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Guitars are a blank canvas for exhibiting artist

Posted by Christina Jedra  March 28, 2013 12:57 PM

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One of Beauchaine's many art projects

Photo courtesy of Nicole Beauchaine

It's not what you'd expect: a guitar decorated with finely drawn mermaids and a "Day of the Dead" skull in the middle. The white guitar looks like a piece of art hanging on the wall. But it's much more: Flip the switch, and a blue light fills the inside of the instrument, escaping through the sound hole. 

It's one of Nicole Beauchaine's uniquely crafted guitars. This month, Beauchaine has several such pieces on display at the West Roxbury Public Library, including an extravagant "peacock" guitar.
A guitar isn’t a normal artist’s canvas, but for Beauchaine, it’s a way to connect to the instrument she grew up playing. 

“I can’t get enough of them,” Beauchaine said. “I connect to them. Something about the image and the body shape is really comforting for me.”

While she is usually careful to preserve the instrument, she once took a hammer to a guitar that she converted into a bookshelf – a work that she struggled with and now displays as a signature piece.
Every Sunday, Beauchaine’s ritual includes a trip to a flea market, where she finds many of the guitars that will become her works of art.  She sands the guitars and then draws the designs freehand on them before painting. It isn't always an overnight process; some works take several weeks.

 She started her “guitart” four years ago, when she found a guitar on the side of the road one day, took it home and just started painting. Before she knew it, people were giving her guitars to design or asking for one of her collection.

Her longtime friends were among her first customers. Jenn Spinelli, a graphic designer who owns the “Day of the Dead” guitar lamp, calls the artwork whimsical, with a bit of a dark undertone. 

"It's just a story that I can hang on my wall, that's carved into a guitar," Spinelli said. 

Spinelli recalled seeing a picture of Beauchaine’s mermaid and skull guitar, and said she instantly texted her saying, "I have to have this.” Now it's one of her favorite possessions. 

Beauchaine will take special requests, such as one from her friend, Patrick Reidy, who wanted a guitar with a Star Wars theme. As an actor in New York City, Reidy has used his Beauchaine original in many of his improvisation acts. He says the guitar's body and artistic accent add to the visual aspect of his performance.

"I don't know why everybody wouldn't want a guitar like this," said Reidy, who has been a Star Wars fan since childhood. 

Beauchaine’s first painted guitar was used as a prop in a performance of “Hair” in Rhode Island. Unfortunately, that original was burned in a car fire. 

Often, she gets her inspiration from books and music. She designed one guitar with an alien theme after she finished reading “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” 

Her favorite is called, "You and Me and Poseidon Makes Three." The piece features a woman — half- boat, half-human — battling a sea monster. It’s a design inspired by more than just the imagery, Beauchaine said. 

"We all have battles, and we all have to struggle with something," she explained.

Beauchaine usually paints with acrylics, but incorporated watercolors in her most recent creation — a peacock, with a tail that wraps around the guitar. Nick Delsole, a friend, bought it because, as he put it, the guitar simply blew him away. It's full of bright colors and layers that inject the piece with vibrancy.

"I think she gets an idea in her head that really means something to her," said Delsole, who praises Beauchaine for painting with passion and pride. "It's not something that she just thinks looks pretty." 

For Beauchaine, the connection between her and the guitar is what fuels her “guitart” work.
“Turning [a guitar] into something it doesn’t normally look like is really special to me,” she said.

This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of a collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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