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Beth Darling of Urbana is an artist who also works part time as a self employed gardener and gardener’s assistant. She recently chatted with The News Gazette’s Melissa Merli.

All of your paintings are so colorful. Why are you so attracted to color?

I painted plein air in New Mexico. The air is so dry I could see clearly 65 to 75 miles away, and the colors are so brilliant. So when I’m painting three or four hours at a time, I see colors more intensely, especially because you’re standing in the hot sun. Colors are much more subdued in Illinois, but I can’t give up color because I’m addicted to it.

These all here (Common Ground Food Co op, Urbana) are oils, but I’ve been teaching myself how to paint with acrylic because I can work fast and loose.

I paint in a direct a la prima painterly impasto style juicy thick paint applied all at once and left. I paint objects that I love. Through the process of observation, I lose myself in the subject. In those moments of concentration and study, I become the object. This process is an unself conscious meditation. When I return to myself, the painting remains as a souvenir of my experience merging with the subject.

What kind of objects do you paint?

Fruits and vegetables purchased from the farmers’ market, roadside stands or directly from the garden. I then compose the still life subjects arranged on brightly colored vintage Fiestaware plates or simple white china to discover the arresting negative shapes that define contours of the subjects and help me to see them and describe them in a new way.

My still lifes also often include vintage tablecloths, tea towels, toys, dime store souvenirs and flea market finds that interact in a colorful or whimsical or playful way.

Are you still painting landscapes, like you did in New Mexico?

Those paintings I did in New Mexico, I painted on location. I live in Illinois now, and it’s too costly and difficult to fly to New Mexico with my paint and brushes. After my husband (neuroscientist Ed Maclin) and I moved here in 2001, I really tried to go back to New Mexico every year because I had a gallery there that showed my work and I was known there. That was where my heart was, the Land of Enchantment.

Because I work as a gardener, it makes sense that I paint gardens in Illinois. When we lived in Missouri, I worked for a garden designer who was an artist. I learned all aspects of gardening and fell in love with it, and felt I could support my art and contribute to our family income at the same time to work as a freelance gardener.

After we moved here, I became a Master Gardener and then put in all the volunteer hours that program requires. Then I began taking private clients and I started painting the gardens. For the first time, I started using photographs of the gardens as references because I’m not copying the photographs.

How long will your garden paintings be at the Red Herring Restaurant?

They’ve been up since September, but they want to have a new exhibit after they reopen Jan. 18. After that, I want to exhibit or place them somewhere or loan them.

How long have your paintings been at Escobar’s Restaurant?

They’ve been there several years. Many people have told me those incorporate colorful Hispanic folk art so that’s why they lend themselves so well to Escobar’s because their food is nuevo Latino cuisine and the presentation of their food is very colorful.

I’ve had a couple that sold at Escobar’s. My paintings sell for $600 to $1,000 and that’s a big investment. No one can make an investment like that on the spot. So I prefer a payment plan. They can take the painting and arrange for monthly installment payments of $55. Most people can afford that. I’ve had young people been able to afford a painting that way.

Where do you have your studio now?

I paint in a beautiful, sunny studio on the fifth floor of the historic Lincoln Building in downtown Champaign. We love that space. It has its own charms. It’s a big sunny room. It’s as close to New Mexico as I can get.
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