When Renato Muccillo gazed into a Maple Ridge drainage ditch, he did not initially realize the significance of the moment.
He had passed the trench many times before and never paid it much attention.
This particular day, explained the Maple Ridge artist, he noticed the algae blooms in the water.
“I just kind of caught it out of the corner of my eye. It was unbelievable how beautiful it was. It was like a Monet painting. It was just absolutely perfect,” said the artist who has called the city home since 2006.
It was a career-changing moment, he noted.
The finished painting he called Sanctuary was exhibited at a gallery in Seattle, where, Muccillo said, guests were simply drawn to it. And Muccillo quickly came to understand the magic of the Maple Ridge landscape.
Now the local landscape artist, who works mostly with oils, is preparing for his first solo show at Arcadia Contemporary Gallery in New York.
The exhibit will be showcasing around 20 of his pieces of scenes across Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
“I’ve done solo shows for almost 30 years now – usually two a year, one in Canada and one in the U.S. – this is the first New York deal,” he said.
The title of the show, Scene/Unseen, will reflect areas of both communities that have changed over the years, some that are no longer in existence because they have been levelled either by man or by nature.
Muccillo is even putting the GPS coordinates on the back of each painting so visitors to the show can take a look at the area on Google Earth.
“It provides an insight into what was, and what is, because a lot of it is just disappearing very, very quickly, which is tragic,” said the artist of what once was the untouched beauty of the surroundings.
Muccillo’s love of painting started when he was about seven. He grew up in East Vancouver where his older sister worked in an art supply store.
“I would always find a way there to go buy supplies with my allowance,” he said.
One day he brought in one of his paintings to have framed, and the owner of the store asked him if he would like to display it in the storefront window to try and sell it.
The year was 1975 and the 10-year-old thought why not. Two days later the painting sold for $35.
“I felt like I hit the jackpot and it lit the fire under me,” said the landscape artist, who will be turning 56 in May.
Now his love of art is all encompassing in his life.
“It is kind of like my duty, or at least it feels that way as far as my life’s purpose,” described the artist.
Muccillo attributes his appreciation of the local landscape to his father.
After his parents immigrated to Canada from Campobasso, a small city in southern Italy’s Apennine Mountain region, Maple Ridge, Mission, and Agassiz soon became favourite picnicking spots. His father, he noted, was an avid hunter and fisherman.
“Literally I used to fish with my dad probably 300 metres away from where I live right now,” he said, adding his father would find the most remote spots to fish.
“He was a great outdoorsman,” added the internationally acclaimed artist.
Now, Muccillo feels Maple Ridge is the last, real, untouched area in the Lower Mainland and beyond. And his connection to the nature that has remained brings back childhood memories.
When he was looking for his first home, Muccillo never dreamed he would be moving to Maple Ridge, until he drove out one day to take a look.
He ended up on the dike just off of McNeil Road.
I walked up the dike and took a look and, literally, I felt like it changed my life,” said Muccillo. What he saw reminded him of a Dutch classical painting. He also noted the “beautiful” division of residential and agricultural
“There is something kind of pristine still about it even though it is dwindling and diminishing because of development in the area,” he said.
One of Muccillo’s favourite areas he likes to paint is the north end of Neaves Road, approaching the Pitt-Addington Marsh.
“Within five minutes you literally feel like you’ve gone from city life to northern British Columbia.”
Flotilla, one of his signature pieces that will be in the New York show, is of a scene of one of the water reservoirs off of Sharpe Road in Pitt Meadows. This is an example of a painting where the area no longer exists because, he said, the area has been flattened, the Cottonwoods and Alders have been removed and a boom is in place to collect the algae.
Thunderhead, another piece in the show, is of an area off of 200 Street in Maple Ridge.
Muccillo still finds himself peering into drainage ditches to see what he can find. Mostly he is shocked and disappointed with the amount of garbage he now finds floating. But he has even used the garbage as inspiration and is considering it as a theme for a show in Germany he has been invited to take part in on the subject of changing landscapes.
Muccillo is represented locally by White Rock Gallery where he holds a show about once a year.
Arcadia Contemporary Gallery solo exhibition, Scene/Unseen, opens on April 24 and runs until May 16.
For each show, said Muccillo, the gallery hosts a virtual interactive event, where guests can walk through the front doors and walk up to each painting on display, as if they were at the actual show.
The full show can be seen at arcadiacontemporary.com.
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