Artist Who Lost Pieces in Café 225 Fire Summons Courage to Exhibit Again
Three female artists who share a love of painting the human face have come together for an impressive exhibit at the Courthouse Gallery in Exeter.
“Look at That Face! – An Exhibit of Portraiture” will be on display through March 31 and offers viewers an opportunity to interpret how three mediums — pastel, charcoal and oil — and three points of view can be used to create 30 drastically different pieces of art with a common theme.
The show also marks the first time that portrait and figure painter Lynn Hock Napoli of Fowler will showcase her art since a devastating fire at Café 225 destroyed nine paintings and several examples of her best work.
“Look at That Face!” also features the works of Visalia artists Ellen Milinich and LaVone Sterling.
“When the artists dropped off their paintings at the gallery, I knew I had made a good choice,” said Joanie Constable, a new board member who along with Peg Collins is charged with curating the gallery’s bimonthly shows.
The well-known artists are sure to be a good draw for the gallery, Constable said, bringing collectors and large followings with them. Her goal as a board member is to increase attendance at the gallery by hosting exhibits more often and spreading the word about the gallery in downtown Exeter.
A specific aim with this show is to also attract paying work for the artists.
“I am hopeful with this show that all three will get commission work,” she said.
Hock Napoli, in particular, is rebuilding her body of work following the fire.
(She expects to be covered in owner Karl Merten’s insurance claim. Merten is a staunch advocate of local artists, and his restaurant was a veritable gallery for those enjoying a meal. Artist Glenn Hill also lost a significant portion of his collection in the fire.)
“It’s been a traumatic experience,” Hock Napoli said of the fire. “It was heartbreaking, as those pieces I lost were some of my best. I lost one that I had painted of my grandmother when she was 8 years old.” This image is shown on the back of Hock Napoli’s artist brochure, available at the gallery.
She has soldiered on, pulling older work for the Exeter show and mixing it with some newer pieces.
“I was committed to this show, so I had to make it work,” she said.
Not only does Hock Napoli’s work shine, Sterling and Milinich’s pieces complement each other through their similar theme yet original styles.
A well-attended opening reception in early February filled the gallery space and the artists conversed with friends, made new connections and received many compliments on their work.
Portraits are equally enjoyable for Sterling, 81, known primarily for her plein aire landscape work.
“I enjoy the challenge,” she said. “I try to capture the individual essence of the model. What makes this person unique? Capturing the light in a painting is so important, but quite different in a landscape as opposed to a portrait.
In a landscape, the light is part of the subject. In a portrait, the light shines on the subject.”
Sterling’s portraits are painted in oil and pastel.
“They are very similar in technique and application,” she said. “I have found that painting with oil improves my skill with pastel and vice versa.”
Sterling and Milinich were featured in a show at the same gallery in 2010 (along with Sterling’s daughter, Lezlie, a photo editor at The Sacramento Bee) and have been best friends ever since. Although there’s a 20-year age difference, they connect as artists and offer each other constant encouragement.
While the exhibit features the human face, there are several equine and canine faces that take viewers by surprise. Two of Milinich’s charcoal drawings feature horses. “The Champion” and “Glory Days” greet guests as they enter the gallery space and immediately draw attention because of their incredible detail. Another notable piece by Milinich is a portrait of 104-year-old Marjorie Brandon of Visalia, an arts icon. It is on loan for this exhibit from the permanent collection of the Visalia Visual Chronicles, a privately funded and publicly owned art collection for the city of Visalia.
Watching people’s expressions as they view her work is one of Milinich’s favorite aspects of being an artist.
“It has been several years since I have had an exhibit, and it excites me to bring my pictures out publicly again,” she said. “I always enjoy people’s reactions to viewing the charcoal drawings. The life-like images always amaze them.”
Using charcoal as her medium was an easy choice for Milinich.
“When I first used it, I knew right off that this was my favorite. It was the way I could rub the charcoal on the paper to create shadows that seduced me,” she said. “Capturing how light lays
on the curves of a face can be very complex but exciting to me.”
She has been working as an artist for about a decade, encouraged by the message in the book “The Artist’s Way.”
“I grew up in Monterey, where my father taught art at Monterey Peninsula College. He said I inherited my art ability but said it was up to me to develop it. So, 10 years ago, I had an “a-ha” moment that I was to develop my drawing. ‘The Artist’s Way’ helped me on my path. Artists have a journey.”
All three women agree that portraiture is one of the best ways to capture the loved ones in your life, human or animal. Forget selfies or quick photos taken hastily with a cellphone.
“Portraiture is a three-dimensional rendering by the human hand,” Hock Napoli said. “No digital image can render what the human eye is capable of seeing.”
She encourages all to take time to travel to Exeter to see “Look at That Face!”
“Anyone who wants to experience something magical and special should make the trip and see the wonderful work by these gifted women, LaVone and Ellen,” she said. “They have developed into incredible award-winning artists. This type of beauty in art is rare these days, and I am humbled and honored to hang my work with theirs.”
A closing reception will be heldfrom 2-4 p.m. Sunday, March 17, at the Exeter Courthouse Gallery. There will be light appetizers and refreshments available. The free event is open to the public. The artists will be available.