Art of Eduardo Lapetina

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Click here for the podcast, "Two Careers, One Life with Dr. Eduardo Lapetina"

This short article about the paintings of Eduardo Lapetina was written and published by artist and art critic Adam Narcross in January 2014:

Eduardo, an amazing artist, truly gifted and talented. Observing his paintings is like discovering and rediscovering everything that is fresh and new in how things and ideas can be seen and communicated through expression of sensory experience.

One may speak of arrangement, of colour and composition, one may use the usual metaphors and symbolism to describe the art of this amazing man. But for me I choose to observe his works beyond modifiers and convenient language. I choose to augment my observation with allowing myself to also be swept along the experience of art as integration into and of the self into his visual poetry.

They say that paintings are the mute art, but I say in the case of Eduardo's works his paintings are far from mute, all you have to do is listen, and the whisper you hear is the music that comes from the hand of one of the gentlest souls to grace canvas with the loving caress of a brush or pallette knife.

Television Interview with Eduardo Lapetina, July 2010

How did you get started in art?

I traveled the world giving lectures in medical science, and wherever I went I would visit museums and galleries. I became a collector of art and developed a deep passion for it. Later in life I had an opportunity to take a class with Jane Filer at the Carrboro Art Center, and I found my calling there. I have been painting ever since. The creation of my abstract paintings is not that different from what I did in science. When you are immersed in an experiment, you do not know what the final answer will be and you are often surprised by the outcome. The paintings surprise me too. My life as a painter is as exciting and passionate as my scientific life was. But now I feel more freedom and am very happy.

Describe how you create such textural surfaces?

It’s just paint. Many layers, built up one over the other. I don’t use modeling paste or other fillers, just paint, straight from the tube, mixed right on the canvas. It’s a physical process. I apply paint in various ways, sometimes unusual ways – pouring, splashing, dripping, scratching, and so on – until I get what I am after.

In general, there are three steps to making a painting. I begin with a “no thought” step, laying down the first few layers intuitively, without preconceptions or specific imagery in mind. In the middle step, it becomes a more thoughtful process of looking and reacting to what is on the canvas and thinking about what could be there. Sometimes it’s an emotional response, sometimes it’s a more rational response, sometimes it’s both. It’s always challenging. This part may take several days. This interactive phase is when definite ideas about what I want from the painting form in my mind. Different ideas fight it out until I’m ready to translate them onto the canvas as shapes and textures and colors and so forth. In the third step I make it into a cohesive, finished painting with additional layers of paint. I just go on until I see life in the painting; then it’s done. What inspires you?

I get my inspiration from the paintings themselves, in the process of painting them. I don’t sit around waiting for inspiration. The act of applying paint gets me started and then the paint is my guide.

Chuck Close said, “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

Who or what are your influences?

While the influences may not be directly reflected in my work, I do have some favorites. The American abstract expressionists of the mid-20th century, for example. Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Arshille Gorky, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, Adolph Gottlieb, Clyfford Still, Louis Morris. Their work is very physical, gestural, emotional, and alive.

I also like several artists who came in that transitional period between abstract expressionism and pop art, such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Richard Diebenkorn. Their work has elements of both – gestural abstraction as well as imagery from popular culture.

What does the title over/under mean to you in terms of your art?

In my paintings, the layering is the art of disclosing and hiding, Some things are over (disclosed) and some are under (hidden). The process and the resulting paintings are about the discovery of mysteries of the subconscious mind that are part of my own personal legend. Personality counts.

What do you hope viewers will take away from your work?

These abstractions hold the promise of dreams, fears, intangibles, visions, and will. It is a collaboration of mind and spirit. It is a form of magic that may speak both to you and for you with a private, secret, confidential language. They also require something from the viewer; it demands contemplation, study, flights of fancy, and feeling.

An inspired heir to 20th century abstractionism
- Herald-Sun - April 19, 2009

Eduardo Lapetina uses paint like a pastry chef uses frosting: thick, heavy, and full of color. He differs, however, from the cake decorator whose use of the material is delicate and tender. Lapetina's surfaces are strong, majestic, and brilliantly colored.

Lapetina is the consummate abstract artist. Paint tells his whole story. Across some of his abstract canvases are geometric forms that answer to no mathematical formula, yet they suggest rectangles, cones or pyramids. On some of his paintings he covers the surfaces with a grid of lines that hint at wire fencing; behind them are shapes and colors, straining against the containment. The strings of paint barely hold the composition together.

