SOUTH PORTLAND – When Francine Schrock was in high school, she wrote in a friend’s yearbook: “I’m going to be as famous as Picasso.”

She might have been feeling the euphoria of youth when she made such an outlandish prediction. But give Schrock credit for having her mind set on becoming an artist a long time ago.

This month, Schrock, now 44, is showing a series of new paintings that focus on the city of Portland, its architecture, spirit and character. “The Portland Show” is on view at The Gallery at Harmon’s and Barton’s through the end of this month. Schrock exhibits colorful, detailed and highly realistic images of many aspects of the city.

It’s all familiar — sweeping panoramas of the Portland skyline as seen from South Portland, where she lives; views of Copper Beach Tree at the Portland Museum of Art, all decked out for Christmas; the top of the Time and Temperature Building at night.

“I’ve always loved this city,” she says, “and I’ve always loved Maine. My family vacationed up here when I was young. My introduction to the Maine coast came during that time. I remember thinking that I liked the area and the sound of the seagulls and really just anything about the Maine coast.”

She grew up in Massachusetts. When it was time for college, Schrock chose the Portland School of Art, now Maine College of Art.

“I applied here and to the Savannah College of Art. I came up here to check out the school and it was so — it was that moment, that ‘ah, yes’ moment. I knew I was home.”

Despite knowing for most of her life that she would become an artist — and despite feeling like an artist nearly just as long — the truth of the matter is that Schrock has only recently become a practicing, functioning painter.

She made sweaters for a while after graduating from art school in 1991, and had some success as an entrepreneur. But her painting suffered from inattention.

A relationship took her away from Maine for several years in the early 2000s, and when she returned to the Portland area in 2007, she was ensconced in retail. “I was making money and hating it,” she says. “I wasn’t painting. I wasn’t being creative. I was successful, but unhappy.”

At the time, she was working a retail job in a local art gallery. Schrock enjoyed surrounding herself with art and artists, but never felt good about selling other people’s work.

One day, she sold a famous artist’s painting for a five-figure sum. It was a huge sale and a major success for her. But it just didn’t feel right.

She went home that night and asked herself, “What am I doing? I’m selling someone else’s work. I should be selling my own work.”

Frustrated with her lack of progress toward her high-school goal of achieving success as an artist, Schrock picked up a brush again, dipped it into gooey oil paints and pushed the brush across the hard surface of a panel.

As the image that Schrock had in her mind began to emerge before her, the tension in her life began to fall away.

It’s been three years since that moment, and Schrock has not stopped painting. She likes showing her work in non-traditional spaces. Her first big show in Portland was in a furniture store on Congress Street. Later, she put her paintings up at Harmon’s and Barton’s, a flower shop. This month, she is back at Harmon’s and Barton’s with “The Portland Show.”

She still works a part-time day job, but has found the discipline in her life to allow more time in her studio. Part of that is because her studio doubles as her living quarters. She paints in her apartment in South Portland. She has easels in different rooms, and projects in various stages of completion scattered throughout.

It’s not the most convenient situation, but she has made it work because she realizes it’s the only way she can fulfill her goal of living the life of a practicing artist. No more excuses, she said.

“I think some people have an idea that artists don’t work a lot,” she says. “For me, I look at my art as my job. Even if I don’t want to paint, I paint. I have to. That’s what artists do.”

The discipline of routine feels liberating.

“To be free to be an artist is an awesome experience,” she says. “Once you’ve gone there, you can’t go back.”
 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: [email protected]