It’s all about process: Peter Huntoon and Mareva Millarc

By Janelle Faignant
Arts Correspondent | November 06, 2014

Albert J. Marro / Staff Photo

Mareva Millarc’s “Between Here and There”

Husband and wife artists Peter Huntoon and Mareva Millarc say they inspire each other, they just opened their first exhibit together in an engaging show “Oil and Water” at the Chaffee Downtown gallery. It will run through Nov. 29, with a painting demonstration by Huntoon at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 14.

The title of the show references the mediums of oil and watercolor which they both use. Though Huntoon, 53, says he’s more representational in his style, they both consider themselves abstract artists.

Born and raised in Rutland, Huntoon’s well-known name conjures images of his bright, watercolor imaginings of Vermont’s beauty, from country stores to ski areas and street corners. Millarc, 59, who was born in California and spent most of her childhood and early adult life in Argentina, paints abstracts in oil that are subject to interpretation, brimming with rich color and deeply expressive lines.

“Part of my mission is not to dispel the myth, but to educate people that are interested in the creative process,” Huntoon said. “Especially painting, I like to expose the underbelly of the process.”

And it’s in the process where they differ a bit. For Millarc, creating a new painting is an instinctive process that starts with lines and color.

“I don’t have a preconceived idea of what I’m going to do most of the time,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll start from another painting that didn’t work for me. That’s one of my favorite things to do because then I don’t have to start with that fear of the blank canvas.”

Starting not quite from scratch also lessens the notion of “mistakes,” which instead become opportunities to help the creative process.

Huntoon, on the other hand, begins with a fairly clear picture in his head of what he wants to do, often drawing a series of sketches before he starts painting.

“A painting is just full of mistakes,” he said. “Every drip that happens by accident, the beginner wants to correct that and make it perfect and make it pretty from the first brushstroke to the next. But just like us, as we grow up, puberty is not pretty, we have go through phases. There are times when it’s out of control and you don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s all part of the excitement.”

His work tends to resemble so closely the subjects he paints that they’re almost like photographic representations, begging the question: Does he work from photos?

“I’m careful to answer that question, which I get all the time,” he said. “Do you work from photos? Yes. Do you work from memory? Yes. Do you work from life? Yes. Do you work from imagination? Yes. Do you work from sketches? Yes.

“All those things,” Huntoon said. “I’m careful not to say I work from photographs because that’s like saying I cook with salt. It’s a very narrow, unrealistic way of saying it. A photo for me is simply one source of information.”

“These are facts,” he said of the places he paints, “and they’re beautiful, but you have to take those facts and translate them into a simple, flat, two-dimensional surface with a very simple tool bag of colors and values and shapes and the language of paint. So it really is a translation.”

Part of the process, too, involves breaking through that self-judgment internal dialogue that we all have.

“The more you do art the easier and easier it is to flip that switch,” Huntoon said.

“I can work on a piece for hours and I’m not satisfied with it,” Millarc said. “I leave it on the easel and come back the next day and then something clicks and I know exactly what I’m going to do. It could take a month, it could take 50 minutes.

“The best is when you’re not thinking and just living in the moment,” she said. “You’re so involved with the process that you forget where you are, you forget about everything else, and then all of a sudden I’m hungry because I’ve been painting for four hours.”

Millarc has been painting professionally since 2007 and as a child always loved to draw and sketch abstractly.

“I usually just jump into my painting,” Millarc said, “however I do have sketches,” producing a small, unlined spiral-bound sketch book full of intricate, beautiful ink sketches reminiscent of calligraphy, done with a quill and pot of acrylic ink.

Millarc started painting sporadically around 2005 to build her confidence. When she met Huntoon, he would offer critiques of her work, which she says was an incredible help, and began painting professionally soon after.

“The fear factor kept me from doing it for many years,” Millarc said. “You finally get over that fear and say enough, I have to start painting because it’s in me, it’s something I have to do.

“From there on you grow and grow and grow,” she said. “It’s a never-ending process, that’s the beauty of it.”

Huntoon had been dabbling in art all his life as well, and sometime around 1996 decided to get serious about it.

“I thought, I’ve got some ability here, I’m 30 years old, I should put some effort into this. Or I could go to the bar. You know that was kind of where I was at,” he said.

Huntoon decided to give it an earnest try and that first year fell in love with art. He took a watercolor class at the Chaffee Art Center on North Main Street and was instantly bitten by the painting bug. Every morning before work, every evening after work, and every weekend he painted.

A year or two later Huntoon painted “Fall on Center” and produced it as a print. He sat on the stoop outside his downtown Rutland studio with a bag of prints, asking people passing by if they wanted to buy one.

“That kind of started everything for me,” he said. “Those two years in that studio, I discovered myself, I found myself through art.”

Huntoon and Millarc have been together for seven years. They had so much in common that they immediately hit it off. Their mutual interest in art brought them together but Huntoon says it’s their mutual respect for the integrity of each other and the integrity of their art that’s an important factor for both of them.

“We try to live authentically and conscientiously and I think we work together because of that mutual respect,” he said.

Chaffee Downtown
The Rutland Area Art Association presents “Oil & Water,” work of Peter Huntoon and Mareva Millarc, through Nov. 29, at Chaffee Downtown, 75 Merchants Row, Rutland. Hours are: noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; call 775-0356, www.chaffeeartcenter.org. Peter Huntoon will offer a painting demonstration at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 14.