World-traveling artist Marilou Solares settles down in Asheville

ISLAND TIME: Painter Marilou Solares has lived in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, as well as her native Cuba. Though she now calls Asheville home, her previous addresses are reflected in her work. “Being from the islands, the colors are bright. They’re happy colors,” she says.
ISLAND TIME: Painter Marilou Solares has lived in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, as well as her native Cuba. Though she now calls Asheville home, her previous addresses are reflected in her work. “Being from the islands, the colors are bright. They’re happy colors,” she says. Photo by Adam McMillan

Although artist Marilou Solares will be exhibiting her work at Woolworth Walk during March, there’s another show that has her hard at work. Two of Solares’ oil paintings will hang at the Asheville Regional Airport this spring — a location that seems fitting because travel has played a major role in the artist’s life.

Solares, whose shared exhibition with local painter Jennifer Barrineau opens Friday, March 3, in the F.W. Gallery, was born in Cuba. “We left when I was 3 years old. We got out before Fidel,” she says of her family’s flight from Castro’s Communist government. And out of respect for her father’s feelings about that political system, which is currently helmed by Castro’s brother, Solares has not returned, though she hopes to someday. “I want to see where I was born,” she says.

Still, that locale is important to Solares. It and other places she’s lived impact her work. “Being from the islands, the colors are bright. They’re happy colors,” she says. “I just want people to be happy” when they see the work “and do [art] for themselves.”

In fact, it took Solares a long time to be able to fully dedicate herself to her painting. As she was growing up, her family moved between Florida and Puerto Rico. Solares went to college on Long Island — that was the first time she saw snow — and also lived in the Dominican Republic. She worked for her family’s industrial equipment business for 37 years while also raising her children. Painting was something she did in the evenings and during spare moments on the weekends, but even though there was little time for her passion, she didn’t give it up.

Jorge Rechany, a painter, muralist and teacher from Puerto Rico, was a mentor to Solares from when she was 10 years old. He told her, “Being an artist is very hard. Sometimes you give a show and you starve. You don’t sell anything. And sometimes people like your work.” Based on his advice, Solares worked her day job, saved money and, when she retired, finally turned to her creative work in earnest.

If that sounds like a sacrifice, Solares expresses only joy at her current relationship to her art. Her birdhouses began as a solo project, but her partner, Peter Bergmann, “started inventing and doing things, and he built them for me.” Solares paints Bergmann’s structures in vivid hues and graphic patterns.

Solares and Bergmann met in college but ultimately married other people. They got back in touch when both were going through separations but only solidified their relationship seven years ago. Together, they decided to move to Asheville, a place where neither had history, and both hoped to be part of a peaceful, artistic community. “The birdhouses have a big meaning,” Solares says, “because, not to get too corny, they’re a product of love.”

The artist’s two birdhouse series, both titled “Fly and Stay Asheville,” also speak to Solares’ intention to put down roots in her adopted hometown. Based on the north side of the city, she admits she doesn’t know many fellow Latinos here.

“I feel most connected to the artistic community,” she says, and often attends local theatrical productions. “The thing I miss most from the Latin world is the food, but I can cook it. That, and my family, but I have to live my life, and I’m doing what I like.”

In fact, Solares’ “Buddha Project” series — watercolor paintings of color-dense lotus flowers and meditative Buddha figures — started as a love offering for the yoga center she attends. And even the show at F.W. Gallery was born out of the artist’s early love of Asheville.

“I used to go to Woolworth Walk every time we visited [before we moved here],” she says. “One of my wishes was to have my work at Woolworth Walk. It took a while, but then they called me up.”

WHO: Jennifer Barrineau + Marilou Solares exhibition
WHERE: F.W. Gallery at Woolworth Walk, 25 Haywood St., woolworthwalk.com
WHEN: Through Thursday, March 30. Opening reception Friday, March 3, 4-6 p.m. Free

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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