While we think the globs of paint will explode, we realize the artist has it all in a careful balance. Some of his canvases are completely covered with paint, like a carpet of many colors. Every color is layered over every other color. There is a strong sense the color that is uppermost is there because the artist could not control it. Each canvas feels contained, yet one more slap of the palette knife and it would be chaotic.

Lapetina describes his painting technique as pouring, splashing, dripping and scratching. He uses the palette knife, not the brush, and his surfaces are thick with many layers of paint. Color is his voice and he wrestles with it in every composition. If a delicate pink might work in one corner, he makes it electric. Oranges and reds are held in check by subtle blues and browns and then the whole painting sparkles -- gilt paint, used judicially on each surface, gives it its edge.

Abstractionism is a 20th century invention and Lapetina is one of its inspired heirs. Consider the evolution of abstractionism. Before the 20th century, paintings were always about something -- landscapes, portraits or narratives -- and every color described the world as we knew it. Grass was green, water was bluish-green, trees had green leaves and brown bark, daffodils were yellow and the skin of white people was pinkish white with subtle touches of other colors.

It all changed at the end of the 19th century when a group of painters, Van Gogh among them, began to think in terms of color as a means of expression. In their experimentation, they painted trees red, rivers orange and women's faces in segments of purple, green and yellow. Once that idea took hold, the next step was a canvas covered in paint with no recognizable objects to interfere with the interplay of colors.

These compositions required a new set of rules of communication between the artist and the viewer and, in fact, the object was incomplete until viewers brought their own interpretations to it. Once color became independent of describing objects, it settled on the canvas as itself. Black became black and not night, red was just red and not fire and green was green, not grass.

Lapetina's "I Warmed Both Hands Before the Fire of Life" exemplifies how viewer interpretations add something more to these canvases of many colors. A description of the painting would include its shapes of bright red that make their way up the surface of the painting. It would also include the blues, greens and purples that also move in an upward motion and the threads of gold paint that make everything come alive.

As I was looking at the painting, several people stopped and gave it their special attention. Some viewers were certain they saw the outlines of a dog's head. Another thought they saw the shape of a helicopter, and at one point I felt I was looking down on an urban city grid. The patch of green could be a stand of trees; the browns might represent warehouses and the electric colors, the neon lights of the city. And that is what abstract art is about; a suggestion of things and ideas. The spectators complete it with their imaginations, not the artist's.

Turning Point Gallery is elegantly decorated. The dark walls and the careful spotlighting of the paintings makes each seem like a jewel carefully poised in its vitrine.

Lapetina, an Argentinean-born son of Italian immigrants, moved to North Carolina in 1976 to do cardiovascular research in thrombosis and arteriosclerosis for Burroughs Wellcome. He retired in 2002 after 35 years in medical research. Retirement has been his platform for making art and, despite his ongoing bout with MS, he has been exhibiting regularly since 2004. The artist has an ebullient personality and unflagging energy. The 15 or so paintings in this exhibit were completed in the last four months and he is furiously working to complete another large group for a show opening May 6 at the FedEx Global Education Center on the UNC Chapel Hill campus.

Blue Greenberg's column appears each week in The Arts. She can be reached at or by writing her in c/o The Herald-Sun, P.O. Box 2092, Durham, NC 27702.

Names matter
January 7, 2009 - 3:23PM

Some art lovers come to Eduardo Lapetina's shows just to read the titles.

They're not one- or two-word descriptions, mind you. Instead, Lapetina's vivid imagination springs forth such names as "Silence Escapes From My Skin," "Branches Somewhere in Eternity," "Like a Candlelight that Shivers," "Apparition of Faces in a Crowd," "Head Lifted Into An Infinite Space" and "Through the Light of Roaring Brightness." Each abstract painting is brilliant with color and some include shapes and faces.

 "Sometimes it's not easy to name a painting," Lapetina said in the 2008 Duke Center for Documentary Studies' short film "Si Tengo Alas Para Volar: If I Have Wings to Fly," directed by Katie Bieze. It shows Lapetina at home in his Chapel Hill studio.

