- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 11, 2006

Three cheers for art-o-rama. Whether hoity-toity academes like it or not, fine art has come to the malls and the masses, from the handy-dandy art show in the food court to the starvin’ artist sale at the Holiday Inn — complete with sofa-size paintings in designer colors, gilded resin frame included.

Well, so what? So what if Michelangelo — or a reasonable facsimile thereof — has come to the Holiday Inn?

How convenient. How moderne. That means we can buy a painting, visit the coffee shoppe and maybe make vacation reservations all at the same time for a consummate aesthetic experience.

Viva van Gogh and leave it to Leonardo.

And speaking of master da Vinci, at 21-by-30 inches, the “Mona Lisa” is a perfect sofa-size painting, according to the art reproduction industry’s rather exacting standards. Why, it’s just ideal for that vacant spot over the davenport and well-suited for earth-tone knickknacks and neutral rugs.

The mind reels.

But wait. The living-room genre of paintings is burgeoning. It abounds with seascapes, ice-scapes, cityscapes, French cafes, still lifes with purple grapes, still lifes with green grapes, lovelorn couples, dancing couples, quibbling couples, galloping horses, pensive horses, palm fronds, sailboats, mountain streams, Dutch windmills and abstracts with paint as thick as nougat.

There also are those timeless classics: forlorn clowns, unicorns, dogs playing cards, children with glittering eyes.

There are the icons: Elvis (primitive), Elvis (Vegas era), Elvis on black velvet.

And anyone who thought black velvet paintings went out with GMC Gremlins and pet rocks has not heard of the Velveteria, a museum of black velvet paintings in Portland, Ore. Open just two months, the site has been overwhelmed by an adoring public.

“It just blows the mind,” says Caren Anderson, proprietress and undisputed queen of velvet. “This is a huge cultural phenomenon. Yes, we have banditos, clowns, E.T., ballerinas, jungles, naked ladies, South Seas stuff — a thousand paintings here, all on black velvet. And people can’t get enough of them.”

Most of the work was done, uh, south of the border, to put it delicately. Miss Anderson’s business partner, Carl Baldwin, in fact, came upon an enormous cache of the works while vacationing in Mexico, bought the lot — and voila, a museum was born.

“It’s folk art, kind of. It’s comforting, and nervy. It’s accessible. Oh, boy, is it ever accessible,” Miss Anderson explains, deeming the colors somewhat apocalyptic for the most part.

“They’re a little larger than life. The artists who painted them were reflecting icons of American culture in their own way. But you know, my mother never would have let any of these things into her house back when I grew up,” she adds.

Yes, well. That’s part of the cachet, unless, say, mother’s decor was somewhere between Louie Katoorz and Early Wizard of Oz.

The Velveteria has some competition, though.

California-based Indignico specializes in “all the black velvet paintings your mother warned you about” and “quality you can feel.” The gallery includes variations on the Elvis theme, an entire section called “scary clowns,” celebrity cowboys and Aztecs, to name a few — priced from $75 to $350.

Yet sometimes, one hankers for a nice, comfortable painting that features arty doodads from near and far: little cafes under striped awnings, Paris in the rain, a field from sunny Tuscany/ Provence/Spain or something that sort of looks like “The Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh.

Indeed, a painting called “Starry Night” — all a-swirl with unusual cosmic events, a pine silhouette and a little white church — can be had for $128 from Collectors Art, an Illinois-based company that peddles “gallery quality oils” from $19 to $2,000 at innumerable shows across the nation, many of them staged on weekends in Holiday Inns.

The company offers paintings in 14 genres, including “Old Masters” and “Mediterranean,” unabashedly proclaiming, “As seen on TV.” Marshall McLuhan would approve.

Not to be outdone, the Home Decorators Outlet Art Collection (www.homedecorators. com) features so many hundreds of framed paintings and prints that the group offers an online point-and-click device to find the perfect painting o’ your dreams, based on color preferences and subject matter.

The “hottest colors in art” this year, it notes, are deep blue, orchid, terra cotta, ginger, cloves and pistachio — OK, sure. All of us here at the Art-o-Rama Desk will have one of the pistachio paintings, please, and maybe a double latte.

And yes, Home Decorators does offer a reproduction of “The Starry Night” in several sizes, from $49.95 to $619.95, along with the “Mona Lisa” in “small, medium, extra large or oversize,” $64.95 to $589.95.

As we said, hurray for a sofa-size world … with apologies to the masters.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and easels for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at 202/636-3085 or jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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