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A Surprising New Gallery Opens in South Burlington

State of the Arts


Published August 11, 2010 at 9:17 a.m.

You might expect to admire the styling of a new car at a dealership, but paintings? Shearer Chevrolet steps outside the gear box with “Art Affair,” a new venture that puts visual art in its Shelburne Road showroom alongside the latest four-wheeled models. Art Affair is the brainstorm of Shearer’s marketing adviser Milissa O’Brien of Hinesburg, and its debut exhibitor is Raimond del Noce Senior, a 90-year-old artist and former advertising exec with the international J. Walter Thompson agency. After a career that took him all over the world, Senior settled in Shelburne this June with his wife and fellow painter, Kim Senior. More than 40 of his mixed-media pieces are currently displayed on zigzagged wire racks in between a Silverado and a Corvette.

When you think about it, an auto showroom is a great place to hang art: The spacious quarters are flooded with light from floor-to-ceiling windows. But, while Burlington Subaru up the road has participated in the annual South End Art Hop, Shearer appears to be the first local car dealer to offer ongoing exhibits, complete with opening receptions. O’Brien is seeking other artists to participate in future shows.

As it happens, Shearer’s inaugural artist had an “in” — Senior’s son-in-law Daniel Bokan is the dealership’s general manager. But it’s not like the favoritism was unwarranted; Senior’s paintings would be at home in any number of contemporary galleries. The watercolor works include figurative pieces — the artist explains he’s “tremendously interested in Native Americans” and “crazy about nature,” including wild creatures such as tigers. But the exhibit is dominated by thickly painted, textured abstractions in vivid colors. Senior says the “paintings are a little bit chaotic, because that’s the way nature is.”

If he embraces artistic messiness, Senior is a sartorially put-together gent. He shows up for an interview at Shearer nattily attired in chinos, a crisp blue shirt, forest-green jacket and ascot. A shock of white hair complements his twinkly eyes and mischievous mien. Senior’s lively pronouncements make clear that age has not diminished his passion for making, or talking about, art.

After working with watercolors for 20 years, he notes, Senior began to find the paintings dull and experimented with ways to brighten them. What he sought was color with the vibrancy of stained glass, or backlit images such as those on television and computer screens. Two of his inspirations, Senior says, are the Rose Window at Chartres Cathedral in France, “with the sunrise coming in,” and the Taj Mahal, glowing with illumination at nighttime.

Senior arrived at a technique that amply enhances both color and light: He eschewed brushes and began to apply watercolor pigments squeezed straight from their tubes, instantly giving flat surfaces a dramatic topography, and then coated the works with casting resin. The results are deeply textural and super-glossy paintings — Senior calls them “dimensional watercolors” — that invite close inspection. As O’Brien puts it, “The more I look at these, the more I see in them.”

That is literally true, not only because of the layers and play of light and shadow, but because Senior frequently collages images beneath the paint. In one such work, for example, Native American faces peek through swirls of color as if appearing in a dream. Another painting resembles fractured pieces of glass. Reflections leap from all the works like fractals.

The paintings on display at Shearer, priced from about $100 to $600, are set against black mats and foamcore, and titled by Kim. Excited about his first Vermont exhibit, Senior is contemplating how to get even more dimensions in artworks. “Touch and smell and sound are hugely important,” he muses. “If someone could figure that out…”