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Local Muralist Tells Stories through Narrative Portraits Exhibit at Gallery 200 during July

To artist Buddy Plumlee, a portrait is not merely a picture of a person, but a captured moment in their lives, completed by details and narratives that tell their story. His “Portraits and Narratives” exhibit, on display July 5 – 29, 2012 at Gallery 200, 200 Main Street, West Chicago, includes watercolor and mixed media paintings with a metaphorical aspect that chronicles their lives.

According to Plumlee, it’s important that his portraits tell a story. He paints mostly from photographs and includes information that helps narrate the story, such as the setting around the subject or what the subject is doing in the image. His favorite subjects are often family members.

“I make a conscious decision to paint people that are close to me and important in my life, primarily because these people have more meaning to me,” said Plumlee. He sees his paintings as a way to immortalize or document a person. “It captures the essence of the person in that moment of time. By adding a narrative, it adds depth to the meaning of the painting and tells that person’s story,” said Plumlee.

An example of his narratives can be seen in the painting “Alien Son.” Plumlee explained that his son, like most children, is very imaginative and enjoys creating with found objects. The painting captures his son, Baron Miguel, in a costume he had made, pretending to be an alien. Said Plumlee, “My wife is from the Philippines, which makes her an ‘Alien’ immigrant. So literally he is the son of an ‘alien’ from that point of view, and figuratively because of his playing make-believe. I like doing that with my paintings, having two meanings to them, something obvious and something not so obvious.”

Included in the exhibit will also be examples of sequential art, another form of story telling that Plumlee incorporates into his paintings. An example is comic strips, where a sequence of graphics along with narration tells a story. Said Plumlee, “I’ve been exploring how to use sequential art in fine art, much like story boards are used in the creation of movies.” He is currently working on graphic novels using sequential art and looks forward to publishing them in the future.

Plumlee’s interest in art began as a child and he enrolled in art courses throughout elementary and high school and graduated college with an art degree. It was his studies in Florence, Italy at Scuola Lorenzo de’ Medici where he fell in love with Renaissance art and realism, a style of painting which represents a subject as “real”. Upon his return to the United States, he graduated from the University of Iowa with a Master of Fine Arts degree.

After 10 years of maintaining a studio in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, Plumlee and his wife moved to West Chicago to be near family and to purchase a home to accommodate their four children. His wife is also a seamstress and works closely with him in their residential and commercial decorative finishing and mural business, BPS Decorating.

Working together as a full service decorating team, they coordinate with interior decorators, remodelers and various contractors to provide a finished product. She uses her seamstress skills to create curtains and window treatments while his artistic skills are incorporated into faux paint finishes, murals, trompe l’oeil and venetian plaster. A complete list of their services can be found on the businesses’ website at

Although he enjoys his work, he also finds it to be very physically demanding. Faux finishes and other painting techniques require the holding of brushes and other tools for long periods of time and venetian plaster is created through the use of a trowel. He is currently working to complete an outdoor mural project that requires repetitive days, high on a scaffold, in 90 plus degree heat. Said Plumlee, “I hope to stick with it as long as my body holds up and eventually transition into teaching art at the university level.”

Plumlee is also involved in art on the community level as secretary of the West Chicago Cultural Arts Commission. The commission has most recently determined the theme for next year’s Community Banner Project competition and will sponsor the Fine Arts Fiesta during Railroad Days, July 12 – 15, 2012 at Reed-Keppler Park in West Chicago, where Plumlee will be on hand as a volunteer to oversee the exhibits.

Plumlee is proud of the Commission’s work, but admits that operating with a limited budget and engaging the public during this economic downturn has been difficult. Said Plumlee, “Whether people realize it or not, cultural arts in a community enriches people’s lives. Sometimes it’s hard for people to appreciate that.”

The public is invited to meet artist Buddy Plumlee at a free Opening Reception on Saturday, July 7, 2012, from 4:00 – 8:00 p.m. at Gallery 200, which includes light refreshments and entertainment.

Gallery 200 is a cultural initiative supported by the City of West Chicago and the West Chicago Cultural Arts Commission, and is one more reason West Chicago was named an Illinois Arts Friendly Community in 2007. Gallery 200 is open Thursday and Friday from 12:00 - 8:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. For more information, including future exhibits, current class listings and theater performances, call (630) 293-9550 or visit

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