Outdoor artist seizes the natural light

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 19, 2015

 Grosse Pointe Park artist Roselyn Palazzolo Rhodes — seen working on a recent piece— enjoys capturing scenes from the natural world as a plein air painter.

Grosse Pointe Park artist Roselyn Palazzolo Rhodes — seen working on a recent piece— enjoys capturing scenes from the natural world as a plein air painter.

Photo provided by Roselyn Palazzolo Rhodes

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Painter Roselyn Palazzolo Rhodes has been working on canvases since she was a girl, but she said she’s really found her creative voice by painting outdoors.

Rhodes, whose work is on display through Oct. 16 at Services for Older Citizens in Grosse Pointe Farms, is a plein air painter, which means she works outside trying to capture the natural world around her.

“You’re working fast,” said Rhodes, who lives in Grosse Pointe Park. “You’ve got about two to two-and-a-half hours before you get a different painting, because your light has changed. It’s almost like a little race with yourself.”

It can be tempting to continue after the light changes — a phenomenon called “chasing the light” — but Rhodes said that’s usually a mistake.

“If you keep painting after the shadows change, you’ll ruin (your work),” she said.

Rhodes’ show at SOC features 62 original paintings and two framed prints, most of them showing local landmarks such as the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club and Belle Isle. Painting outside is “always a surprise,” said Rhodes.

“Once I started plein air (painting), everything opened up,” she said. “All of my colors got brighter. I mixed colors in a different way.”

The experience of being in the moment and painting is something the artist said is “almost akin to a religious experience.”

“You’re in awe of nature’s beauty and you’re trying to capture it,” she continued.

Rhodes credits art teachers with whom she’s studied — including Carol Lachiusa, of Grosse Pointe Farms — with helping her to grow and hone her skills. She said art educator Tim Widener, of the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, was the one who originally urged her to try plein air painting. Another BBAC instructor she said was helpful was Amy Foster.

While she was once largely a watercolorist, about three to four years ago, Rhodes said she got more into oil painting. She began working in plein air about three years ago, she said.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Grosse Pointe Farms artist Nina Goebel said. “Rose has developed a lot as an artist since I’ve met her. She’s developed her own style.”

Rhodes, an only child, grew up in the Pointes. The 1978 Grosse Pointe South High School graduate studied with Detroit artist Jack Summers, who’s now retired from teaching but still an active artist whose work frequently appears at the Grosse Pointe Art Center and other local galleries. Summers helped Rhodes hang her SOC show.

“She’s a damn good painter,” Summers said of his former student. “I have a lot of respect for her and her ability to paint. And the fact that she paints year-round (outdoors), even in the dead of winter, (demonstrates that) she’s really tenacious … and dedicated to it. And you can see (that dedication) in her work.”

Rhodes said her father, Joseph Palazzolo — a child of the Great Depression — was a gifted woodworker, painter and cartoonist, but he didn’t explore those talents professionally because of his fears about being able to make a living. Instead, he ran a local grocery store, she said.

Those practical concerns came into play for Rhodes as well, whose parents urged her to study something that would guarantee her a good job. But Rhodes said that her parents let her switch to art school after she tried her hand at a pre-dental hygiene program. Rhodes earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and fine arts from the University of Michigan and worked as a graphic designer and art director. While raising kids Joey, now 27, Natalie, 25, and Lauren, 21, Rhodes painted at home and taught art out of a studio on Mack Avenue in Detroit that she shared with fellow artists Bette Prudden and Julie Strabel.

Rhodes also did art fairs with help from her husband, Keith, a computer professional whose artistic skills are in music. Keith Rhodes built his wife a home studio in the attic of their home and gave her ice fishing boots and hand warmers for Christmas because Rhodes faces slushy, frigid conditions while painting landscapes in the winter.

This is the first time the SOC building — called the John A. and Marlene L. Boll House, after major donors — has ever hosted an art exhibition, and the nonprofit hopes to have more in the future. Deb Miller, director of communications and fund advancement at SOC, said they’re working with the Grosse Pointe Art Center to coordinate art shows. She said 20 percent of sales from artworks in the shows will go to SOC to fund art programming.

“We’re all, as a community, trying to collaborate on this,” Miller said. “We’re working to coordinate with other organizations, including local hospitals, for art therapy.”

SOC officials believe exposure to art will enhance the lives of the seniors who enjoy a wide range of programs and services at SOC, including lunches, movie screenings, card games and educational workshops.

“It’s absolutely life-enriching,” Miller said of art. “It has a significant impact on your cognitive skills. Even just looking at art helps your brain work in different ways.”

Rhodes, who as an art educator has worked with everyone from children with special needs to seniors with Alzheimer’s disease, echoed that sentiment.

“Art makes you feel good, and it’s therapy for anyone and everyone,” she said. “You don’t have to be spectacular at it to enjoy it. When I paint, it makes me feel good. … I want to encourage people to (try) it.”

And having her first solo show at SOC has personal significance. Rhodes is currently caring for her father at her home, and she said he’s benefited from some of the programs at SOC.

Jef Fisk, of Grosse Pointe City — a friend of Rhodes who laughingly said he’s “run out of wall space” at home for any more of her paintings — said he was “so glad” to see SOC start displaying art.

“I just love that they’re opening this up to the community,” he said.

Many of Rhodes’ friends and colleagues from the Grosse Pointe Art Center were on hand for a public reception marking the opening of her SOC show July 31.

“I love it — the landscapes, the marks she makes, the color,” said artist Linda Allen, of Grosse Pointe City. “You can feel the breeze and feel the sunlight
(in these paintings).”

SOC volunteer and Grosse Pointe Woods City Councilman Art Bryant and his wife, Lynne, were at the opening. He said it’s “really important” for the community to support SOC, which serves thousands of seniors in the Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods each year. The couple enjoyed seeing Rhodes’ paintings.

“It’s so nice to see the seasonal views that she’s done,” Lynne Bryant said. “Her work is beautiful.”

Miller hopes residents will take advantage of the art show to tour SOC. Rhodes’ artwork has been hung throughout the building.

“We want the community to come in,” she said. “We want folks to see this beautiful space and see what happens here. We want people to buy beautiful art and support local artists.”

Services for Older Citizens is located at 158 Ridge Road in Grosse Pointe Farms. The building is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and anyone who wants to see Rhodes’ artwork is welcome. For occasional nighttime hours at SOC, call ahead to see when the building might be open. For more information, visit www.socser vices.org or call (313) 882-9600. For more about Rhodes and her work or to commission a painting, visit www.artwithrose.com or email rose@artwithrose.com.