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Artist Joan Vienot Returns to Seaside

Posted on Feb 29, 2020 in Ann Hunter Galleries , Joan Vienot , March-April 2020

Artwork on display at Anne Hunter Galleries features Gulf Coast-inspired scenes. “Healing the Beach” (above) by Joan Vienot

From card table to gallery exhibition, the artist will be featured at Anne Hunter Galleries By Anne Hunter

After growing up in a farming community north of Denver, earning her Bachelor of Arts Degree in fine art from the University of Northern Colorado, and teaching art in the Denver area public school system, a young woman named Joan Vienot charted a new adventure and set out for the Forgotten Coast on the panhandle of Florida to become an artist.

The year was 1980, and Walton County was not yet established as one of North America’s burgeoning last frontiers. In the silence that once filled our now bustling towns, the pioneering painter would dedicate her creative passion to transforming blank canvas into the chic and effortless style for which she is now known.

“I met Joan at a figure drawing class in Alys Beach in 2010 and wondered who she was because she was clearly one of the most talented artists I had seen in the area. She has stellar use of light and dedication to improving her craft,” artist Allison Wickey said when she learned that Vienot would be presenting a collection of her works in Seaside in 2020.

Vienot’s two-month solo exhibition at Anne Hunter Galleries in Seaside, this March and April, introduces a collection of works inspired by the artist’s interpretation of the iconic waters of the Gulf of Mexico. And it brings her full circle with the community of Seaside that was still a young man’s dream when Vienot set foot on the shores of Walton County.

Soon after her arrival, the aspiring artist was visiting the real estate office of the late Van Ness Butler in Grayton Beach. “A young man came in for a short conversation with Van Ness,” she recalls. “When he left, Van Ness said to me, ‘Keep an eye on that young man. He just inherited 80 acres from his grandfather, and he has an idea to develop a whole community.’ Of course, ‘that young man’ was Robert Davis and he would go on to do just that!”

As 80 acres of scrub oak and sand transformed into the world’s first New Urbanist town, founders Robert and Daryl Davis opened doors for the arts community. “Daryl invited artists to sell their creations,” Vienot says. “I would set up a table in the beach-shrub clearing where Perspicasity was planned to be built.” From her card table, Joan sold ink drawings of beach scenes for $5 each. Forty years later, the artist returns to Seaside, this time with a series of large oil paintings from her collection called Sea and Sky that will hang inside the gallery at 25 Central Square this spring.

In the 40 years that would pass between Vienot’s Seaside exhibitions, her large oil painting of a Caribbean scene hung behind the bar at Criolla’s Restaurant in Grayton Beach. Susan Foster opened one of the first art galleries in Walton County at Van Ness Butler’s old office in Grayton, where Vienot first encountered Robert Davis and where the name “Joan Vienot” was inscribed on the gallery sign as the featured watercolorist.

The big boom of development was yet to come and having met with only moderate artistic success in the then-sparsely populated secret of the south, Vienot started a pool service business called Pool Pal, which grew exponentially with Scenic Highway 30A. She sold the business in late 2015 to focus solely on supporting the arts while resuming the life of a full-time artist, the career path she intended from her studies at the University of Northern Colorado.

As a dedicated volunteer in the community, Vienot has served on the board of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County from 2011 to 2017, chairing and co-chairing the A+Art/Visual Arts Committee, its mission to display member artists’ work in public spaces in Walton County. She has been designated Florida’s Finest en Plein Air Ambassador by the Forgotten Coast Cultural Coalition in 2016 and 2019.

Presently, Vienot coordinates the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters who meet as a group every Wednesday morning to paint outdoors at different locations in Walton and Okaloosa counties. She also performs live-event painting at weddings, and offers workshops and private mentoring in drawing and plein air painting.

Artist Joan Vienot Returns to Seaside

Marsha Dowler, president of Escape to Create, with Lisa Endress, Gail Gregg and Laura Elkins, the featured artists Anne Hunter Galleries in February. Photo by Jack Gardner

Drawing inspiration from direct experiences, Vienot paints to capture the essence of the moment. “I’ve been creating paintings in the Sea and Sky collection for a year, interrupted only by an artist residency last spring and my weekly practice of painting en plein air,” she says. When she started the project in early 2019, she was unconstrained as to where it might take her. “Whether it would become highly representational or stray into abstract non-representational form and color, I enjoy the state of not knowing where a series might end up,” she tells.

Vienot’s passion for the moment reveals itself in her paintings — the crash of the surf, the billow of the storm clouds, the cotton puffs scudding across the vast blue, the swash of the tidal surge under the sandpiper’s feet. “My intention is for the viewer to actually hear the sounds of the waves and children playing, to smell the salt air or the scent of rain coming, to feel the quiet of the first ray of sunlight, or the sweetness of the last glow of sunset,” she explains.

Most of her paintings begin simply with an overall toning to mute the blinding white of new canvas, and progress to her passion for the moment and the desire to share the beauty she has experienced. Expressed as vehement gestures or a subtly orchestrated symphony, each painting strikes a chord of recognition in the soul of the viewer from a moment that Joan lived.

An avid stand-up paddle boarder and nature enthusiast, the artist often returns with a palette in hand to the magnificent local scenes or landmarks that she scouts on her adventures. “My paintings and drawings reflect my love of the natural world as I strive for effective expression of the truth and beauty I experience,” she adds. “My goal is to express my truth and to share with others in a way that helps them to see beauty and to think about my imagery in relation to themselves. By sharing my perceptions filtered through my worldview, I try to convey my understanding that we are one with each other and with nature.”

Editor’s Note: This article is also appearing in Thirty-A Review’s March/April issue.

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