When the pandemic stuck Maryvonne LaParlière in her new Solvang home last spring, the white walls and unfinished surfaces didn’t stand a chance against the artist’s love of color. The French-born, École des Beaux-Arts–educated artist has specialized in decorative art for decades but focused primarily on commissions — like the three vibrant murals that grace the walls of Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital — and work for sale in galleries.
“When COVID arrived, it was not even like fight or flight, because we didn’t know what to fight exactly and we couldn’t fly anywhere,” said LaParlière, who closed her gallery in Amherst, Virginia, with the shutdown. “I had to figure out what to do.”
She looked around the house and spotted two nightstands in the bedroom that “were good quality but kind of blah.” So she painted them to match the botanical design on her bedspread. Then it was on to faux painting a frieze of tiles in trompe l’oeil style, inspired by antique Spanish/Portuguese ceramic tiles.
Staying with Mediterranean-inspired vernacular, she hand-painted her patio and did an entire outdoor barbecue area. “I decided to do the wall near my iron gate and a little barbecue sink, which I did painted in blue and white in the azulejosPortuguese style,” says the artist, whose work can be found in the collections of celebrities such as Priscilla Presley, Larry Hagman, Fannie Flagg, Julia Roberts, and Susan Sarandon, as well as the Orient Express Hotels chain, University of Virginia, and Alliance Française of Washington, D.C. In 2010, after a solo exhibition at the French Embassy, she was even decorated by the French Ambassador as a Knight in the Order of the Palms in recognition of her talent and for bringing French culture to so many in America.
Painting her way through the pandemic kept LaParlière’s spirits high, as did living in such a beautiful place. She transformed the steps leading up to her house into a colorful entryway, painting images of the nearby mission and gathering inspiration from all the local flora and fauna; “boring furniture” pieces like chests, trunks, and tables were transformed into colorful works of art; and borders around her windows became showcases for more hand-painted tilework.
Now that things are starting to open up, she is eager to work with new clients, as well as in her own home — if she can find an empty surface. Said LaParlière, “I will never stop.”