More than two dozen local artists and appreciators braved the February chill last Saturday night to welcome back to Rutland Milwaukee portrait painter Debo Mouloudji. Mouloudji was one of six artists-in-residence last summer at 77 Gallery. It was the gallery’s first venture into a residency program, and due to it’s success, they are currently recruiting the next group of artists.

Many of the people who modeled for her when she was in Rutland were also artists. So, when she was curating this show of her own work she decided to invite some of the models to contribute their work. The local artists who modeled for Mouloudji include Dick Weis, Oliver Schemm, Christine Holzschuh and Ben Leber. Gallery director Bill Rammage, who also posed with his daughter Whitney, introduced Mouloudji, who talked briefly to the group about her work and answered questions.

Mouloudji works in a large scale and at a remarkable speed. In her talk, Mouloudji told a story that illustrated her ability to work within tight time frames. One of the more striking pictures in her collection is a woman lying on her side who appears to be starring right at the viewer. The model is her cousin, who came up from New York City and was only here for 24 hours. She said on average her paintings take her six and a half hours.

When talking about the nuances of painting people, Mouloudji shared that for her it was a great way to get to know people.

“I’ve often been scared to just jump in and get to know people,” she said. “So instead of saying ‘Hi, how are you?’ I say, ‘Hi, can I paint you?’” She said most of her models have become friends by the end of the session.

Mouloudji said that coming to Rutland for the residency program completely changed her life. Before attending the residency, she said, she was struggling in a variety of ways, including feeling like portraits were looked down upon.

“Some people think it’s stuffy. But it isn’t — at least not the way I do it.”

She felt that the support she received from her fellow artists, as well as Whitney Rammage, who organized and ran the residency program, allowed her to turn things around.

“I have a fond place in my heart for Rutland.”

The work is on display at 77 Gallery, located at 77 Grove Street in Rutland. Visit 77art.org for more information about the gallery and residency program.

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