Laguna Beach artist Ruth Mayer put aside her paintbrush and palette knife last month to travel to Florence, Italy, to receive the Leonardo Da Vinci Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Mayer, 81, said she was selected by the Cultural Association in Florence, which selects representatives from an international roster of artists every year.
The painter, who is also a pilot, received the award at the Borghese Palace, a landmark building once home to Prince Camillo Borghese, a brother-in-law of Napoleon Bonaparte.
“I did not believe it when I heard I was nominated. I usually don’t pay much attention to that sort of thing,” said Mayer. The prize does not include remuneration.
Mayer received the award on the strength her land, sea and cityscapes, specifically of “Catalina Greeter,” an oil on canvas painting of a red Harbor Patrol boat afloat in highly articulated seas and set against a depiction of the Catalina Island town of Avalon.
For the sharp-eyed, there are allusions to sea creatures, mermaids and angelic beings in waters of psychedelic hues. Similar imagery pervades much of her body of work.
Mayer first made a notable splash at the 2000 New York Art Expo with a painting, “I Love New York,” depicting Manhattan and the still intact World Trade Center. Cloud formations take the shape and faces of angels atop the skyscrapers, seemingly embracing the towers, while the water contains images alluding to Broadway shows.
She attributes its completion, a year before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to divine inspiration.
News coverage of the painting after the attacks caught the attention of Rome. “When I got a phone call from someone identifying himself as representing the Vatican, I thought it was a joke, and I told him that he could find me at my gallery in Laguna in two weeks. Sure enough, two weeks later, two priests came in and asked to speak with me about possibly painting Pope John Paul II,” she recalled.
Invited to Rome to meet the pontiff, they hit it off well, but when his staff suggested what should be in the painting, Mayer balked. “Only God can tell me what goes into a painting,” she recalled saying.
She got the commission anyway. Today, a giclee version of the work is displayed at her Laguna gallery. The original, were it for sale, would fetch $1.2 million. A poster can be had for $29 with a condition: buyers must commit to a good work for children, said Mayer.
A 40-year resident, Mayer has traveled throughout Israel and parts of the Middle East, Europe and Asia. Visitors to Ruth Mayer Fine Art, located in downtown Laguna and on Catalina Island, can follow her journeys, both physical and spiritual, through her paintings. Some are original oil paintings and others giclee prints. “I like to make my paintings affordable for anyone,” Mayer explained. And, like the some old masters, she includes a reference of herself in the paintings.
In 2014, she received the best gallery award from the Laguna Beach Chamber of CommerceView Our User Comment Policy