Ellie Barnet had a family friend call Portland gallerist Andres Verzosa to make the pitch. She didn’t want to come across as cocky, or put herself out there too much.

As a young painter without much on her resume, Barnet knew better than to assume that Verzosa would pay her undue attention. And as the granddaughter of the famous American artist Will Barnet, the last thing she wanted Verzosa — or anyone — to think was that she was using her family name to lobby for a show. Entitled, she is not.

On the other hand, Barnet is proud of her grandfather. She has learned and drawn inspiration and encouragement from him. She has no intention of masking her family legacy. Without Will, the 26-year-old Ellie knows she likely would not be the artist she is today.

“He’s awesome,” Barnet says of her 101-year-old grandfather, whom she lovingly refers to as “Poppy.” “When he saw how much I liked creating art, he said, ‘Do it.’ He pushed and pushed and pushed — but not in a bad way.”

Barnet, a 2004 graduate of the Waynflete School and a 2008 graduate of Boston University, will open her first solo painting exhibition with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Aucocisco Galleries, 89 Exchange St., Portland. The exhibition is on view through Aug. 3.

Barnet is showing seven large paintings from her “Seven Deadly Sins” series, as well as a handful of other smaller works. She began the series as a painting major at BU and finished it this spring soon after Verzosa committed to showing the work.

As a gesture of support, Will Barnet is also showing about a dozen drawings in tandem with his granddaughter. She is showing her large-scale paintings in the front of the gallery, while her grandfather displays 11 drawings in the gallery’s back room.

The “Sins” series is Barnet’s take on a common theme among artists. She uses a female figure to portray the sins of gluttony, sloth and all the others, and incorporates images of animals in her paintings to illustrate virtues. These are figurative paintings full of symbolism and metaphor. They are colorful, gestural images from an artist with a point of view and the drive to succeed, said Verzosa.

Before taking her on, Verzosa visited Barnet in her West End studio to see the work in person. It’s one thing to view images on a computer screen, but, especially with paintings so large, it’s important to see them up close and personal, he said.

He was impressed.

“To have the consistency of her hand in all those large canvases was really promising, and it got my attention,” Verzosa said. “I thought, ‘Wow, there is something here.’

“Granted, she is a young person, but what I saw was that she was a serious artist who was making the work and working on a body of work for a long period of time. It just felt right for someone who had recently graduated from college.”

Barnet, who grew up in Phippsburg and now lives in Portland, struggles with her status as the granddaughter of a famous artist. She worries that people will assume she got this show because of her name, and does not hesitate admitting that “it’s sort of hard to be his granddaughter. But I’m just trying to do my own thing. Very few people have seen these paintings, so I’m a little nervous.”

Stylistically, there are few similarities between Barnet and her grandfather. Will Barnet, who plans to attend Wednesday’s opening, is known primarily for his representational images of people and pets. His paintings tend to be hard, flat and full of emotion, a sense of place and a feeling of belonging.

Ellie Barnet’s work is more fluid and soft. In this series, her subject is the female figure, which is largely consistent with her grandfather’s preferred subject. One of her “Sins” paintings slightly resembles a reclining figure in one of her grandfather’s well-known paintings. The handful of unrelated paintings feature the crows, a favorite bird of Will’s.

Any similarities end there.

Will Barnet has achieved the highest ranks an artist can attain. He is an icon of modern art whose works are collected by museums far and wide. Last year, President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Arts.

Ellie Barnet is a promising young artist with a famous last name. She has achieved nothing, aside from an undergraduate degree in painting. This Portland show offers her a chance to make her mark.

Verzosa is philosophical about his young client.

“Some folks are lucky,” he said. “Everyone can’t be born to the king of England or the heir to the throne. But one person is. It’s what you make of that opportunity.

“She is being given the chance. She’s got the commitment of an artist, and she’s got something to say.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes





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