By Mike LaBella
---- — To Stephen LaPierre, painting scenes of Haverhill is not that different from painting in Old Town Key West, where his popularity and recognition as an accomplished oil-paint artist is growing.
LaPierre, a 1981 graduate of Haverhill High School, spent the past several years producing more than 200 oil paintings that capture the architecture and culture of modern day Key West, Florida. Sixty-five of those paintings are on exhibit at the prestigious Key West Custom House Museum of Art and History.
He did the same when he was living in Haverhill, capturing images of downtown buildings and illuminated street corners, restaurants and pubs in a way that attracted a big following.
”I’ve always painted niches of what Haverhill was and what it is becoming, and I’m doing the same thing in Key West by painting the modern day architecture and the people,” he said.
LaPierre, 49, a “plein air’’ artist (painting in the fresh air, on site) prefers setting up his easel in front of famous Key West bars like Schooner Wharf, the Green Parrot Bar and Sloppy Joe’s Bar, as well as in front of quaint homes called conch houses. He also paints scenes along the waterfront.
He travels around Old Town pedaling a tricycle loaded with paints, brushes, canvases, an easel and other art supplies. He’s out there on the streets at all hours, and routinely has three paintings going at the same time. When it turns dark, he finds illuminated areas to paint.
”No matter where you stand in Key West, it’s worthy of painting,” he said.
Some of his favorite paintings of Haverhill include a series on the bar area of The Tap Restaurant, plus paintings of Railroad Square and places like Mark’s Deli and the train bridges.
”In Key West, we have all these historic buildings where Hemingway hung out,” he said. “If you can picture Washington Street from Railroad Square to Washington Square, there’s a street called Duval Street, which is over a mile long and is filled with bars, restaurants, cigar shops, T-shirt shops and historic buildings.”
At Haverhill High, art teacher Susan Paradis, whom LaPierre considered his mentor, emphasized “stick-to-it-iveness” — not just talking about art, but doing it. LaPierre learned that lesson well and spends most of his waking hours standing in front of a canvas with a paint brush in his hand.
”My motto is paint, paint, paint,” he said. “I got my work ethic from my dad, who worked hard all his life. My dad also taught me about giving back and how it’s all about community. Now that he’s retired, he’s still giving back by working every day at the food pantry at Sacred Hearts, making sure people in need don’t go hungry.”
Stephen LaPierre’s father, Bill LaPierre, manages the food pantry at Sacred Hearts Church. His mother, Karen LaPierre, was also a devoted volunteer at the pantry and her church. She died on a Sunday morning in December 2011. She and her husband were loading doughnuts into a car parked on South Main Street to serve following Mass, when she was struck from behind and killed by a car police said was driven by a drunken driver.
Susan Wadia-Ells of Manchester by the Sea met Stephen LaPierre in Key West in the summer of 2010 and has been following his Key West experience and helping him informally with public relations.
”Stephen has captured the hearts of people who live in Key West and who visit there and love it,” Wadia-Ells said. “A lot of people call his work a cross between Edward Hopper, an ash can school of painting, and Mario Sanchez, who is well known to the Key West area and who was a wood cutter who did primitive wood cuts that captured, in his way, the culture of Key West. Stephen, in his own way, is capturing the architecture and culture of Key West.”
LaPierre has sold paintings to art lovers across America and the world, including Norway, Denmark, England and Japan. They are people who flock to Key West to experience a taste of what he calls “paradise.”
”I’m out on the streets all the time and people see me painting,’’ he said. “They come up to me and I hand them my card with my website.’’
Not only is LaPierre a working artist who makes a good living selling his art, but he also plays upright bass at bars, clubs, restaurants and other venues in Key West.
”It’s taken me a few years to have my own solo exhibit at a museum,” he said. “I believe this is a stepping stone for the next big thing to come for me as an artist. They noticed I was doing something different here and they asked me to exhibit my works.”
You can learn more about LaPierre and his work online at paintpaintpaint.org and stephenlapierre.com.