On Tuesday morning, a number of area artists gathered at Harrison's restaurant & gallery, 2774 S. Church St., Burlington, to hang 26 of Lapetina's vibrant abstract paintings. Lapetina, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, sat nearby, offering up suggestions for various locations for his work.

A soft-spoken man, Lapetina has a joy about him that's infectious. He often smiles as he talks about the paintings. When this reporter commented on a name and the way it seemed to fit the work, he clapped his hands above his head and proceeded to grin.

The exhibit at Harrison's will be his second show in Alamance County; the first was at the Alamance County Arts Council a few years ago, in which Nancy Garrett discovered his talent.

"That's where I saw his art, and fell in love with him," said Garrett, who was instrumental in organizing the current exhibit at Harrison's. It begins with a meet-the-artist reception from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

The paintings will be on display through Feb. 23. Garrett added that prices have been marked down considerably - 40 to 50 percent off what Lapetina normally charges - a gift to Alamance County art collectors.

Surprisingly enough, art wasn't his chosen career. The Argentinian-born son of Italian immigrants migrated to North Carolina in 1976 to do cardiovascular research in thrombosis and arteriosclerosis. He made breakthrough discoveries during his 35-year career.

In 2002, the then-62-year-old renowned medical researcher and father of three had to retire when his multiple sclerosis worsened. At one time an art collector, Lapetina decided to take art lessons, first from Jane Filer at the Carrboro ArtsCenter and later at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"My teachers were impressed with the way I used color. They were extremely supportive," he said.

"Si Tengo Alas Para Volar" chronicles his shift from beginner to internationally renowned artist. Lapetina has received numerous awards and accolades along the way, including the Phyllis and Tyler Bennett Purchase Award at the Fine Arts League of Cary's 10th annual exhibition to "Pain in Spain" in 2004. [Note: The video is on the home page of this website.]

Lapetina said he received this award exactly one year to the day he started painting. He also mentioned being selected for the 52nd annual juried art show of the Durham Art Guild in 2006, in which "Floating Nothingness" was awarded third prize.

AT 68, LAPETINA REFUSES to let his multiple sclerosis get the best of him. He is an inspiration to not only those with the disease but to those who have been forced into early retirement for whatever reason and may wonder "what's next for me?"

The shift from art to medicine was a natural one. In some paintings, you can see the scientific and medical influences. For Lapetina, it is both a passion and a great form of therapy.

"I don't think about it at all," he said of the illness. "I'm weak on my left side, but luckily, I paint with my right hand. I sit down and paint in my studio. I plan to paint for another 30 years."

For more information on the exhibit, call Nancy Garrett at (336) 565-4687.

By Milburn Gibbs
The Chatham Record, Thursday, August 24, 2006

Dr. Eduardo Lapetina, of Chapel Hill, retired from medical research when his multiple sclerosis worsened in 2002, and began to pursue art as his new passion.

Even in the field of medicine, health problems can cause people to have to retire early. If a noted medical researcher is hit with multiple sclerosis, what is he to do?

One could kick back, enjoy friends and sink into inactivity, but for Lapetina, life's struggles only made his second career as an artist all the more genuine.

Lapetina had a humble background, born to Italian immigrants in Buenos Aires, Argentina. By 1976 he had migrated through a fellowship in London to North Carolina to do cardiovascular research in thrombosis and arteriosclerosis, which led to breakthrough discoveries. Many would credit a 2002 class he took from Jane Filer at the Carrboro ArtsCenter for fueling his desire to paint, but his interest started long before that.

"I traveled extensively around the world during my thirty-five year research career," Lapetina said. "It was then that I developed a taste for art. I went to many of the finest museums around the world and began collecting paintings at this time in my life."

Lapetina the collector became Lapetina the artist, thanks to Filer's class."When I fully retired, I had no idea what to do with my life," Lapetina admitted. "I had never taken an art class in my life; I knew nothing about painting, though I have always loved art.

"Jane Filer is a wonderful painter and an incredible teacher. Since then, I have started to paint all day every day. I went to her classes with all of the work I was doing at home. She was very supportive of my work."The collecting public has been supportive as well. In his first exhibit in Greensboro, Lapetina sold over 30 paintings to a crowd that had no prior knowledge of his work as a scientist.

