Painting ‘close to the ropes’
By Stephanie Jadrnicek
SENECA — Lori Solymosi’s fondest childhood memories are from her daily summer visits to Mamaugin Beach in East Haven, Conn., where she swam, drew in the sand and collected gifts from the ocean.
“I was always enamored of the bathing-cap-clad women who swam like mermaids far beyond my limits, close to the ropes,” she said. “I dreamed of someday being able to swim as far as I wanted without a lifeguard’s whistle to call me in.”
Over the years, she filled sketchbooks with childhood drawings. At the age of 14, she attended her first life drawing class, where the assignment of drawing a pregnant nude fascinated her. Her classical education at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts furthered her interest in depicting the female form.
“Being a woman, I relate to the female figure and I have often included that into my repertoire of subject matter,” Solymosi said.
A few years ago, she began collecting vintage photographs of early 20th century bathing beauties. She said the women have become a source of inspiration for her work.
“Like the women swimming close to the ropes, they evoke a feeling of freedom,” she said. “They offer me the opportunity to explore new ideas, collect ephemera and swim as close to the ropes as I want.”
The Blue Ridge Arts Center in Seneca will host Afternoon with an Artist on Wednesday at noon. The event will include a casual luncheon and an artist demonstration by Solymosi.
She will show guests how her process unfolds, from first inspiration to final masterpiece. Many of her paintings are made up of a collage of old letters, photographs and pages torn from vintage books and dictionaries.
One piece, called “Red-Letter Day,” comprises a collection of letters her parents wrote to each other during WWII.
“This is from the airmail envelope — it says ‘New Haven, Conn., May 10, 1945,’” Solymosi said as she pointed to the painting. “There’s a lot of original letters in here. I collage a lot of those elements underneath and into my work. It’s an homage to that time. I have the actual letter from my mom that says, ‘I didn’t go to work today because I didn’t think there was any point. My friends came over and we’re going to just celebrate. Today’s V Day!’”
Those early 20th century bathing beauties are the subject of much of Solymosi’s work. Two of her paintings are hung as a set. The one on the left, titled “We’ve got Tomorrow,” shows four young women enjoying a day at the beach. On its right hangs its counterpart, titled “We’ve got Today,” depicting four older women in the same setting.
“When we’re young and we think we’ve got the whole world ahead of us, we might be a little bit more self-centered,” she said. “The older women — several years ago I was in a physical therapy situation and I was taking water classes. There were these older women who could hardly walk into the pool, but once they were in the pool, they had so much life to them.”
Solymosi had dreaded the class at first — she didn’t want to have to go work out with a bunch of “old ladies.” But she soon realized how vibrant each woman was in her own way.
“They’d have those swimming noodles and they’d be singing ‘A Bicycle Built for Two,’” she said. “And they’d have their flamboyant bathing caps and they were inspiring to me — I identified with these women.”
Solymosi said most of these early 20th century bathing beauties were avant-garde for their time. Although they may seem modestly clad for modern times, these women were pushing the limits of their era.
“I’ve had a lot of success with my bathing beauties. I don’t know if people relate to them or if the subject evokes some sense of feeling,” she said. “I’d like to think that it’s fun, it’s a little bit whimsical, yet it has the seriousness of bringing you back in history and dealing with the issues of contemporary women in more of a subliminal way.”
BRAC board member Brenda McLean said the center offers an Afternoon with an Artist when the board members find an artist who they feel would have appeal.
These afternoon luncheons have allowed woodworkers, painters, fabric artists and photographers to share their talents with the public. And because the board members provide the food, all of the funds raised from the events go directly into enhancing the center.
“In my opinion,” McLean said, “this is the most important gift we have for our community.”
Admission to Afternoon with an Artist is $25 for BRAC members and $30 for non-members. The arts center is located at 111 E. South 2nd St. in Seneca.
For more information, call (864) 710-6593 or visit blueridgeartscenter.com.
firstname.lastname@example.org | (864) 973-6686