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California girl makes an island impression

Catherine Lee Neifing turns memories of her tropical travels into vibrant art. - Julie Busch photo
Catherine Lee Neifing turns memories of her tropical travels into vibrant art.
— image credit: Julie Busch photo

Visual artist Catherine Lee Neifing takes viewers to a place in the sun.

Neon signs and cartoon characters swept Catherine Lee Neifing into the art world.

As a child in California, she taught herself to draw by copying sketches from thick Disney books and played in a yard filled with oddly shaped, gaudy signs amassed by her father, a neon sign and portraiture artist.

“I grew up with no fear of color. It colored my vision,” said Neifing, who recently added Bainbridge Island to her list of residences. “My paintings are shaped and layered. They’re kind of three-dimensional.”

Family vacations instilled a lifelong love of beach life, Neifing’s inspiration and signature style.

Neifing’s paintings are not “cartoony” in the traditional sense. Her original works and limited-edition Giclee reproductions are fresh and vibrant, casting a spell that transports the viewer to that particular tropical place in the sun. Sometimes they’re even a bit saucy.

Whether she puts acrylics to canvas, linen or shaped wood – the latter providing a 3-D effect – the detailing is exquisite and the mood evocative.

Even the titles are alluring, as in “Waikiki Night.”

“My work is very happy and upbeat. A little bit dreamy, a little bit surreal,” Neifing said, adding her inspiration comes from “honky-tonk beach times and towns, and especially the ocean.”

Neifing deftly captures the rhythm of the scenery and the people she paints. Tropical hues of purple, yellow and reds dominate, but never overpower, her work.

Some of the paintings are very dynamic, such as a girl and crab facing the ocean and dancing side by side.

The crab’s claws are aloft as castanets; the girl’s hair is rippling in the breeze. Equally vivid are sun-worshippers, flower-filled gardens, birds and even buildings, thanks to Neifing’s eye for detail and imaginative use of color.

She uses reference photos for a lot of the paintings; the rest are entirely imaginary.

“I go traveling to tropical places and take a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” she said, pointing to a painting that combines a building she passed in Key West with a woman on a bicycle she saw in Miami.

“I’m kind of an art gypsy,” Neifing said. “I’m also a photographer. I have lots of media.”

Into digital

Looking for a means to plan her paintings, Neifing first delved into digital media while a graduate student in 1992.

As a staff artist, she created murals for Trader Joe’s and has since taught computer art, painting and landscape art for many years in California.

She has a home in Arroyo Grande, north of Santa Barbara, and another in Hawaii. Galleries in both states exhibit her work.

A friend who lives on Bainbridge was the catalyst for her move here. She is familiar with the region, having earned a master’s degree from the University of Oregon and lived in that state for many years.

Neifing bought a Winslow Way condo last summer. Since her two sons are college students in California, she’ll continue to divide her time among her three homes until they both graduate.

Her commitment to Bainbridge is genuine. She debuted 100 paintings and drawings in a private show here last week and at the recent First Friday event.

Eager to become part of the local art scene, she chose her condo/studio for its proximity to downtown galleries. Her goal is to find representation here and in Seattle.

Neifing made her recent drive to Bainbridge in a van filled with art and little else, save for clothes, her 18-year-old cat, Charlie, and a litter box. A fast learner, she made good use of the Rotary rummage sale.

“I really like the lifestyle and the good, clean air and the fresh berries,” Neifing said of Bainbridge. “Plus, I have other friends here. I feel like I’ve already got a built-in network.”

Neifing has lived in many coastal areas, including Catalina Island and Santa Cruz. That’s why she chose Bainbridge Island.

“Nature is a huge inspiration for me,” she said. “I can already tell it’s going to be a part of my life.

“It’s time for a change for me.”

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Here from Cali

Catherine Neifing’s web address is www.catherinelee.com, or call 780-0543.

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