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Gloucester artist cherishes the light

Melody Phaneuf painting plein air (Photo/Martha Dimeo)

By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer

Gloucester – Award-winning artist Melody Phaneuf, 63, seems to have found the perfect place to live. She came to Gloucester to paint during the summer of 1988, and ended up staying. She lives in a beautiful Queen Ann Victorian home near the outer harbor. Three years ago, she added a carriage house-like studio next door.

Phaneuf is well known for painting colorful Gloucester scenes, traditional and symbolic still lifes, portraits, and poetic French studies.

She grew up in Dracut, and said, “My mother and I would make things. She was very clever, and just to keep me occupied, we would make a house out of a cardboard box, and decorate the interior.”

Phaneuf honed her artistic talent at the Vesper George School of Art in Boston, where she studied with Robert Douglas Hunter and Robert Cormier.

“Hunter and Cormier were part of what was called the Boston School, which blended the best of French academic painters with American Impressionism,” Phaneuf explained.

She continued her work by studying privately at the Fenway Studios in Boston, which in 1986 became her home base. Phaneuf bought an artist studio, where she sometimes lived.

Her early work was often illustrations.

“My dad was in the printing business, and was able to feed me illustration jobs,” she said. “I started painting still lifes, sold a few, entered shows, and joined art associations.”

In Gloucester, Phaneuf is focused on natural light. She built her studio with north-facing skylights, and said, “I only paint here when there is light.”

Often at twilight, she walks along the harbor and paints small “pochade” (from the French for “pocket”) studies of the local scenes: the ocean, sunsets, marshes, and boats. Back in her studio, Phaneuf transforms these images to larger paintings: usually 16” by 20” or 18” by 24.”

She commented, “Not long ago the town reconstructed the walkway, and installed new LED green street lights, which spread light instead of focusing it.”

The change can be seen in both the color and detail of her paintings. Early works are crisp and precise, incandescent and warm, with warmer blues. Her more recent pieces feature more hazy images, in softer colors.

Phaneuf’s allegorical pieces have been influenced by her travels – time spent in Paris -and her dreams.

“I’ve had a recurring dream of a jester, and realized that it was my alter ego,” she said. “I tend to look at things with an eye toward finding the humor. Like a jester, I’m a bit of a shape shifter – moving in and out of different environments.”

Phaneuf, who never learned to swim, also dreamed about outrunning the shadow of tidal wave. She said, “When I moved to Gloucester, the dream stopped.”

Several paintings of jesters are displayed in her studio, and there is one of a wave.

Phaneuf is also interested in creating paintings that contribute to health and healing.

“Certain qualities – deep space, peaceful water – help patients heal faster.”

In addition to painting, Phaneuf teaches, has painted murals, and in the early 2000s, did decorative wall finishes.

Phaneuf’s work may be purchased at the Guild of Boston Artists, 162 Newbury St., Boston.

Her original paintings, giclee prints (fine art digital prints created on inkjet printers), and tumbled marble coasters printed with her paintings, may be purchased at her Gloucester studio. Located at 3 Centennial Ave., the studio is open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. and by appointment.

Phaneuf can be reached at 617-236-4322 or the contact page on her website,

Phaneuf’s studio (Photo/Jane Keller Gordon)

Melody Phaneuf painting a still life (Photo/Martha Dimeo)

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