Lapetina's allure is his use of color, and an imaginative array of techniques. It seems that whatever "it" is, Lapetina has tapped "it" to find a style that sings out to North Carolina, and collectors abroad as well.In April of 2003, his painting "Pain in Spain," won an award in a juried art competition, and was sold to a collector. The terrorist Madrid train bombing inspired the painting.

His paintings have been exhibited in a number of local galleries including Side Street Gallery in Pittsboro, Sizl Gallery in Carrboro and the Visual Art Exchange in Raleigh.

Lapetina has just returned from an art colony in Macedonia, in which 38 artists from all over the world were invited. He traveled extensively as a lecturer and medical researcher, but had no idea his art would garner invitations in three short years.

He has met Sergej Andreevski and Robert Cvetovski at the Cedar Pass artist colony, organized by local artist Doug Stuber. This connection gave Lapetina a chance to show European artists what he could do, and they were impressed.

"There is some correlation between scientific research that I did in the past and my actual concentration on paintings," he compared. "When you do scientific experiments, you do not know what the results will be. When I start my paintings, I don't have preconceptions, I follow the colors and shapes in a very emotional way. The result is always like a new discovery."It is most interesting to see the reaction of people to my paintings. They see things I did not think about. At that point, you believe that the observer is finally making the painting."

Karen Shelton has shown his paintings in her Sizl Gallery.

"Lapetina is this area's most successful emerging artist," Shelton said.

"His paintings explode with color and emotion and they are delightful in their spontaneity and free use of paint. His work is incredibly impressive. I have never seen an artist progress as he has."

Although Lapetina spends more time walking to and fro than most, he works on his art until it is finished. If there ever was an artist whose work "kept him going," then Lapetina is one of them.

Artist blends intellect, creativity for joyful results
by Valarie Schwartz - Staff Writer
The Chapel Hill News (NC) May 26, 2004

For years Eduardo Lapetina held his creativity inside. Now he strokes it onto canvas after canvas, emptying tube after tube of acrylic paint, his emotions mixing with the paint that flows out and down the vertical surface onto the wooden easel and block of rug under it.

The result conceals little; his emotions have been splashed out into colors. His joy, pain, serenity and rage are laid bare. Regardless of hue or random pattern, one thing cannot be denied from looking at Lapetina's work: Apathy does not exist in this man.

Lapetina exudes joy, even when sitting in front of his most recently completed canvas with its mix of passion and pathos.

"This is called, I think, 'War in Iraq.' It is many, many layers -- 10 at least," Lapetina said.

He finished the painting Friday morning after beginning it Tuesday while the latest reports from the war-infected country flashed from his television. He had started it before the paint was dry on his previous work, "Ancestral Roots."

Each of his abstract paintings has layer upon layer of paint. The final effect remains a mystery until the canvas strikes him as complete.

He does not know how he does it.

"I don't know anything," he said, smiling. "I just start with colors and shapes, and they direct me."

Born in Argentina of Italian immigrants, he grew up speak-ing both Italian and Spanish.

"I grew up in an Italian family, speaking Italian," he said. "My grandparents never learned to speak any other language. There was a lot of food and love."

At the age of 15, he became very sick and spent seven years in and out of hospitals as one wrong diagnosis after another held him hostage to the institution of medicine. The experience also provided him the opportunity to change the pattern for men of his family, who went into the family business (manufacturing wine barrels) as soon as they could, forsaking higher education.

"I was the only one in the family who went to a university because I was sick," Lapetina said.

Not surprisingly, he went into the field of medicine, specializing in cardiovascular research. While a post-doc fellow in England, his research paid off.

"I made a very important discovery that was published in journals," he said.

The notoriety that followed brought an invitation to work in the United States, where he spent 20 years with Burroughs Wellcome -- until it merged with Glaxo.

"People over 50 were given special packages to leave," he said.

He took the package and moved to Cleveland, where he taught medicine at Ohio Weslyan University for four years. Then, five years ago, after missing the good weather and friends of Chapel Hill, he returned to the town where his three children had graduated from Chapel Hill High School.

"When I came back here, I saw people who had left Burroughs Wellcome when I did, who had started small biotech companies," he said. "I went to work at Cato Research." He worked for Cato for about four years.

"I suffer with multiple sclerosis," Lapetina said matter-of-factly. "My condition got worse, and I took disability in 2002. I didn't know what to do with my life."

All he had to do was look around his house for a clue. All those years of research required international travel, from which he never returned home empty-handed.

