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When the volcano erupted, the white-gowned women were painting at the art institute.
They're still painting, but they're not real. The women are painting in a painting, one of 14 by artist Rick Clair. The new work marks the end of a year-long dry spell for the Douglas painter and will be shown at an exhibit opening at 10:30 Saturday morning at The Big Picture gallery.
"I hadn't painted for a long time," Clair said. "I was sort of void of the muse."
This is his first show in two years and marks a return to the more whimsical style he favored in the early and mid-1990s. Those vivid oil paintings were peopled with enigmatic and fanciful characters in surreal environments. Clair's exhibits in the late 1990s included abstract and landscape paintings. His last show had a tropical theme and was inspired by a trip to Costa Rica.
"He's gone back to his earlier whimsy," said Michael Hunter, a fan of Clair's work and the gallery manager for The Big Picture. "His colors are so rich it's the perfect counter for Juneau, with all the gray we've got. You want to just get up in them."
Clair said he's worked largely from his imagination for this show.
"It's animals and landscapes with a twist," he said.
Hunter and his wife have four of Clair's paintings and Hunter wanted to see Clair creating again. Hunter encouraged Clair to get started again and he finally agreed.
The painter was feeling a little discouraged, but got a dose of encouragement last week when he delivered a few finished works to The Big Picture. One canvas featured an angel holding a salmon with a halo. In the time it took Clair to drive back to Douglas, someone had seen the painting and bought it.
"It hadn't even been framed or named," he said. "It gave me a whole different outlook. It was a real boost."
Clair grew up in Michigan and came to Southeast Alaska 23 years ago. He lives in the third-oldest house in Douglas with his wife Linda Giguere and son Austen. The 100-year-old miner's house survived both of the historic fires that razed much of Douglas and Treadwell. A few years ago Clair built a greenhouse onto his home and later converted it into a small studio.
"I still start seeds here in the spring," he said.
Clair said he's not the type of painter to methodically lay out his colors on a palette. He prefers to squirt paint on a piece of cardboard and go to work.
"I use my hands and a rag as much as a brush," he said. "It's faster to blend colors with my fingers."
He said in preparation for this show he had 10 or 12 works partially finished and moved back and forth between them as inspiration and ideas came to him. Many are relatively small, about 10-by-12 inches or so, with a few twice that size.
The show will be up at The Big Picture through Nov. 4. Hunter said Saturday's morning opening will feature coffee and electric neon-colored doughnuts, glazed to match Clair's paintings.