Live painter books three art exhibits in one weekend, because Covid

Cammeron Batanides will feature her new “Living Local” series as part of three exhibitions on display this weekend across Wilmington. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Cammeron Batanides)

WILMINGTON ––– It will be a busy weekend for Cammeron Batanides. Not one, not two, but three exhibits will be on display by this Saturday featuring her art in and around downtown Wilmington. As a bonus during her Saturday night show, Batanides will get to view the premiere of a documentary, “The Art of Music,” created by local filmmaker Michael Raab and editor Patrick Ogelvie.

“He started filming and interviewing me before Covid,” Batanides told Port City Daily. “I haven’t even seen it yet, so it will be a total surprise.”

Raab — who has made around 15 documentaries, ranging from downtown’s iconic Ice House to the soon-to-be-released “Mojoman – The Blues Journey of William ‘Mojo’ Collins,” a local icon — said he was interested in documenting Batanides after the two met at the Cape Fear Blues Festival at the Rusty Nail years ago. “I was fascinated by the concept of live painting,” he said.

Batanides has been on the Wilmington art scene for the better part of two decades now. Most will see her posted up at local concerts, fundraisers and other events, always decked out for the occasion: dress, apron and fascinator (or hat of some kind), and armed with easel, canvas and acrylics. By the end of the night, she has churned out her signature featureless figures in scenes from the event. 

Live painting came to Batanides as a fundamental form of inspiration and as a career by happenstance. In the early 2000s, the UNCW studio-art graduate helped out with a fundraiser to cover a friend’s hospital bills. She said she would live-paint at the event and auction off the piece.

“I forgot my easel, so I set up on top of the pool table at what was then Mugsy’s downtown,” she said. “I’ve been live-painting ever since.”

Batanides said she attends upward of 150 or so events a year. She sells the art through annual exhibits, locally and afar. She has been featured in New Orleans at Jazz Fest and at the L.A. Fine Arts Building. She’s even had buyers like George Clinton of Parliament Funkadelic fame.

Philanthropy is still a big part of Batanides’ makeup. Most recently, she helped out at the Warrior Enrichment fundraiser and fashion show. In March, she did a piece featuring City Club general manager Greg Matheson, who passed away unexpectedly, and donated funds to the family.

“He was just such a good person,” she praised.

Currently, her live-painting gigs are picking up again. Batanides sets up once a month at Lazy Pirate and every other Saturday at Seagate Bottle Shop as part of a show Reggae Redemption with the Night Nurse, Kimberly Smith. 

Naturally, with events coming to a halt in 2020, it affected how Batanides functioned as a full-time artist. She turned from live painting to livestream painting during Covid and hosted shows pairing up with local musicians — Travis Shallow, Johanna Winkel, Sai Collins, among others. The musician would perform a handful of songs, and Batanides would paint them as they jammed.

Part of the show’s appeal came in the camaraderie shared between the artist and musician, as they chatted in between songs. The show was underwritten by downtown’s The George, which allowed Batanides to pay the musicians to perform. She did around 12 shows before the technology of livestreaming took its toll.

“You just kind of had to go with the flow,” Batanides said. “When Sai and I were doing the Father’s Day show, right before his last song, we lost the signal, and it just dropped and was gone.” 

Batanides also did a lot of commission work during Covid-19, including for The George. “I painted three planter boxes that are on their lower deck on the Riverwalk,” she explained. “They wanted an abstract style for two, and then they wanted Panda on the third planter.”

Panda is Batanides’ white-and-black pitbull — one of her main inspirations. She even wrote and illustrated a series of books after her: “Panda’s First Christmas” and a two-volume series, “Meet Panda: The Friendly Story of an American Pit Bull.” The goal was to show the gentler side of a breed that often gets a bad rep.

Raab covers all this territory and more in the documentary. “Cammeron was full of surprises,” he said, “from the fact that she plays trombone to how prolific she is — at the age of 35 she has committed over 2,000 paintings to canvas.”

Cammeron Batanides paints at a reggae show at Seagate Bottle Shop. (Port City Daily/Photo by Eric Banner, Kaya Media)

This weekend those numbers will grow, as the debut of Batanides’ latest series, “Living Local,” is being split between ACES Gallery and Bottega Art and Wine downtown. She is also swapping out new work at the Cheese Board on Water Street, which is already exhibiting some of her pieces.

Batanides’ current series goes in a different direction than her normal live-painting works. The artist said her comfort zone is with acrylics: “They hold up to outdoor elements better, like wind and humidity,” she explained. “Living Local” consists of hundreds of watercolors, featuring locals finding joy in everyday life. Coming out of a year of isolation, Batanides said she wanted to do something that conjured smiles.

“I am trying to focus on artwork that captures special moments in people’s lives,” she said, “and just general, all-around happiness that they experienced — some form of art that would brighten people’s days.”

She painted local musician Randy McQuay’s toddler in the act of painting on her own easel. She created a piece featuring ceramicist and art teacher Renato Abbott, with whom Batanides is a teaching artist at DREAMS of Wilmington. She also painted Mary George and Kelsey Holmes from Duck ‘n’ Dive, and A Bottle Volcanic drummer Charlie Smith.

“I never told any of my subjects I was going to paint them,” Batanides said. “Sometimes I would work on three or four at a time.”

It was a departure from her normal process; Batanides admitted she rarely paints from stills. “But I put my spin on it in my own style, in my own way,” she said. “So the images are faceless and loose because I embraced experimentation with different colors, just with the way that watercolor meshes together.”

Around 25 or 30 art works will hang at both ACES and Bottega. Batanides said she booked the ACES Gallery show in January before Bottega. “Normally, I wouldn’t book two openings back to back because it’s insane,” she quipped. “But after everything being so negative last year, and living in quarantine, I wanted to get back out.”

Batanides’ Bottega show will feature the premiere of “The Art of Music” on Saturday evening, plus a local cellist will perform. The Bottega show will hang for a month.

The show at ACES Gallery, which is overseen by the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County, will open on Friday as part of its monthly art crawl, Fourth Friday Gallery Night. It will be on display through July 20.

“Cammeron’s artwork is colorful, whimsical and organic,” said executive director Rhonda Bellamy, who runs ACES Gallery and the arts council. “I also love that she is a public artist and creates works of art on the spot.”

Some of Batanides’ acrylic live paintings also will be on display at all three exhibits. “So you’ll see my two different styles with the two different mediums,” she said.

The ACES (221 N Front St.) and Bottega (723 4th St.) exhibits will last from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and all works will be for sale, $100 and up.

Cheese Board (Old City Market at 19 S Water St., Unit 12) is open from 11 a.m. – 12 a.m. all weekend for people to see Batanides’ art.

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