By Prudence Brighton

Correspondent

Claire Gagnon sees a beauty in Lowell that needs to be captured on canvas, sometimes from a friend's balcony overlooking the Merrimack River and sometimes on the city's streets.

The Dracut artist's work was recently on display at the Greater Lowell Community Foundation on Merrimack Street in an exhibit titled "The Beauty of Lowell."

In a soft voice that hints at her upbringing in Quebec City and a career in Montreal, Gagnon recently gave an informal talk in the GLCF offices highlighting her inspirations and techniques.

Gagnon moved to the area 19 years ago as a project manager in information technology. It was two-month contract with a company in Andover. "But I never left," she said.

That job eventually ended in a layoff, but she took another IT position. When that too ended, she realized it was time to try something else.

While working in Montreal, she studied drawing and acrylic painting for four years with Micheline Raymond, founder of that city's Creativ'Art Gallery and School. She painted in her spare time while working in the IT industry.

Making art her career and a business seemed a natural move. She took a course that enabled her to make that transition and founded her own art school, Chez Claire Art School in Dracut.

"I followed my passion," she says.

She describes herself as a colorist, often working in the plein air style of French impressionists.


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Her landscapes and cityscapes are painted outdoors, taking advantage of natural light to bring out colors that might not be obvious to a casual observer of the scene.

Her color palette is minimalist. She regularly works only with a few colors: cool and warm shades of blue, red and yellow, as well as titanium white.

She holds her students to the three primary colors: blue, red and yellow.

"We start with the basics and work from that," she explains.

She arranged her exhibit at GLCF by water scenes, Lowell buildings and architecture, and scenes from a bit farther afield (Carlisle, Cape Cod, Portsmouth, N.H., and Kennebunk, Maine).

Pointing to a painting titled "Johanna's View," she says, "This is how beautiful Lowell is." The view is of the Hunt's Falls Bridge, which she painted from her friend's balcony.

While her work has a more realistic quality than the work of impressionists, she is not afraid to manipulate an image. One of her paintings is a tightly cropped vertical image of Old City Hall on Merrimack Street, now the offices of Enterprise Bank. The Enterprise Bank lettering on the building would not normally be present in an image cropped this way, but she moved it.

One painting, titled "Pineapple Door," zooms in on a decorative element of the entrance to the Gallagher and Cavanaugh law firm at 22 Shattuck St. Other Lowell images in the exhibit include the Owl Diner, Rogers Toys and Shedd Park.

Gagnon has won numerous awards for her work, including the Popular Vote Award at the North Shore Arts Association in Gloucester, and 1st Place Award at the Westford Regional Show.

She is a member of the Whistler House Museum of Art, the Brush Art Gallery in Lowell, The Arts League of Lowell, the Arts Institute Group of the Merrimack Valley in Methuen, and the Chelmsford Art Society. She also served as a board member with the Brush Art Gallery, Arts Institute Group of the Merrimack Valley, and the Chelmsford Art Society.

Her work is on display at the Greater Lowell Community Foundation, 100 Merrimack St., Suite 202, through Thursday.