Alumna Paints Celtics Portraits

April 25, 2011

From the Boston Globe
by Globe Correspondent Liza Weisstuch

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Catalina Viejo captures the vivid expressions familiar to local sports fans. And she does it on pieces of matte board barely bigger than a BlackBerry screen. Layers of acrylic paint create an impressionistic watercolor effect. An ever-so-light brush stroke of gold glittery paint adds a shimmer of sweat to a forehead or cheekbone. Even though every mug is depicted in various shades of purple or green or red, each has an aspect of realism.

Viejo’s portraits of Celtics heroes bring the viewer in close – really close – to a moment of focus or exhilaration. “I love the intimacy of these little ones,” said Viejo, sitting at a table in her Medford apartment. Giant canvases are stacked under the bed and packed tightly under a desk, behind the TV. Epic portraits hang on the walls. “The minis are more immediate. When you work on a painting for months, it feels like you never get anywhere.”

The artist’s instant gratification is the collector’s prize. She never thought they would sell, she says, but when she put them up on Etsy, the creative person’s eBay, the diminutive pictures, which fetch $40 to $50, drew attention. Collectors have commissioned her to paint past team members. They caught the eye of a designer, who has enlarged the images for T-shirts. Big Baby (Glen Davis) has been spotted sporting one featuring himself.

Originally from Spain, Viejo spent seven years at a Dublin boarding school before attending Montserrat College of Art. After graduation, she worked at the Baak Gallery in Cambridge and has since had shows in New York and throughout Boston. Her work will be featured later this year in a London show. Her interest has long been collage and portraiture, but getting models to sit costs money.

In 2008, the year Boston won its 17th NBA title, Viejo got caught up in Celtics fever. Watching games, she was gripped by the players’ dramatic expressions, something not often seen in most other pro sports since players’ faces are usually concealed by helmets or brimmed caps. She started doodling.

“The crazier they look, the more fun they are to draw,” she said. “You’ll never see a mini of anyone who looks like they’re staring into a camera. They’re all in their own world.”