From Portugal to Montana, an artist dives into her work

For artist and freediver Lucia de Brito Franco, water has long been a source of fascination. It started during his youth in Portugal and developed when his family spent time in the Azores, a series of small islands in the Atlantic about 900 miles west of Lisbon.

There she would dive, develop her own breathing techniques, and become so convinced of her affinity for the ocean depths that she wondered if her feet were better suited for swimming than other family members. Now 43, she believes she started diving when she was 6 or 7 years old.

De Brito Franco still spends about half his time in Portugal and frequently in the Azores diving and painting. Her husband Greg Fortin, the owner of Glacier Adventure Guides in Columbia Falls, introduced her to Montana, where since 2018 she finds herself for the rest of the year, including below the surface of Flathead Lake, a body of water where she feels a power that can drive her brushstrokes onto the wide cotton canvas on which she paints.

“I’m very fascinated by water and light and sound, especially water and light, how essential it is to provide life on this planet as we know it,” she says. “How water, light and sound are connected to become life, to become living parts of matter.”

A close-up of a section of an acrylic painting by Portuguese artist Lucia de Brito Franco on display at Montana Modern Fine Art in Kalispell on April 7, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | flathead beacon

According to de Brito Franco, his work has collectors in Europe, the UK and the US, and has been featured in exhibitions in Portugal, Switzerland and Montana, including Montana Modern Fine Art in Kalispell. The gallery depicts her, and owner Marshall Noice said that knowing she’s a world-class freediver, it’s easy, looking at her paintings, to imagine seeing a sometimes abstract range of colors reflected in the reflections of the sky, clouds and trees as seen from underwater.

“I think the most obvious thing both from a color standpoint and from the actual physical surface of the paintings themselves, it’s absolutely luscious,” Noice said.

Using acrylics, de Brito Franco constructs layered atmospheric paintings that, in some cases, present as water views. Part of his artistic interest lies in evoking a complex interplay of experience and sensation, and this includes landscapes above and below the surface. In one painting, which is steeped in gold and yellows, de Brito Franco says she was trying to capture her time spent diving, hiking and sailing in and around Wild Horse Island. In some of his paintings, different shades of blue are traversed by streaks of red, yellow, or white that seem to convey an almost glowing sense of movement.

A close-up of a section of an acrylic painting by Portuguese artist Lucia de Brito Franco on display at Montana Modern Fine Art in Kalispell on April 7, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | flathead beacon

Movement is also present, as de Brito Franco describes his passions and his work in sometimes ample gestures with his hands and arms. In explaining her preference for free diving, she describes how the alternative of using an oxygen cylinder and other associated equipment restricts movement and weighs down a diver. Without such devices, it can swim and move more freely, sometimes near the large winged mobula rays found in the Azores.

“Everything is done to make you slow down, you’re not like a fish. In apnea, you are like a fish. she says.

A lack of movement also partly explains why she has limited interest in some of the more competitive aspects of freediving, such as competitions to see how long a diver can hold their breath underwater.

“After two minutes they start tapping your shoulder every 15 seconds and then you have to raise your finger to say you’re fine and you’re not dead because you’re completely static and completely relaxed to save more time. ‘oxygen,’ she said. mentioned.

Along with diving, art was also one of the first components of Brito Franco’s life. His mother painted and passed on oil painting to him. As a teenager, she was able to study under a Portuguese oil painter who emphasized classical techniques. She was advised to go to art school, but at 17 she rebelled against the idea for fear that the school might condition her in a certain way and inhibit her as a than an artist. Eventually she went to architecture school and became an architect, but in the meantime discovered the work of British painter William Turner. Turner was born at the end of the 18th century in London. In describing his affinity for Turner’s work, de Brito Franco mentions his ability to capture the atmosphere and energy of a place. She also highlighted his efforts to experiment with the elements he would try to capture in his work.

“He was going out there. He would go on a sailboat and sail for a few days to try to get water in his face, the wind blowing, so that when he did the painting he would have this really authentic feeling,” she said. declared. “And I can relate to that, because that’s what I want. I am in a body, I am a person. I think it’s interesting to appreciate the life experience and then it goes to painting without the rational mind interfering so it’s more raw and authentic.

Acrylic paintings by Portuguese artist Lucia de Brito Franco on display at Montana Modern Fine Art in Kalispell on April 7, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | flathead beacon

She tries to turn off this side of her rational mind when she paints. As she approaches a new canvas, she begins with a large brush and lays down a first layer to bring a little texture, color and energy to the emerging work. More layers will come with a brush before she goes with a knife. Paintings usually take over a month to complete, and so during the time the paintings rest, de Brito Franco said she spends time looking at them to try to better understand the paintings while she was continually adding layers. The layers, she says, come from her classical training. “The classical painter, you never see the white of the frame. That, you can never see,” she said. “I come from this school. So first you have a lot of layers because you want to hide them. And then secondly, it’s as if the painting gains in depth with all these different layers.

Acrylic painting by artist Lucia de Brito Franco of Portugal on display at Montana Modern Fine Art in Kalispell on April 7, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | flathead beacon

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