly:  

Liz Hutchinson's rendition on Monet and his Water Lilies
Don’t be surprised if you notice Claude Monet with his paintbrush in hand the next time you drive down Marion Avenue in Punta Gorda.  You’re not hallucinating.  The Visual Arts Center  (VAC) unveiled the first work in its Masterpiece Painting Project in early June:  a reproduction of one of Monet’s Water Lilies paintings.  The work has been mounted on the north side of its building across from Fishermen’s Village.   It is the first of five paintings to be hung over time that will both bring more outdoor art to Punta Gorda, a city known for its murals, and give passersby a hint about what’s going on within the walls of the VAC. 

For the last nine years, the VAC has hosted a Fine Arts Festival in November celebrating the work of famous artists.  Past Festivals have highlighted artists as varied as Toulouse-Lautrec, Georgia O’Keefe, Michelangelo, Leonardo DaVinci, and Degas.  Each year one of the featured artist’s works has been reproduced by local artists and hung outside the entrance to the VAC to welcome visitors to the Festival.  Both the size of the works—approximately 7’ x 11’—and the quality of the artistry give credence to the term “masterpiece” for these paintings.

Lost Masterpiece -- Toulouse-Lautrec's Jane Avril  and Divan
Janponais created by Suzanne Bowles and Carole Cobb
Last year, the work of Claude Monet provided the theme for the Festival, and Liz Hutchinson was asked to recreate one of his paintings.  Hutchinson was a natural choice as she taught art classes for ten summers with ArtStudy at Monet’s home in Giverny, France.  As Hutchinson painted her rendition of Monet’s Water Lilies in a gallery at the VAC, people asked what would happen to the painting after the Festival.  When she inquired, Hutchinson found out that the masterpiece works that had been so assiduously created in prior years had been painted over and the plywood canvas reused for the next year’s painting.  (The exception was the reproduction of The Creation of Adam which found a home at a local church.) 

This realization led Hutchinson and husband Frank Sperry to mount a campaign to save these works.   The idea of creating an exterior gallery at the VAC was born.   Like all projects, there were a number of hoops to be jumped through before the project could move forward, including obtaining Punta Gorda City Council approval.  And if the Monet masterpiece would be the first work to grace the new gallery, it would have to be repainted using weatherproof acrylic paint and other appropriate materials.  Hutchinson volunteered to re-paint the work if approval was granted. 
The City Council approved the project last spring, and Hutchinson got to work.   Earlier this month, a ribbon cutting was held to commemorate the hanging of her rendition of Monet’s Water Lilies.  
Hutchinson’s work on the masterpiece painting project is not done, however.  She volunteered to paint the masterpiece for this year’s Festival as well, which will feature the work of John Singer Sargent.   The painting Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose has been selected as the masterpiece to be recreated.    Hutchinson is enthusiastic about the choice, having seen the original at the Tate Museum some years ago.  She realized, however, that the dimensions weren’t quite right for the plywood canvas on which the work would be done.  The painting is more or less square, while the canvas is rectangular.  Hutchinson found a photograph of Sargent painting in plein air the year Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose was created.  A decision was made to incorporate Sargent into the work.   (Monet’s likeness can similarly be seen in the masterpiece painting already on display.) 

Detail from Sargent's Carnation, Lily,
Lily, Rose
reproduced by Liz Hutchinson
In a recent conversation, Hutchinson explained a bit about her process of creating the painting, which will take about six weeks of steady effort.  Using a print of Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose as her guide, Hutchinson gridded the canvas into six sections to ensure that the perspective and aspect ratio would be accurate.  Next she drew the painting onto the canvas, a project that took the better part of three days.  Only then was it time to start painting.  The masterpiece won’t be unveiled until the opening of the Festival in November, but it promises to be worth waiting for.

With the conclusion of each year’s Fine Arts Festival, a new painting will be added to the VAC’s outdoor gallery.  Eventually, five masterpiece paintings will be on view.  After five years, the oldest painting will be removed to make room for the latest reproduction.   

The Masterpiece Painting Project will both showcase the talent of our local artists and supplement the great outdoor art that Punta Gorda already offers.   There’s no doubt about it—Punta Gorda’s got art.    

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