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Artist of the Month

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'Johnston Canyon' by Ross Barbera

By Irene Ruddock

Ross Barbera, a graduate of Pratt Institute, is known for his representational acrylic paintings on canvas, watercolors on paper, original jewelry and digital and abstract art. Presently teaching at St. John’s University in the Art and Design Department in Queens where he was chairman for three years, Ross continues to win many juried awards and prestigious grants to pursue his prolific art career.

You were born and raised in Brooklyn, yet all of your paintings, and even much of your jewelry, are depictions of some aspect of the rural landscape. How did that come about?

I spent my summers at my family’s homes in Smithtown and Peakville, New York, and it was during these summers away from the city that I discovered the world of the natural landscape. They were welcome retreats from the city where everything was different: night times were cool, the air smelled clean. I was surrounded by deep forests, ponds and running streams. I was particularly attracted to the interplay of sunlight on flowing water. Nature became the primary inspiration for my paintings ever since then.

Much of your work is representational, yet you also paint in the abstract. What is your inspiration for your abstract work?

Although representational landscape painting has dominated my artistic direction, I discovered abstract, luminous worlds by observing pond surfaces and ice formations “close-up.” For me, this was the hidden world beyond the visible world that has provided the inspiration for my abstract paintings.

Water Lily Watercolor Pendant by Ross Barbera

You have an interesting process in watercolor painting that you teach in your classes and workshops. Can you tell us about this?

I have been experimenting with methods that enable me to retain the look of watercolor painting while achieving painted surfaces comparable in strength to acrylic on canvas; this eliminates the need to protect the painting by framing it behind glass. The first step in this process is to bind the watercolor paper to stretched canvas with a thick polymer gel medium. The finished watercolor painting is then protected with multiple layers of acrylic varnish, and for the top layer I apply a few coats of a removable UV protecting varnish.

Some of the background of your paintings have a stained glass effect — clean, clear, translucent and filled with saturated color. How do you achieve that?

I’ve always worked hard to give my paintings a quality of light, in the belief that good landscape painting needs to communicate a feeling of atmosphere; I never complete a painting until I feel it projects a strong quality of sunlight. Regarding my watercolor paintings, I believe the natural transparency of the watercolor medium contributes to a clean, translucent image. I do not apply watercolor paint with sable paint brushes. I predampen the color shape to be painted with a paint brush and clean water. Next, using needle dispenser bottles that have been filled with premixed watercolor to the consistency that I require for painting, I apply multiple colors into the predampened area, and I permit the colors to freely intermix and blend without working into them with a brush. This method of paint application results in clean, clear and beautifully translucent color shapes, and I believe the effect is further enhanced by the application of the final, protective layers of varnish.

‘Glacier’ by Ross Barbera

How does your digital work influence your art?

My wife Bonnie bought me my first tablet where I downloaded a drawing app. I was instantly addicted! I eventually downloaded a painting app and loved the convenience of digital plein air painting. Next, I began to export my digital paintings to my computer so I could continue to develop them in Photoshop. I restrict myself to basic brushes that come close to what I use in my acrylic on canvas paintings, and I do not use any effects or filters. I intend my digital paintings to be characterized by the same painterly quality that you would see in my paintings on canvas.

How did you become interested in creating jewelry? Can you describe how you incorporate your watercolors into your jewelry?

I started making jewelry when I was a graduate student at Pratt Institute. My early jewelry was created mostly in sterling, and I often incorporated enamels to add color. I am now using a wide range of different types of paper and wood and eventually discovered the limitless possibilities of building pendants, earrings, bracelets and hair pieces with layers of watercolor paper. I like building up layers on 140-pound Arches watercolor paper, and painting directly onto the surface with watercolor and acrylic paints. I coat the jewelry with multiple layers of acrylic varnish, and the final process involves heating the finished piece in an oven at 150°F, which hardens the varnish process.

What is the focus of your recent work?

I visited the Canadian Rockies with the intent of photographing the mountain glaciers and rivers for a new series of acrylic paintings that would be dedicated to the disappearing glaciers. I plan to continue in my effort to capture the diversity of the North American landscape in painting and will visit national parks throughout the United States and Canada for this purpose.

Where can we see your artwork?

