By Cara Spilsbury
There is some wicked big art on the walls at Wicked Big.
The paintings are courtesy of Anne Beaulieu, a Haverhill artist who recently stepped away from her usual alabaster sculptures to create nostalgic scenes of city signs and neon lights.
Some of the pieces are smaller, but more eye-catching pieces are on large billboard paper lining the back wall of the cafe.
Art is as much a part of Beaulieu's life as breathing. She once had a bumper sticker on her car that read "Art Saves Lives" and it's a mantra that fuels her creativity and her passion. Beaulieu loves working with adults with disabilities through art and believes in the power of therapeutic art practices.
In some ways, art has also saved her own life. Or rather, it has saved precious memories, like those immortalized in the paintings hanging at Wicked Big.
"I realized that there was a certain nostalgia in my paintings," she said. "It's evocative of all the traveling I did as a kid. A lot of those memories were with my whole family in my car."
Beaulieu grew up in Connecticut, the youngest of three children. But her two older brothers died tragically when she was a young girl.
Many of the paintings are colored in a way she remembered seeing similar buildings as a child. She used to love to squint her eyes as she looked at bright city lights so colorful rays would spray out in her vision.
The large-scale paintings came about in an unplanned way. While working on a master's degree at Salem State, one of her classes was a seven-day intensive. The teacher came out the first day and offered large sheets of billboard paper as a canvas for anyone who wanted to try it. Beaulieu had collected many photos from her travels, of old theaters, shop signs and neon lights.
She hadn't painted in a long time and when she had in the past, it was on a much smaller scale. But the finally took the risk and just went for it.
"At first I was resistant, but then I thought, I'm taking a class. I might as well follow the teacher's lead and try something new."
The process became a freeing dance for Beaulieu, as she worked with a base of acrylic paint, some brushes, and oil bars, a medium she calls "crayons for grown ups." The broad strokes and large scale got her whole body involed.
"One of my classmates joked that I had an abstract expressionist somewhere inside," Beaulieu said.
Beaulieau is a certified art teacher and a certified special ed teacher. However, she recently learned she will be out of her current special education job following the school year due to budget cuts.
The cut came as a shock, but it may give Beaulieu a chance to delve more deeply into her art. She hopes to continue promoting the work of artists with disabilities, to teach more art, and to perhaps sing in a band. She also hopes to include more local places in her series of paintings, like her interpretation of the famous Skip's Hamburger sign in Merrimac. She also has a collection of photos of classic cars that she envisions as a similar large-scale painting project.
Many of her stone sculptures, of sea shells, wigs and hands, are on display at the Walsingham Gallery in Newburyport. But she has found that the Wicked Big Cafe is the perfect space to display her more abstract paintings. Her paintings will be on display at the Essex Street eatery until the end of February.
"I appreciate that Wicked Big encourages local artists to show their work here," Beaulieu said. "I think it's great. Every town needs a place like this."
For more information on buying art from Anne Beaulieu or about art lessons, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.