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80-year-old W.Va. artist shows work for first time

| Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Neal Martineau has been drawing and painting for practically his entire life: from buying off schoolyard bullies in the first grade with sketches of war planes to painting giant abstracts for his home.

Mainly, the 80-year-old has kept his art to himself, sharing it with family and some friends or doing some works on commissions.

“My work over the past two years has sort of exploded,” he said as the first public exhibit of his work was being hung in the Exhibitions Art Gallery in Martinsburg.

Martineau, who with his wife of half a century, Patty, retired to Shepherdstown after a successful career in advertising with Ogilvy Advertising in Manhattan, was painting with a group and feeling schizophrenic about his paintings.

“My pencil drawings are detailed, but when I get my paints, I go off into abstract,” he explained. “Why can't I paint as I draw?”

A friend, Becca Jones, told him to simply paint as he draws, and that was his opening. He has been producing paintings every two weeks for the past two years.

“I decided not to suffer anymore, and I am having myself a blast,” Martineau said. “I have an orgy all day long as I paint. I'm turned on by color. I can't get enough color. I'm like an 18-year-old with color.”

His latest paintings are a veritable explosion of boldly rich colors, sensual shapes and intricate compositions depicting animals, plants and heavens.

“I can't get away from circles,” Martineau continued. “Circles are what we're made of. The universe is a circle. We're a circle. I love to do circles.”

He describes himself not as an artist or a painter, but as a teenager who paints. He disappears into painting, losing track of time and forgetting to eat.

Martineau still did not show his works publicly.

“I had a little formal training at Princeton,” he said. “There was one artist in residence, Steven Greene, a super guy. He told me, ‘Neal, you cannot make a living as an artist and have a house in Westchester (an upper middle-class suburb of New York City) and a station wagon.' That kind of put me off. I never intended to make a living as an artist, and I still don't.”

However, when people would see his work, they were impressed and delighted.

“My real amazement was that my paintings were admired by people,” Martineau said. “I put some prints up in restaurants and sold some. People began demanding the originals.”

David Heatwole, a local artist who opened Exhibitions Art Gallery at 209 N. Queen St. last year, discovered Martineau's work and persuaded him to show his originals publicly.

The exhibit includes works from 1961 through 2013, some of which have never been seen before.

Martineau's exhibition runs through Feb. 2.

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