I currently have an exhibit featuring my paintings and jewelry at the Comsewogue Public Library in Port Jefferson Station through the month of September. I also currently have a painting on exhibit in the juried show Colors of the Night at the Mills Pond House Gallery in St. James until Sept. 30. My paintings and jewelry can be viewed at any time by visiting www.rossbarbera.com, and my instructional videos can be found on my YouTube channel Realisticart. My jewelry can be purchased directly from my website, www.paperpendants.com.

Above, front and side view of ‘Topo Shift: MacIntyre Range, 2015.’ Its blue/white coloration is derived from winter hiking.

By Irene Ruddock

Winn Rea addresses environmental themes in her sculptures, installations, videos and works on paper. She has exhibited in galleries and museums, both nationally and internationally, being awarded many prestigious grants and awards. Presently, her work is being shown at the Heckscher Museum of Art in an exhibit aptly titled Earth Muse: Art and the Environment. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Rea about her latest venture.

Environmental Artist Winn Rea

The exhibit at the Heckscher describes its exhibit as ‘presenting the work of artists who view the earth as muse for contemplation of nature’s beauty and diversity.’ Can you tell us what works you are showing there?

At the Heckscher Museum you can see examples of my topographic relief paintings. They are based on my time in the Adirondack Mountains. I love going to the Adirondacks because I can unplug from the wired world and reconnect with nature.

How does your time in nature translate into your artwork?    

While hiking I “collect” shadows by photographing them. Back in the studio, I construct topographic reliefs based on U.S. Geological Survey maps of the area.  They are built out of 1/8-inch Russian birch plywood that I paint using colors and shadow patterns from the woods. People are fascinated because the reliefs are not solid, they are hollow like sea shells, and the shadow almost fools you into looking over your shoulder for the tree that cast it.

What other ways do you use art to express your interest in the environment?   

All of my works are a meditation on where I fit into the greater scheme of things on the planet. When I make videos, they are about the passage of time in the short term, like how the flow of water in a stream changes over the course of a day, or the long term — as in geologic time — which is explored in my works on paper that are made by evaporation.

In your works on paper, you say that you do not paint in the traditional sense, but tend to them as you would a garden. Can you explain what you mean by that?    

Well, it helps to know my process for the works on paper: first, I sculpt the paper, crinkling it into folds like mountain ranges. Then I flood the paper with pigment, which slowly evaporates leaving marks much like contour lines. So, in effect, instead of pushing pigments here or there with a brush, I work in synchrony with the natural process of evaporation. In gardening terms, I prepare the “soil” (sculpted paper), “water it” (pour pigments), and “harvest” the result — a three-dimensional painting on paper.

Above, ‘Topo-Shift- Upper Saranac Lake’

You are an associate professor of art at Long Island University C.W. Post. What do you wish to get across to your students about how art and the environment are related?

I want to give students confidence in their own creativity and help them cultivate their problem-solving skills through the design process. The reality is, their capacity to imagine and realize new, sustainable ways to thrive is the answer to our planet’s future.

In your world exhibitions, is there one country that you enjoyed the most?

I most enjoyed my travels to Korea especially to the tea farms in the mountains. Here the tea bushes are planted along contour lines that accentuate the form of the mountains. I felt most at home there.

Many artists are looking for longevity in their work, yet you describe much of your work as ‘temporal.’ Why?

I want people to enjoy my work and even collect it in order to have it in their lives, if it brings pleasure to them. But I am not interested in making a commodity.  I want my legacy to be longer lasting in terms of the way my work helps people to think about the world differently and to become more aware of the impact of their everyday choices on the planet.

Above, front and side view of ‘Topo Shift: Cliff Mountain, 2015.’

‘Falling Water’ appears to be one of your most influential and popular installation sculptures. What effect were you trying to achieve?   

In “Falling Water,” I made use of the sculptural and material qualities of our ubiquitous disposable water bottles. Cutting them on a curve releases the energy of a spiral. The clear plastic refracts the light, de-materializing the plastic. In a way, their beauty seduces us into ignoring their treachery — the needless use of petroleum products to package and transport a resource that we have as close as our tap.

What are you working on now?   

