Sun-drenched scenes layered
on canvases

By Susan Farrington /Herald Correspondant
Photos by David Huey

RALEIGH - Palette knife in hand, Nicole White Kennedy approaches one of the three canvases she's painting simultaneously. For each, an amalgam of scenes from her most recent European trip, she has used acrylics to complete an under painting. "It dries much more quickly than oils, " she explains. "And by working on several with a common theme I can save time... painting over one canvas with oils, then moving onto another while it dries. I like to work simultaneously on several pieces that have a common theme, while one is drying, I can save time by turning to one of the others." Nicole says.

"Parker (her husband) and I just got back from Italy," she continues. "And the entire time we were there, I did my usual.. people watched and took more than a thousand photos to use for my new body of work."

While she may select her subjects from her latest photographic collection, Nicole never strays far from the trademark dramatic oils of Italian scenes for which she is reowned. This is a wise decision. Galleries in Chapel Hill, Pinehurst and Wilmington carry her works, many private collectors have commissioned her oils, and in April she opened her own large gallery space.

Per La Mare/By the Sea, the premiere exhibit at Nicole' Studio & Gallery, completed its run while the Kennedys were abroad.The show included Nicole's Italian scenes and seaside oil painting's of the Riviera and the North Carolina coast, along with complementary artworks by award winning watercolorist Roxanna Alexander, acrylic and mixed media pieces by Eric McRay, and metal sculptures by noted sculptor Joel Haas, all of North Carolina. Also featured were prints, know as giclees, by internationally known fabric artist Marguerite Malwitz and copper sculptural shapes by Suzanne Heilmann of Connecticut.

"It was a wonderful, exhilarating first for me," Nicole says, "I've had many solo shows and installations in the Northeast and to North Carolina. But now that my gallery/studio has been extended to over two thousand square feet, I also have the opportunity to exhibit works by others, a mix of artist who are both emerging and internationally acclaimed, along with my own artwork."

"To make art realistic, you really need people like this couple who seem to be enjoying the sea air or that woman relaxing in a sidewalk cafe. Not just taking a person from your head, which never works."

Group exhibits can be very satisfying for the viewers and for the artists as well, Nicole says, recalling her most exciting invitational show, "20th Century Works on Paper," held in 2001 at Gallery Lasietique in Scottsdale, Ariz. "The exhibit also featured works by Picasso, Chagall, Rivers and de Kooning. It was thrilling to be hung among these masters."

Very few of Nicole's oils remain from the Per La Mare exhibit, and most are pieces that have been sold but not picked up. These include an enormous sidewalk cafe scene that the owner plans to hang in the drawing room of his home, which is under construction. Another painting, a brilliant sunlit seaside scene, has been purchased as a gift. "It's a surprise," Nicole says, "so I am keeping it until the occasion takes place. Which delights me, because I would have a very large empty wall space otherwise, at least until I can complete some more work."

Although she states that photography isn't her strong suit, Nicole says she has developed a knack for sensing elements that can be "mixed and matched in my paintings. The finished piece that one sees will frequently incorporate people and places that weren't in any of the original photos."

Surveying the prints she took during the Italy trip, one realizes instantly that Nicole's appraisal of her photographic skills isn't accurate. In response to numerous requests, she has updated her Web site to include an illustrated travelogue titled "Santa Marguerita and the Ligurian Coast, May 2002." A comparison inspection of the site and an overview of her current works in progress demonstrate that more of her scenes and subjects are already finding their way onto canvas.

Pointing to her three canvases, Nicole says, "To make art realistic, you really need people like this couple who seem to be enjoying the sea air or that woman relaxing in a sidewalk cafe. Not just taking a person from your head, which never works. And animals bring interest to a painting, "Nicole adds. "I frequently position an animal or bird somewhere in a painting.

"I'm planning for the next group show here to be built around scenes with animals in them...not portraits...particularly cats and dogs. They're my passion. You see them everywhere in Italy, sunning themselves, just beckoning to be painted."

