When I arrived at the art gallery and tattoo parlor of Artfuel Inc. on a Saturday night, 70-year-old local artist Sharon Lafond was in the middle of an excited crowd, draped in a chic, black outfit, cradling a cup of red wine with one hand, and pointing out various paintings with the other. What a natural. You’d never know it was her first public art show.
“We are a group of nine artists ranging in age from 58 to 78 years old,” Lafond later announced from the stage. “This is our first art show, so we don’t really care if you buy anything. We’re just happy to be here!”
The untitled exhibition, lovingly known as Vol. 39 by Artfuel Inc., explores over 50 works, varying in mediums from oil and acrylic, to paint and photography, and even mixed media. All were masterfully created by members of The Painted Ladies—a group that started five years ago by Lafond’s sister, Jarna Culp. They held weekly meetings at her Porter’s Neck home, despite Culp’s battle against breast cancer. After her passing last year, the group bonded more, and they still gather every Tuesday at the events barn on the grounds of Poplar Grove Plantation.
In the beginning, a few members of the group were hesitant about having a show at a tattoo parlor (for painted ladies, virtually all of them are inkless). Their nervousness quickly subdued after realizing its foundations: self-doubt.
“I’m worried that people won’t like my work,” photographer Vicki Ohanesian-Prince reveals. “After about three glasses of wine, though, I’m probably going to be walking around saying, ‘You know what? My shit it great! Somebody needs to buy this stuff!’”
And it happened. Once the music began, the booze started flowing and the chatter rose, the artists took to the floor to mingle with guests and discuss their creations. Although it was 99 percent of the group’s first public show, many of the members actually have a long history with art.
Liz Sullivan—the only artist in the group to exhibit work before—has painted with oils for 30 years. Ann Garrett, a retired nursing administrator and research associate, studied 19th century art, and Lafond taught high school art classes for 25 years. Oppositely, some ladies are just now dipping their toes into the art pool, and it’s the support from fellow creatives that’s pushing them forward—even in the second and third acts of life.
“It’s important because there are a lot of people who tend to think it’s over when you get past 60 or 65,” Lafond states, “and it isn’t. I’m very active and most of the ladies in the group are the same way. You want to keep your mind going. You want to be able to show people you still have abilities—you have something to offer.”
At 58 Ohanesian-Prince is the baby of the group. She relocated to Wilmington in 2001 from Washington, D.C. where she was a well-known administrator for several law firms. Living away from the hustle and bustle of the capitol city affords her more time for old passions like photography. Her photos tend to focus on inapparent subjects, like the steering wheel of an old Chevy truck or the intricate geometry of a napping cat’s limbs. She credits group interconnectedness with a positive shift in her craft.
“[Their support] has allowed me to make time to go and take photographs,” she tells. “Instead of waiting to make time or [for] the moment to hit me, I go and look for the opportunity. When I see things now, I don’t just say to myself, ‘Wow that would be an awesome picture.’ I take it.”
An 18-by-24-inch mixed acrylic and marker painting, entitled “Body Ink,” was a last-minute thought by Lafond, but it encapsulates a lot of what this show represents. Inspired by an image of a back-facing female nude, she painted the canvas black then added a curvy silhouette in shades apricot, peach and rose. She designed and applied a tattoo she would have wanted in her 20s: flower vines stretching across shoulders and down the spine. Not only does the piece capture the intrinsic essence of feminine beauty, it also symbolizes tireless ambition and desires that can be dreamed and achieved in any phase of life.
If you missed opening night, don’t fret: The Painted Ladies have caught the bug and plan to show again in the near future. Their current works hang at Artfuel Inc. throughout the holiday season.
Art by The Painted Ladies
Artwork by: Ann Garrett, Liz Sullivan, Annie Bowes, Marianne Wellman, Barbara Hajek, Katy Mercer, Vicki Ohanesian-Prince, Karen Radke, Sharon Lafond
Mon.-Sat., noon – 7 p.m.
Hangs through Dec. 6
2165 Wrightsville Ave.