Italian artist draws on architectural career

A retrospective by Ornella Maruccio-Belhomme of Coquitlam will open Thursday in Port Coquitlam.

In her long career as an artist and architect, Italian native Ornella Maruccio-Belhomme has only once exhibited her artwork.

That was last May when her Face It! collection — 23 pieces of mixed media using faces and masks as the theme — was displayed at The Beaumont Studios in Vancouver.

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The success of that show gave her the “courage,” as she calls it, to put out her paintings, drawings and quilts more for public viewing.

She applied to Douglas College to showcase her Face It! series in its Amelia Douglas Gallery at the New Westminster campus.

And, with the encouragement of her printmaker friend, Ilsoo Kyng MacLaurin — a South Korean immigrant who, in 2013, had exhibited at Leigh Square Community Arts Village in 2013 — Maruccio-Belhomme also submitted an entry to the city of Port Coquitlam.

Much to her surprise, both exhibition proposals were accepted for the same time.

While Face It! has a more serious tone, Art and Soul — the title of her PoCo show, which opens Thursday with a reception in the Michael Wright Art Gallery from 7 to 9 p.m. — is designed to have the opposite effect.

Its 67 pieces include charcoal drawings of flowers, hand-stitched quilts (a craft she picked up while wintering in Waikiki) and other images of playing. “I wanted something light and to make people happy,” she said during an interview in the PoCo gallery last week. “I wanted something that would expose my true self. It’s an example of my life.”

Art and Soul is a retrospective, spanning back to her childhood in Rome.

She learned from her father, who worked primarily with oil paints and was influenced by the French Impressionists. At 14, she enrolled in the fine art program at the Artistic Lyceum in Via Ripetta — the school her dad also wanted to attend but was unable — and she graduated from there four years later.

After earning a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Valle Giulia, Maruccio-Belhomme worked for the federal ministry of the Italian Cultural Heritage in Venice, Pompeii and Rome until 1986, when she moved to Canada.

Until now, her artwork has only been held in private collections in Italy, Belgium (her husband’s homeland), England and Canada.

Maruccio-Belhomme said she can take years to craft a piece. “I’m an architect so everything is about composition and layout. I need to have the perfect balance before I am satisfied. Everything I do is an attempt to reach perfection.”

“And, when I’m done, I feel very happy,” she said.

• Art and Soul can be seen at the Michael Wright Art Gallery in the Gathering Place (next to PoCo city hall) until Jan. 7; call 604-927-8440 or visit The Face It! series is up at the Amelia Douglas Gallery in New Westminster until Dec. 15.

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