Southeastern North Carolina is well known for its wacky winter climate; to call it bi-polar is putting it mildly. Plants frost over and shrivel up, yet we are left with major wardrobe decisions: tank top or sweater? In February. Thankfully, downtown Wilmington is delivering some consistency. Its newest gallery proves the arts are in bloom all year long.
When Amy Grant opened Art in Bloom Gallery (210 Princess St.) last fall she wasn’t just providing a venue to showcase talent, she was fulfilling a lifelong dream. “I started out in the arts,” Grant says. “I was classically trained in oils and watercolors. But I ended up working as a regulatory affairs scientist for biotech and pharmaceutical industries for 28 years.”
When the company she worked for was bought out a little over a year ago, she spotted an open door and bolted through it. Instead of waiting 20 more years to retire, she moved from Philadelphia to Wilmington (the historic home of her grandparents, the Blooms) to open a gallery.
Grant’s first exhibit kicked off last October, and featured the works of local, iconic painter and collage artist Elizabeth Darrow. The show was met with high regard. Art in Bloom’s second show, “Debra Bucci: Living in the Moment,” opens this week and promises the same.
“The title of Debra’s show explains a lot,” Grant says. “To me it means paying attention to the here and now—to make sure the present and future are great. However, the past plays a big role in that.”
Bucci agrees. She can recall the exact moment she became obsessed with art. She was in the first grade and her parents just bought her a fresh pack of colored pencils and a color-by-number print. After completing the picture, she hated it. Suddenly, staying inside the lines and being respectful of her tools went out the window. She began shading the page until the lead broke. The result shaped the artist Bucci is today. “It was then I became very opinionated about colors,” she says with a laugh. “It was just the beginning of my really intense color story.”
Bucci’s artistic path led her to Drexel University in the 1970s. Under the instruction of John Formicola, she developed an affinity for oil painting. After graduating with a degree in interior architecture, Bucci started a mural-painting business in Pennsylvania. When she realized her passion wasn’t lucrative enough to support her growing family, she took a job at a packaging design company. Like Grant, she worked in corporate America for over two decades and left when the best opportunity presented itself.
“After my second child graduated college I walked away from my corporate career and have been intensely painting ever since,” she tells. “Now every morning I feel like I’m walking into my dream job.”
Bucci’s oil paintings of flowers and trees are bright and evocative and emote the level of excitement she now lives in. Painting mainly from curated photographs, her subjects seem to burst forth from the canvas—an effect she attributes to a diverse and experimental color palette.
“I experiment a lot with color layering to get that luminescence,” she explains. “On occasion I create a wonderfully sophisticated color palette by accident. I hope for those happy accidents often.”
One unexpected surprise occurred during the creation of “Mystical Sunflowers” (25.5-inches by 25.5-inches, oil on canvas). A combination of Naples yellow, olive green, crimson, and indigo are responsible for the peculiar glow of the flowers’ disc florets. The whirly vortex-like exaggeration of the kernels adds depth and is representative of Bucci’s personal style. She explains it as “rooted in realism and woven with abstract elements.”
Perhaps the most noticeable examples of Bucci’s personal style are her modern-art dog portraits. The series depicts traditional canines painted in bright colors. “There’s a realistic expression that’s enhanced by certain color combinations that puts them in a different stratosphere,” she says. “But when painting modern art dogs, it’s hard to keep such a strong personality when you start blocking in chunks of color.”
The series’ popularity sparked a rise in commissions for traditional pet portraits, including one from Beth Toler, owner of Java Dog in downtown’s Cotton Exchange. Connecting people to their four-legged family members on a completely different level aligns with the positive emotions Bucci seeks to convey through her creations.
“I try to inject my artwork with sensitivity through the human spirit so the painting becomes a transformation for someone,” she explains. “It takes them away from a burned-out state and lifts them up.”
“Debra Bucci: Living in the Moment” opens Fri., Feb. 5 at 6 p.m., featuring jazz pianist Cameron Tinklenberg, with closing reception on Fri., May 27.