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Article by Richard Waugh from Magazin Art (Spring 2006) courtesy of the publisher.

Mickie Acierno: Still Life Movement

Although Mickie Acierno has been painting full-time for just three years, she has developed an ingenious compositional style of heightened realism through the dynamic portrayal of still life forms, filled with energy and a vitality that transforms static objects into human shapes and personalities that appear to be engaging in a dialogue with one another. "As I have evolved as an artist," she explains, "I have discovered that in building the form of my compositions something magical happens -- with light, shadow, tonal value and colour -- when I place different objects next to one another that is different when they are left alone."

Acierno, who was born in New Westminster, British Columbia in 1954, has fond memories of her childhood experiences with painting. She remembers the excitement she felt when, at the age of eleven, she received a small box of oil paints and a pad of paper as Christmas presents from her parents. She taught herself to paint landscapes as a teenager, first with watercolours and then oils, with the "How To" books she bought with her babysitting money at a local art supply store that was a long, two-mile walk from home. "The first time I remember thinking artistically when I was young was when I looked up at the trees, and I was fascinated by the light, the shadow and the casting, without really knowing why," she recalls.

Acierno completed a series of ten workshops when she was in her early twenties, but she only painted in her spare time while she was raising her three children. When her children were older, she enrolled in the three-year diploma program in Graphic Design at the University College of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford in 2000. "I wanted something as artistic as possible," she recalls, "yet something that would help me obtain employment." She did a lot of experimenting with materials and processes at school, but it was in the life drawing, painting and illustration classes that she rediscovered her passion for painting.

After Acierno received her diploma in 2003, she moved to Vancouver Island with her partner Jim Cameron. They set up a small art studio for her in their home in Nanaimo, and she began to devote herself to painting full-time. She immediately developed a disciplined and professional approach to her craft.

When she is ready for a new series of paintings, she gathers different objects for use as subject matter, which may be as diverse as a black bear skull, bunches of green grapes, a silver tea kettle, marbles or some fresh pears and apples, and arranges them for a photo shoot. During the next several hours, she engages in a spontaneous process that involves placing different objects next to one another -- constantly adding, subtracting, exchanging and removing them to achieve the desired amount of interaction -- and continues to snap photographs until she has enough reference material. "I need references for my realistic images," she explains. "I usually get a dozen or more paintings from one photo shoot, which may involve 100-200 photographs. I look through them whenever I want to start a new painting until one speaks to me; in some cases, I may have taken the photograph two or three years ago."

Once Acierno has chosen a reference for her painting, she starts by etching a basic line drawing onto a canvas that has been coated with 2-4 layers of toned Gesso, which she leaves intentionally unsanded in order to leave some "grab" for the paint. "There is something magical about taking a flat surface and pulling something that appears to be three dimensional out of it," she says. Acierno begins with a grisaille, which allows her to develop an intimacy with the painting and play with the values before she moves into full colour. The application of many layers of thin colour in soft, smooth brush strokes over the grisaille design produces a luminous painting with a translucent quality. Depending on the complexity of the painting, this stage alone may take several days. Toward the end of the process, she sometimes adds a few untouched bolder strokes.

Acierno describes her style as classical realism with a contemporary edge. "I have always tried to depict everything I paint or draw in a realistic manner," she explains. She has evolved as an artist most notably in the area of value, and in seeing what it is she is painting, rather than just guessing at or thinking about what she is seeing. However, although she strives to achieve a heightened sense of realism, she does not want to be perceived as a photorealist. "I want the viewers to see the paint, feel the strokes and enjoy the energy, yet understand and recognize that they are looking at a painting and not a photograph," she explains.

Debbie Knezevich organized Acierno's first solo exhibition in 2004, when she was the featured artist at the Nanaimo Art Gallery. Although Acierno had only been painting full-time for one year, to her surprise she sold six of the ten paintings that she produced for the show. Knezevich, who is now the manager of Gallery 223 in Nanaimo, believes that in just short years Acierno's "brush hours" have paid off. "Her technique has improved and her surface is more convincing. Artists and patrons alike often remark on their enjoyment of the inclusion of a bit of whimsy with a fine representational painting," says Knezevich.

Still life definitely does not mean static in Acierno's paintings. The human qualities of her subject matter are most evident in her sensuous, feminine representation of pears. According to Dennie Segnitz, whose White Rock Gallery has represented Acierno for just over a year, "The subjects often seem to be engaged in some sort of dialogue with each other, or in a slow, graceful dance. Nuanced comedic touches are evident at times, with clever titles like 10 Cents a Dance, The Fugitive, or Calling the Kettle Black deftly providing the clues." And while her paintings have a sense of humour, they also evoke a sense of quietness and peacefulness. "There is much beauty in the simple things that surround us in our daily lives," she says, "and there is a certain timelessness in that."

Acierno is currently working on a 48 x 60 inches close-up of a magnificent, still life painting that features a lily for Momentum: An Exhibition of Chinese and Canadian Artists, which opens at the Nanaimo Art Gallery in May 2006. Momentum is the reciprocal exhibition to Women's Declaration -- Contemporary Women Artists Exhibition, an exhibition of work from 15 Chinese and 13 Canadian women artists in which Acierno participated at the Duolun Museum of Modern Art in Shanghai, China in 2004.

Mickie Acierno paintings are represented by the White Rock Gallery, White Rock and Gallery 223, Nanaimo. An active member of the Federation of Canadian Artist (FCA), she received the Award of Excellence for Conch & Pears at the Island Perspectives Juries Art Show in 2005; the Barrie Chadwick AFCA Award for Calling the Kettle Black at the Black & White Juried Art Show, in 2005; the Award of Excellence for A Perfect Pairing at the Here and There Juried Art Show, in 2004; the Jurors' Choice Award for Garlic #1 at the Close to Home Juried Art Show, in 2004; the Award of Excellence for Oh Fudge at the Pears 'R Us II Still Life Juried Art Show, in 2004; and the Peggy & Harry Evans Award for Encore at the Black & White Juried Art Show, in 2004.