I am working on a series of small topographic reliefs that include bodies of water.  I am curious about bathometry (contours of the earth under water) and am exploring that margin between land and sea.

Do you have another exhibit coming up?  

Yes, I have works hanging at Gallery 46 in Lake Placid.  As part of the visual arts extension of the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, it is a great location for people to see my work in the context of the land that inspires it.

Can you tell us about your philosophy of life that influences your art?   

The philosophy behind my work can be traced back to time spent hiking with my dad as a young girl.  I loved the smell of the decaying leaves and movement of air amongst the trees. (I think of it now as the woods breathing.) My dad taught me to read the contours of the land while on the trail; back home he showed me where we had hiked on a 3-D topographic map. My dad also taught me about the natural cycle of things, of how the decay of one body feeds the life of another. This informs all my life’s work!

Winn Rea’s work is on exhibit at the Heckscher Museum of Art, 2 Prime Ave., Huntington through July 30. For more information, visit her website at www.winnrea.com.

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'Exodus' by Terence Netter

By Irene Ruddock

Terence Netter

Terence Netter, who divides his time between Setauket and Saint-Georges-sur-Cher, France, has had an illustrious career that includes teaching, painting and wide-ranging administrative work in the arts. Locally, he is known for his achievements as the first director of the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University, and, of course, for the visionary power of his paintings. Honored recently for these contributions by Gallery North, Netter is referred to as a “community treasure.”

As Staller Center director for 19 years, what was your vision for the center?

My goal was to make the center a major showcase for the arts. I am delighted to see how it has grown under the present leadership continuing to ever expand this goal.

What inspired you to evolve into painting landscapes in a minimalist style?

I changed my style of paintings to do works which evoke a sense of peace. When I moved to France, I became a practitioner and devotee of Zen Mediation which is an ancient technique of emptying one’s mind of distractions to enter a zone of peace. It calms your spirit so that you feel at one with the universe. My present painting process is a form of this meditation, and my newer paintings are an indication of this change. I call them “Zenscapes.”

 

‘Sunrise at Low Tide’ by Terence Netter

As a Christian, how do you reconcile Christianity and Zen Meditation?

The tradition of Christianity includes meditation. I was imbued with this through my study with the Jesuits. I find that both are traditions of finding peace in this ever more contentious and noisy world. Prayer and meditation are both ways of searching for the great mysteries of life and both have led me to paint in a peaceful manner.

How are art and religion entwined?

They are very much alike. The great philosopher Hegel said that art is the sensuous expression of the visual, and religion is the imaginative. Art and religion are two different forms of expressing the fact that the human spirit continues to evolve toward the infinite.

You often speak of achieving peace in your paintings. How do you define peace?

St. Thomas Aquinas says that “Peace is the tranquility of order.”

I’ve noticed that you often have the sun or moon in your paintings. What is the significance?

It’s the circle of life. The sun represents male power as exemplified by the god Apollo while the moon is represented by the goddess Venus. If you really want the answer to that, you will have to speak with my psychiatrist!

You also describe yourself as a teacher. What is your goal as a teacher?

I feel more complete as a person in the act of teaching. It is, for me, a way of growing. I teach in order to learn. I want to show students that life is an adventure in an unknown country — it is a “vision quest.” My goal as a teacher is to inspire young minds to open up, remove prejudices, and to set people on the path to finding truth. I encourage the study of the great thinkers who have influenced me such Hegel, Rahner, Kant and Chardin, to inspire the reflection necessary for growth. To grow, you have to be plugged into the spirit of the times — the Zeitgeist!

In your lectures, you talk about the search for the meaning of art through the centuries. What is your definition of the meaning of art?

I believe that art is nature reborn through the free consciousness of the human spirit. Artists create a new world for people to enter. Art is the visual expression of that infinitely evolving human spirit which is why each generation has to create their own vision of art.

Why did you choose the Loire Valley for your second home?

I went there when I was young and decided to take my wife Therese to visit on our 30th anniversary. We bought a little farmhouse and that is where I now do most of my painting. There I was inspired to paint the French Perspectives series and others that express “emotions recollected in tranquility.” My paintings have been described as capturing that special light and perfumed air of the Loire Valley.

You have mentioned that you spend time writing in France. Can you share with our readers what you are writing?

Yes, I am writing my memoirs!

Where can we see your art?

In Setauket, I am exhibiting my selected works at Gallery North (90 North Country Road, Setauket) until June 17 and in New York City I am represented by the Woodward Gallery. I am especially honored to be in many museums and private collections in the States and in Europe.

What do you want the viewer to feel or see when they view your paintings?

I want the viewer’s mind and eye to take a walk beyond the here and now. I hope that they experience that there is more beyond the horizon — the possibility of existence beyond the reach of our senses, even though we can’t see it. Most of all, I wish that they sense the deep peace that I am trying to evoke in my paintings.

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'Grateful' by Lana Ballot

By Irene Ruddock

Lana Ballot, a signature member of the Pastel Society of America is known for her stunning seascapes and coastal scenes, one of which just won first place (‘Grateful’) in The Art Guild of Port Washington Juried Exhibition “America.” Here, she shares her views on her art with us.

What is your heritage and how has it affected your art?

Lana Ballot

I was born in Siberia, Russia, but most of my childhood was spent in Kyrgyzstan, in the south of the former Soviet Union. We lived near a resort area with a large beautiful lake (the second largest mountain lake in the world), beaches and distant mountain views. I remember watching how the lake changes colors depending on the weather, or how the setting sun colors the mountain peaks golden and pink. There I started paying close attention to colors in nature and I’m sure that’s why now, as an artist, I’m so attracted to landscape and seascape as my main subjects.

Where did you study?

It was clear since I was a child that I had some artistic ability, but there were no art schools where we lived. After I came to the United States, I felt that I was given a chance to start over and do what I really love. I enrolled as a studio arts major at Stony Brook and spent years immersed in drawing, painting and learning art history.

Why do you prefer to work with pastels?

‘Sayville Vines’ by Lana Ballot

Pastels are a perfect medium that fits so well in a contemporary lifestyle — it does not require much space or use of any toxic solvents and it’s very portable, which makes it perfect for painting outdoors. Pastels are made of pure powdered pigment that is held together with very little binder, so they have the highest color concentration than any other artist’ medium. The colors in paintings made with pastels will stay brilliant and fresh for centuries!

Where do you teach?

I was fortunate to have been invited to join the group of talented artists teaching at The Atelier at Flowerfield in St. James. Currently, I offer two classes — a studio Pastel Painting class on Tuesday evenings and a Plein Air with Pastels class on Friday mornings. In addition to these ongoing classes, I teach workshops that are usually focused on a specific subject, like Painting Seascapes with Pastels from Aug. 18 to 20. This June, I’m teaching a week-long Plein Air workshop in Tuscany, Italy — a dream destination for a landscape painter!

‘Stony Brook Sunset’ by Lana Ballot

Tell me about your Tuscany workshop. Can people still sign up for it?

Yes, there’s still time to sign up. This is a painting vacation from June 17 to 24. The group will be staying in a villa in Tuscany, near the beautiful town of Cortona, the filming location for the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun.” Learning in a relaxed atmosphere in a gorgeous setting, while enjoying Italian food and wine will be a wonderful experience.

Do you have a favorite place to paint on Long Island?

Smith Point Beach in Shirley and Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai are my go-to places for seascapes and coastal subjects. It does not matter how many times I’ve walked through the dunes or by the water, I’ll find something new and exciting, because the light is never quite the same. I’m also fortunate to live near the beautiful village of Stony Brook, where I’ve painted in different seasons and weather, and where I’m bringing my plein air students during this spring semester.

Why do you like painting en plein air?

There’s no substitute for learning about color for a landscape artist than to paint outside en plein air. Besides, it’s just great to be immersed in my subject, with all senses engaged.

‘Snow in Cedar Beach Dunes’ by Lana Ballot

Who is your favorite artist?

[John Singer] Sargent is one of the biggest influences on my work for his sense of color and expressive brushwork.

If you had to choose one word to describe your art, what would that be?

Color! That is what most people would mention when they speak about my work. It’s also the brilliant color that is found in, and is so special about, my preferred painting medium — pastels.

Where can we see your work and learn more about your teaching and the workshops?

