Arts Scene – The Poppy Project: Paying Tribute Through Painting

by Jo Barnes | graphic courtesy Island Blue Print Co. Ltd.

For 100 years the poppy has served as a symbol of remembrance. Millions have been printed, put together, and pinned on lapels. Now they are being painted.

Local artist and art teacher Odette Laroche and her students created oil paintings of poppies based on Old Masters’ paintings, all of which were assembled into a vibrant mural to bring attention to, offer support and raise funds for the veterans. The final stunning display is now on view until the end of November at Odette Laroche Gallery.

“I was inspired by the veteran who walked around his Oak Bay home to raise money for charity,” shares Odette. “Veterans gave us freedom. Veterans are why we have the life we have today.”

Odette is referring to John Hillman, an Oak Bay veteran who, at the age of 101, walked 101 laps around his retirement home and raised money totalling over $166,000 for the organization Save the Children. His inspiring walk for charity reminds us about giving of ourselves for the benefit of others. It goes to the heart of what veterans have done for our nation.

The poppy mural beautifully illustrates this and strikes a chord in viewers.

“They love the whole presentation and are struck by how many different pictures are within it,” shares Odette. “It evokes emotion. They are touched by it and give a donation. Many have experience with parents who are veterans.”

The project, which took three months to complete, got underway in the spring of 2020. Odette was inspired by the poppies of renowned artist Georgia O’Keefe.

“I wanted to use a piece of artwork by O’Keefe as she is famous for her poppies,” shares Odette. “They are very detailed and beautiful.”

Initially, each student was assigned a mural section and a matched image from a painting done by an Old Master such as Van Gogh or Cézanne. The idea was to paint in such a way as to adapt the Old Master’s image.

“The Old Masters are more recognizable by people and their work has stood the test of time,” says Odette.

Once completed, the challenge was to bring all the individual paintings together into one mural. Odette found lines and characteristics on each painting that could connect well to other paintings, and piece by piece, successfully assembled the art mural.

“It was quite complicated, but I enjoyed it!” exclaims Odette.

Island Blue Print Co. Ltd. has scanned each picture and assembled all of them into one image which is ready to be reproduced on paper or canvas (at left). Odette is looking for donations and sponsors of the project and a place to permanently hang the installation.

The six- by eight-foot mural represents the skill, hard work and creative vision of Odette and her students. They come from all walks of life and have been in Odette’s art program for many years.

“They are artists who have been with me for 10 to 12 years. We meet every week. We’ve become friends,” comments Odette.

Over the years, Odette has witnessed how creating art impacts students.

“People have been through something, and art helps them through it,” says Odette. “When you paint the experience, you get it out there. Art is therapeutic, and for most, a creative outlet.”

A graduate of Victoria College of Art, Odette focused on oil painting and took classes with master painters in both Canada and the U.S. She opened a gallery near the Sidney Marina in 2003 and then in 2008 moved to the present Beacon Avenue location. With an ever-growing number of people turning to her for direction and answers to art questions, she decided to start teaching.

“People were always asking me about techniques, colour and composition,” says Odette. “I started teaching oil painting.”

For Odette, teaching these art enthusiasts is very rewarding. Art for her has always been a joy.

“Art has always been in me. It’s my happy zone,” shares Odette.

Odette has also contributed to the poppy mural and takes great pride in the end product.

“I personally painted seven pictures myself,” she comments. “We’re all proud of how it all came together.”

Inspired by veterans, the poppy mural represents not only the collective creativity of many gifted artists, but it speaks to us and serves as a reminder to honour and support the veterans in our midst on Remembrance Day and throughout the year.

Corporate and private donations accepted at View the mural at Odette Laroche Gallery upstairs at #203 – 2527 Beacon Avenue, Sidney.

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