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A little art among friends

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
Above row, from left: Rebecca Mulwee re-imaged as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo; Steven Schopen gets the Picasso treatment and Blakely Swanson earns a Beetle-loving caricature. Bottom row: Terry McHose with an acorn for a head, Forrest Layne channels Luke Skywalker, and Shelby Talbott is rendered in bright shards of paper. / June 10, 2019
One portrait shows an aproned Mary Fletcher Bagwell holding an actual needle and thread in front of a patterned fabric background. Richard Reeves is a swaggering but sweet pirate. Rebecca Rogers paints color into her own skin. Mark Anthony is not a framed canvas but rather a face beaming up from the seat of a stool.

Ron Miller, an internationally recognized and Hugo Award-winning space illustrator who lives in South Boston, has combined his talents and appreciation for his local friends in a collection of portraits — many of whose subjects, like Bagwell, were part of the former Convergence Art Guild in Halifax.

Hanging upstairs at South Boston restaurant Southern Plenty, the portraits vary in style from collages to paintings, each an homage, in-joke or nod to his subject.

Miller made every work with each artist’s respective style or interest in mind. For example, Terry McHose is painted with an acorn for a head, adorned with signature glasses.

“He collects seeds and seed pods and grasses and twigs,” Miller explains, “and makes these wonderful animal sculptures out of them.”

Photographer Blakely Swanson is a caricature popping up through the sun roof of a yellow Volkswagen. “I’m a car guy. That’s my second passion,” says Swanson.

Forrest Layne is painted as the bearded, older Luke Skywalker in the recent “Star Wars” movies. Miller remembers seeing Mark Hamill, the actor, onscreen and remarking, “Good grief! He looks a lot like Forrest!”

Similarly, Rebecca Mulwee is shown as a blonde Frida Kahlo, unibrow and all, because of her love for the famous Mexican artist.

Other portraits have more cultural significance. Nelly Zamora Jones is painted with vibrant Cuban colors and symbols to represent her heritage, which she incorporates into her own art.

Don Bagwell holds up, like an illuminating torch, a paintbrush dripping with yellow in front of a Downtown South Boston storefront.

“His specialty is depicting history of Halifax and South Boston. It’s symbolic of what his favorite subject is,” Miller says. Previously, Bagwell himself had painted that building. The portrait was also inspired by “American Gothic,” the iconic painting of a farmer and his wife by Grant Wood.

A few of the artists modeled for Miller, but for most of the pieces, he dug up photos to use with the intent of surprising his friends later. The Peter Max-inspired painting of Donna Swanson resembles a 1970s rock poster, and the photo of her that Miller used as a reference was taken by her husband, Blakely Swanson, in that time period.

Also featured are Steven Schopen, in his funky Picasso-esque style, Stephen Crowder, in a portrait that uses toothpicks in a nod to Crowder’s own art, and Shelby Talbott, in a collage of blindingly bright paper.

“I think they say a lot about Ron and his observations, and how much he cares about his friends,” Mary Fletcher Bagwell says.

As for what Miller plans to do with the paintings after they are shown at Southern Plenty, he says that the subjects are welcome to them, but, if not, he is willing to sell them. Blakely Swanson is already considering printing t-shirts with his portrait.

Layne jokes that all of the artists in Halifax could start creating portraits of each other, including Miller: “I’d love to return the favor!”

Southern Plenty, in Downtown South Boston, is open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

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Brilliant, Ron. Thank you.

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