Visit my website at www.lanaballot.com or call me at 262-347-1176. You may also register for my classes or workshops at The Atelier in St. James by calling 631-250-9009 or by visiting their website, www.atelieratflowerfield.org.

'Avalon Garden' by Sungsook Setton

By Irene Ruddock

Sungsook Setton of Setauket is a watercolor and ink artist whose work bridges East and West and has brought her international recognition. She has exhibited in Canada, Korea, Taiwan, England and the United States. Setton twice won Best in Show at the National Juried Exhibition by the Sumi-e Society of America.

Quote: ‘My work, based on East Asian brush painting and Western artistic innovation, can be seen as expressive abstraction, allowing me to harness the spirit of qi.’

When did you begin painting?

Sungsook Setton

From an early age, I was always drawn to art and painted in the traditional western style. However, I began East Asian water and ink brush painting while revisiting Korea searching for my roots. I studied with Chinese and Korean masters who had me practice one stroke at a time for a month until it was perfect. They taught me that, just as musicians play scales and dancers practice steps, watercolor-ink painters practice the basic strokes to prepare for more intricate work. This began my personal journey to meld traditions of eastern and western art into my art.

What is the most important lesson you learned from your teachers?

One of the most important lessons is to achieve tranquility while you paint. Becoming one with the brush is an essential meditative experience that leads to tranquility. Tranquility then leads to qi, which leads to the transcendence necessary for painting.

Can you tell us more about qi?

It is a life force or energy flow. It is a central Chinese principle — the harmony of yin and yang.

‘Flatiron Building’ by Sungsook Setton

What else influences your art?

The most influential classic book for the Chinese water-ink artist is the Qing Dynasty reference “Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden,” which teaches that polished skills lead to a deeper understanding of the wonders of nature. While engaged in painting landscape, it’s almost a spiritual nutrition for me. Surrounded by nature, my mind is calm and clear, and I can focus on my subject. I then use suggestions in my brushwork to interpret forms in their simplest state. By paring back, I hope to reveal and capture the qi of nature. Brush painting represents the perfect meeting between the qi of the artist and the qi of nature.

What is your best advice for people viewing your work?

When viewing the paintings, look also for the empty spaces as well as the positive spaces. The nonpainted area, called ying, is there to allow you to breathe deeply and to grow and to achieve peace.

You have just written a beautiful book titled “The Spirit of the Brush.” Can you explain why you chose the title?

My brush has taken me on a spiritual journey. With my brush, I feel that I am not only a painter, but a dancer and a musician. I sing songs with my brush and dance with it. It is the goal of every watercolor painter to become one with the brush, so the title “The Spirit of the Brush” is fitting for me.

‘West Meadow Beach’ by Sungsook Setton

Tell me more about the book.

It is a story of my personal journey. It is also a book that teaches others how to achieve water-ink paintings by providing information on brush and paper materials. It is a guide for learning how to incorporate this art form into their own unique work — finding their own path, or dao, to where their brush will lead them.

When you say that you sing songs with your brush, how has that transpired?

I’ve spent a lot of time depicting music in my paintings over the years. I was invited to participate in a multimedia performance Brush Voice. During the performance, my abstract expressionist paintings were projected onto a large screen while the Ardesco group played the music at the Wang Center at Stony Brook University. After that, I have done live performances with a jazz musician.

What is your best advice for artists?

My advice for artists is to remember that nature always has new things to teach you!.

Where can we view your paintings and purchase your new book?

Come visit me at my art studio at 22 Mud Road in Setauket where I also teach. I am exhibiting my paintings at the Art League of Long Island with the Long Island Sumi-e Society member show from April 22 to May 7. The exhibition is called The Fragrance of Ink. “The Spirit of the Brush” is coming out in June and may be preordered on Amazon today — bring it to my studio for signing! Book signing schedules will be announced soon! You may contact me at sungsooksetton@gmail.com or www.sungsooksetton.com.

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Above, 'Giverney #1' by Reneé Caine

By Irene Ruddock

Dear Readers, Welcome to our newest column in Arts & Lifestyles! Long Island is home to many wonderful and talented artists. Each month we will feature a local artist who will share his or her favorite paintings as well as their own personal story.

