While celebrating her daughter’s 21st birthday at Moriarty’s Irish Pub & Restaurant in Center City Philadelphia, Lisa McGovern was captivated by the decor. From the dated photographs lining the walls, to the antique mugs and trinkets haphazardly filling the tiny remaining spaces, the sight got her artistic juices flowing.
Always equipped with her trusty camera, the Levittown native and Neshaminy alum snapped a shot of various-sized glasses crammed upside down on a ceiling-hung rack. Once home, she set to work creating a pastel portrait, using the photo as reference.
Currently, McGovern’s view of the quaint city bar can be seen by art lovers everywhere as part of the 53rd annual “Art of the State” juried exhibition. McGovern is one of 109 finalists selected from 1,901 entries and 680 artists hailing from across Pennsylvania.
Although this is McGovern’s second time participating in “Art of the State,” landing a finalist spot in 2015 for her portrayal of Philadelphia’s Chinatown, the 2020 experience will be a bit different. Five years ago, she had the pleasure of traveling to The State Museum in Harrisburg for a special awards ceremony.
“They usually put you in this huge auditorium and they have this big screen on the stage so you can see your artwork larger than life with all the other artists,” she reflected.
But this year, since the museum remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, winners will be announced via Facebook and Twitter on Sunday, Sept. 13, at 2 p.m., during a pre-recorded ceremony. Additionally, a 360-degree virtual exhibit is available online, allowing visitors to “walk through” the 6,000-square-foot gallery and see the works featured in the 2020 exhibit.
More than $7,000 in cash awards will be presented, including a first prize of $500, second prize of $300 and third prize of $200 in each of five categories. The State Museum will also select one of the pieces of art for its permanent collection.
Despite not being able to visit the museum this year, McGovern is thrilled to have her creation chosen for such a prestigious exhibit. She has worked locally over the last 20 years to hone her talents, joining Artists of Bristol on the Delaware and having several pieces included in the group’s exhibit at Lower Bucks Hospital. McGovern took a number of workshops from artist Bob Seufert in Fairless Hills, and is also a member of the Bristol Photographers Club.
McGovern is simultaneously a professional freelance graphic designer and fine artist, and combines both worlds when painting in pastels. Her subjects primarily include favorite local sights, such as Dairy Delite Ice Cream Shop in Levittown, Philadelphia sports teams and mascots, and the Ben Franklin Bridge.
“I am inspired by [Pierre-Auguste] Renoir’s style to impressionistically paint celebrations of hometown icons or where people gather to experience life. Placing my canvas upside down at my easel, I use gestured strokes of lines, textured shapes and bold colors to keep my compositions conceptual or loose,” she said. “This lessens the pressure of any artistic perfection, which allows the pastel to fall closer to the bottom edge instead of falling and staining the entire paper on its way down. But once my final adjustments are made to the canvas turned right side up, it is fascinating and always satisfying of how this technique evolves into my finished work.”
There are a few rules involved in McGovern’s creative process. Rule No. 1? All of her paintings must have rich, dark areas.
“I am obsessed with trying to define what total blackness can be,” she said. “My solution is to saturate and build upon layers of blacks blended with deep blues, greens, purples and oranges until the pastel refuses to stick to my paper anymore.”
As for Rule No. 2, there shall be no finger smearing of color.
“Oils from my hands don’t get into the pastels,” she explained. “Tactile paper selection is just as important when applying pastels. You may even see untouched textured paper peeking from underneath my work, and that’s OK. Why drown the paper’s beauty?”
In addition to “Art of the State,” McGovern’s paintings will appear in a slew of other exhibitions. Her depiction of Boathouse Row was chosen for a virtual show at City Hall for the Philadelphia Corporation of Aging, which showcases the work of artists 55 and over; and a Niagara Falls piece was selected by Artists of Yardley for its ninth annual Juried Show, which will take place in person Oct. 23.
Moving forward, McGovern will continue to explore her home of Bucks County, all the while photographing new and exciting spots as inspiration for her next painting.
“It’s so beautiful,” she said of the county. “And I think a lot of people appreciate that because they can relate to it, especially the icons.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org