"I took at least eight international trips a year," he said. "And every time I went to museums, met artists and bought paintings, not expending very much money because I had three children to put through college."

He collected with a passion, buying what he liked. Not only do the wall spaces of his home reflect his interest, but a wide, curving couch holds overlapping art pillows, a large display case is filled with glass, marble and ceramic "eggs" and there are collections of crystals. Visiting eyes do not rest once inside his Chapel Hill home.

One day, while looking in the paper, he saw that a painting class taught by Jane Filer was starting in 45 minutes. He grabbed his cane, jumped in his Volkswagen Beetle and hummed over to the ArtsCenter in Carrboro.

The class was in progress as he walked in. Filer remarked that he had no supplies with him, and he explained that he had just learned of the class.

"He was very, very friendly," Filer said. "He's a very warm, loving person."

Filer was painting when Lapetina walked in.

"I'm a stubborn person as far as my art's concerned," she said. " I don't EVER do what people tell me to do."

As she was demonstrating different color values and applications, she got a suggestion.

"Eduardo sits down next to me and says, 'I think you should put a big sun right in the middle.' I thought, This painting stinks anyway . . . oh, why not try it," Filer said. "So I painted a big sun in the middle."

Her other students were amazed to see her trying such a suggestion. But he had been wrong. The sun didn't fix it. "He had other suggestions, and I tried them all. He was wrong," she said. "I said to Eduardo, who's telling me how to paint, and he doesn't know how, 'Are you a famous painter?' He said, 'You go to the Web and check out my Web site.' I said, 'You go and check out my Web site.' I said, 'Now look, Eduardo, after what we've been through the first day, you come back. You better not be one of those people who come in here and I never see you again.' He grabbed my hand and said, 'I will come to every one of your classes.'"

He had already decided that he would become an artist.

Each did the Web site check and returned duly impressed with the other and the student/teacher relationship endured, developed and progressed into a friendship.

"She's an incredible teacher," Lapetina said. "She's very stimulating and optimistic. Every piece I did, she found something good. If she had been rigid, I don't think I would have gone on. She's a wonderful painter."

"He's a man who moves from his heart -- he's very intelligent but shoots from the hip," Filer said.

Lapetina arrived at each class with about 10 filled canvases (at first with the cardboard kind, not the stretched ones). "I would limit myself and try not to spend more time with him than other students," Filer said. "He devoured the critique and kept trying and working, and he progressed. He's got a perfect blend of intellect and creativity. That's very rare. You have to have an imagination to research and discover things. It's amazing to come from a background that's so precise, then to do something so creative."

After taking two courses with Filer, Lapetina learned of a graduate student at the University of North Carolina, Kimowan McLain, and audited a class with him.

"He has a different technique and approach to painting," Lapetina said. "I profited a lot from him."

The combination of knowledge from the two teachers paid off.

"Three hundred and sixty-five days after walking into my class, he won an award in a juried art show," Filer said, still amazed at his quick climb.

He has since had two one-man shows, just won another award in the Fine Arts League of Cary Art Exhibition, and this week signed a contract with the Sizl Gallery in Carrboro, where his art will be on display and where he will have a show next winter.

"I feel I have never been so happy or free in my life," Lapetina said. "I have the same dedication, passion and enthusiasm for painting as I had for science."

He approaches each with the same degree of wonder. "When you start a scientific experiment, you never know what will be at the end," he said. "It's the same with painting -- when I begin, I've no idea what will be at the end."

"As civilization develops, it's forever changing and art is a reflection of all of that," Filer said. "Science is like that. You take the work that someone has done, read the reports, analyze and learn from work that's been done before, then you take it one step further -- always open to things happening in the world."

After years of studying art on his own, Lapetina applies paint with textures borrowed from current events. Two of his paintings were selected for the Cary art show -- "Melting Towers: In Memory of September 11, 2001" and the award-winning painting was "11 March 2004: Pain in Spain."

"This community is rich with good artists, and he's talking to them and inviting them to dinner. But it's not a free lunch," Filer said laughing.

He implores every artist to talk about fine art. "Art is intellect to a certain degree and then it's not. It's emotional," he said.

"This town has a lot of interesting people in it," Filer said.

"Eduardo Lapetina is one of them."

Copyright 2004 by The Chapel Hill News

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