’Art is not what I do, art is who I am.’
— Renee Caine
‘In the Moment’

Holbrook resident Reneé Caine has shown her work around Long Island for the past 20 years, most notably with the Huntington Arts Council, East Hampton Guild, Catherine Lorillard Art Club and the Watermill Museum. For the past eight years, she has exhibited with the Setauket Artists at the Setauket Neighborhood House and is a member of LIMarts. Currently, Caine is Artist of the Month at the LIMarts latest exhibit at The Long Island Museum’s Visitors Center titled Inspired By …, which is on view through Jan. 29.

What is your background in art?

I have drawn, painted or created some form of art my entire life. I received my bachelor’s of fine arts from Dowling College with a major in art education and a master’s of arts liberal studies with an emphasis in art from Stony Brook University. I have explored all types of medium including watercolor, gouache, oil, acrylic, chalk, oil pastel, pottery, clay sculpture, printmaking, soap stone carving and bronze casting.

I taught art to grades K-12 in several districts with the last 18 years of my career teaching in the Three Village school district. When I taught, I let my students know that I was a working artist and they loved to see my work. It is rewarding to see students show up at my exhibits! I have even been critiqued by a few of them using the skills I taught them!

‘Peconic River’

Who influenced you to become an artist?

My grandmother was a respected watercolorist in St. Paul, Minnesota, so I think some of my talent is genetic. For years, I followed in her footsteps painting in watercolor, but now I am painting in oils.

What is your motivation?

Picasso once said his art “was like a visual diary.” That is exactly how I feel about my work. My paintings are a reflection of where I’ve been and what I’ve seen that has caught my eye or spoken to me. When I paint, I want to draw the viewer into my “Ah” moment. I am showing the viewer what caught my eye: color, light, shadow, contrast and textures in everything around us.

How would you describe your art?

I am a realist. My work is representational. I want the viewer to experience what I felt when I saw “It.” Although realistic, I still use “artistic license” to make changes. I do not try to improve on mother nature, but at times try to clean up man’s debris. My paintings are calm, restful and peaceful and I invite the viewer to step into my world to escape for a while. However, there are times that I wish to experiment with contemporary genres such as “Hello,” which won an award at a LIMarts exhibit titled I’ve Got the Music in Me.

‘Parisian Door, Number 4,’

Do you have any early memories of your art?

My first painting I ever sold was a nine by twelve oil pastel of a horse grazing in a field. I was in ninth grade when the secretary in the office wanted to buy it. She paid me $20 saying, “You will sell many of your paintings in your life, but you will always remember the first one you sold.” She was right as that experience was a wonderful incentive and affirmation for a child.

Do you have a favorite painting?

I remember the day I was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and saw Johannes Vermeer’s “Young Woman with a Water Jug” painted in 1632. Having seen it only in textbooks, I was surprised by how small it was. Although small, I found it was powerful. Vermeer’s use of light so astounded me that it remains my favorite painting to this day.

Where is your favorite place to paint?

I am quite sure that Giverny, France, is now and will remain the most motivating place I’ve ever been. While walking through Monet’s home and gardens, I felt almost transformed to another time. As I was processing all the beauty surrounding me, I felt the enormous energy there.

What is your process when painting?

When something inspires me I take many photographs of the subject from different angles and with different lighting; then I visualize the composition in my head. It is not unusual for me to think about a painting for a couple of months before I paint it.

What is your vision for your future in art?

I feel my talent is God-given, therefore, it is my wish to develop it to the fullest. I want each painting to be an improvement over the last one. With each painting I learn something new. Growth is my quest! Keep growing, keep learning is my motto! Since I retired, I am devoting myself to my art full time and immersing myself into the art community. In the new year, I am especially looking forward to working with Neil Watson by becoming a member of the steering committee for LIMarts.

What are your other interests?

Outside of my devotion to my husband, daughter, son and three adorable grandsons, I’m an avid gardener. My property is my living sculpture. I have color from early April to late November. I have nooks, crannies and brick walkways I designed and put in myself. My vegetable garden feeds my family all summer and growing an abundance of cucumbers supplies us with pickles that we enjoy all winter. When I’m not gardening, I can be found painting in my garden! I will continue to grow as art is not what I do, art is who I am.

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