This exhibit, to be held from mid-September through mid-October, will be followed with another opening Nov. 23 and extending through Christmas into January. The canvases for the winter exhibit will be based on the work I am doing currently. I have to drive myself in terms of painting...give myself deadlines, otherwise I would be floundering all over the place."

Not so. Just another artistic exaggeration. Along with all the shows and commission work she does, Nicole continues an ongoing solo exhibition, "Italian Color: Over 30 Changing Paintings of Italy," at her husband's restaurant, Caffe Luna in downtown Raleigh.

Goal oriented since childhood, Nicole grew up in a Connecticut home filled - "basically plastered" is her assessment of the ambiance - with art, music and literature. "No one ever questioned that I would pursue the arts one day," she says.

Initially Nicole attended Parson's School of Design, then lived for a time in a renovated SoHo loft while immersing herself in the New York art scene before launching a career in advertising. "I always painted on the side, displaying and selling my works at my family's Manhattan restaurant, the Beach Cafe, even after returning to live in Connecticut.

"Then I married Parker, who was very successful in his business as a representative for the world's finest wine merchants. We were set, I thought, until he got this crazy idea to leave everything behind and move to his hometown of Raleigh where he could fulfill his life-long fantasy of opening an Italian restaurant."

Whether it was a crazy idea or an inspiration, Nicole says she agreed to buy into the dream. Caffe Luna opened in 1996, and by 1998, Nicole had become an internationally recognized, award-winning painter.

Contemplating an artist's work, from conception to conclusion

By Susan Farrington

RALEIGH - Working basically from photographic prints, her personal library of thousands of spontaneous shots taken while traveling, Nicole White Kennedy commences the creation of several oil paintings.

"This is my triptych method," she explains. "Each one has a relationship oriented scene, focusing on the way people interact with one another. Titles often come to me while working.. If not, I go ahead and ponder the choice later."

Beginning with an acrylic under painting, she adds anywhere from three to four layers of oil paints, texturing as she works with a palette knife. For this Nicole uses a combination of several different gels that add body and depth to the pigments, mixing brilliant colors as she works. "I'm always striving for richness on the surface while allowing the under colors to come through.

"Sometimes a scene turns out just as I had envisioned. And sometimes it does not. So if I don't like it I go back, paint over, move the figures around or alter the shades I've been using."

Nicole says she constantly tries for good design. "I can see in my work that my advertising background definitely influences everything I do."

When she is on holidays, she takes along a small camera, "nothing cumbersome or professional looking that might encourage subjects to pose," and is constantly on the lookout for those impromptu scenes that might be used in one of her paintings.

"I love the colors in Italy, the energetic street activity, the people who are so very open. The great facades and water scenes." Nicole's descriptive words flow in sync with the measured impulsitvity of her brush strokes or sudden application of colorful highlights with her palette knife.

"There are wonderful scenes elsewhere as well, and many times my subjects and backgrounds are from different places." For a cafe scene at Lake Como, she has borrowed a waiter from a nearby town. For one of the featured paintings in the recent Per La Mare exhibit, she took two girls she'd photographed in Milan, "clothed them differntly and plopped them in front of a background from Bermuda where Parker and I honeymooned."

To show off her work, Nicole says she is moving away from the more conventional frames and opting for thicker canvases that can be wrapped or deep floater frames that are cut larger than the painting and displaying the artwork as in a shadow box. "Today's up-to-date thicker wrapped canvases, allowing for the subject to extend around the sides, are replacing conventional frames. The main reason is that people often prefer something different to the one I've selected, something that will blend better with their decor. And the more up-to-date wrapped look lends itself particularly well to the beach scenes that are extremely popular today."

What lies ahead? Nicole can't say. She's too busy preparing for her upcoming exhibits, fulfilling commissions and garnering accolades to take time for making predictions.

Go to Nicole's website: