In my only appearance on national television, as we were included in an HGTV show called “Rate My Space” in 2008, I asserted in a very slow manner: “When you surround yourself with things you love, you will always be happy in your home.” I could have said it faster, but I believe it even more now than I did then. As my other half is used to hearing: I was right.
Last week I did morning coffee in a home with a kindred spirit on that decorating approach and one of her favorite artists. Suzanne Lemons and her husband, Clarke, have a wonderful art collection. Her brother, Chris, is a well-known local artist and many of his works hang on their walls. Others are custom works focused on family members — the furry ones.
Gena Semenov’s primary works epitomize surrounding yourself with what you love as she captures in portraits the pets her clients adore. I’m not sure if I met Gena first or first became a fan of her work, but I have long delighted in the terrific pieces she’s created of the Lemons’ beloved Shih Tzus, Abby (lost a few years ago) and now Jack and Annie. Colorful and fun, as Suzanne remarked about a piece now hanging in her kitchen adjacent to an outside door, “You can’t walk out the door and look at that painting and be in a ticky mood.”
We sit about the breakfast table, talk about her art and its subjects. “Abby was special,” Gena says of the Shih Tzu she first painted, revealing, I think, how she connects with the animals she paints and their owners. That portrait hangs just to Suzanne’s left. I ask Gena about the bright, cheery, yellow and green background. “That one I just created. I sort of felt like she needed birds behind her or something like that,” she says. To the other side of the table hangs one of Jack and Annie as puppies. “But this one, the latest one, is more patterns around her house. She had a dog bed like that.”
I ask how many of Gena’s works are in the house, and they both have a puzzled look, seemingly lost in thought. “Too many to count” is considered and we all laugh. A collage Gena did of nine individual portraits of pets the couple has both had during their lives hangs on the wall opposite the table. “I love that idea,” Suzanne says, “because it’s a collection of the past. It’s almost like a scrapbook.” She talks of adding to it, and the prospects of needing a bigger wall.
Gena says she is both a dog and cat person and has both at home. Her husband is also an artist, and her daughter, an emerging one. “She’s 11 but her skills are far beyond what I was,” she says. Gena no longer travels to shows, but maintains her “gypsy spirit.” She’s been teaching art at her daughter’s school, the Maitland Montessori School, for six years. “That’s a lot of fun. The kids teach you as much as you’re teaching them. I’ll teach them art history also, so I’ll be cramming to learn about the artists as I’m teaching them.”
“I was asked at school to teach a 4-year-old, and I’m thinking to myself, how am I going to – because at that age it’s all about expressing yourself, not necessarily learning how to draw a sailboat or whatever else,” she says. “And I was thinking about it and realized I had a book that I drew in when I was 4. So I pulled it out to look at what I drew. So, that’s the very first thing. It was a zebra that I gave rainbow colors and put a big hat on it.”
Color is still a big focus for her. “It’s perfect,” Suzanne says, referring to her use of it. “And everyone who comes in, that’s the first thing they’re drawn to. It’s ‘oh my gosh, who did these?’ I cannot tell you how many people have asked me about Gena.”
Gena’s are the only works they have of their pets. “Gena’s I love because it’s nice to work with her,” says Suzanne. “She’ll meet the animals, see pictures of them, see the house, talk about colors. And like with these guys – and, I think with Abby – she asked what she liked to do and I said she likes to sit and watch the kids in the park play tennis. She likes to sit and watch the birds. So she’s able to incorporate that into the paintings. And with Bond (her horse), too. That’s why he’s got the angel above him, because that’s me. I think if you walked through this house, every piece in here I could tell you where we bought it, why we have it. The animal ones have the most meaning because they’re our pets. Everything has a story. That’s the way I feel about art. I would much rather have something with a story hanging on my wall.”
Gena’s process is easy, designed to get a full perspective of the animal. “If they’re local, I’ll come and do a photo shoot of the pet, unless they are confident with their photography and then they’ll just send me a bunch of pictures. And then I’ll look at what I’ve got, and we kind of agree on a price and a size and I’ll usually do a sketch.
“I wish I was more complicated. What you see is what you get. I love animals and I love color.”
Clyde Moore operates local sites ILUVWinterPark.com, ILUVParkAve.com and LUVMyRate.com, and aims to help local businesses promote themselves for free and help save them money, having some fun along the way. Email him at [email protected] or write to ILuv Winter Park on Facebook or Twitter.