On January 1, the Gulfport Merchants Chamber kicked off the new year with a themed First Friday Art Walk – one of four planned for the year – challenging participating artists to express what “Imagine” means to them.
For artist N’jeri Binta of Soul So Happy Studios, that word means freedom.
“The root word of imagination is imagine, these pieces represent what I imagine,” Binta said. “I imagine free hearts, free souls, free thinking. The works I have here are a general observation of what I see around me. All the beauty I see in the world makes me feel a certain way and these works represent how I feel.”
Originally a landscape acrylic artist, Vanessa LeVesque decided to try her hand at something a little more whimsical. During isolation, LeVesque had a lot of free time on her hands and was looking for positivity in a tumultuous time.
LeVesque turned from traditional landscape paintings on canvas to painting relatable and fun images on rocks.
“I was looking to be in a positive state of mind,” LeVesque said. “I paint relatable and fun images that people can smile at and that brighten their day.”
Retired nurse Pam Masuk taught mental health coping skills to veterans at the Bay Pines V.A. hospital for most of her career. After retirement, she realized she might need some of her own advice.
“I taught vets at the V.A. how to cope with mental health issues through painting and other creative outlets,” said Masuk. “I’m certainly no professional, unlike most of the artists here, but I enjoy creating and most importantly it gives me peace of mind.”
Masuk started painting just a few months ago, inspired by her pup Rusty. Her images caught the eye of friends and family and her coping mechanism became a sensation. Masuk now paints portraits of her animals and anyone else’s animals, as well as other whimsical, cheery images.
For years Leslie Alpha Bestulic ran other people’s companies. After suffering a stroke, doctors found a hole in her heart – that’s when she realized it was time to create her own world.
“I have 11 grandchildren. I want to be around to see them grow,” Bestulic said. “I started painting again and this little girl came out of me. This little girl is all about being who you’re meant to be by your heart and to keep working on your inspirations that come from your heart.”