Pablo Picasso said, "There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who, with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun."
Last Tuesday, Newport lost a beloved artist. His name was Adrien Patenaude, but most knew him as Adrien "Yellow." Often seen walking down Main Street or sitting in a local café, he was an unmistakable figure in Newport, always wearing a yellow beret.
Patenaude was in the second category of artists to which Picasso referred, but he went a step further. With his art and his intelligence, he transformed the Vermont landscape into his signature sunny hue. His use of yellow and contrasting purple characterized a style as unique and recognizable as he was — which is saying a lot. Patenaude didn't just make art; he lived it. He was warm and colorful, like his paintings.
Yellow and purple are not necessarily the colors that come to mind when you think of the Vermont landscape, a subject that makes up the bulk of his work. But Patenaude was not a traditional landscape painter. His compositions borrowed more from the color-field movement, a style closer to abstract expressionism than to representational art. In less skilled hands, the use of yellow and purple as dominant colors might be considered a gimmick. But the remarkable thing about Patenaude's work is that it needs no explanation; viewers just seem to get it.
"The way the sky meets the hills and landscape, and the way the seasons change appearance in shapes and light, have played a large role in expanding my perception of the environment," Patenaude wrote of his work. "This has helped me to see more than just the reality of the view." This artist chose to challenge reality in color rather than form; his works even dispense with shadows. Patenaude's paintings suggest that we can not only challenge but transcend appearances. Anyone who has taken in Vermont's landscapes can appreciate that the artist was correct: The beauty of it all does lie somewhere beyond the physical reality of the view.
Patenaude was born in Newport on April 10, 1950, and grew up on a farm in Holland, Vt. He attended North Country Union High School and graduated in 1970. He later attended the Swain School of Design in Massachusetts, where he earned a degree in graphic design. He founded a graphic design studio called Uptown Graphics on Kilburn Street in Burlington in 1989, but returned to Newport to work about 10 years ago.
Patenaude passed away on Tuesday, May 13, 2014, at the age 64. He died peacefully at Fletcher Allen Health Care after a brief battle with esophageal cancer.
He is survived by his parents, Joseph and Lucille Patenaude, as well as by three brothers and five sisters, his son, Aaron, and Patricia Warner, his girlfriend of 11 years.
A memorial has been set up in Newport Natural Market and Café, located just upstairs from Patenaude's studio. A portrait of the artist is on display with bouquets of yellow flowers placed beneath.
Another of Patenaude's legacies to the community: He illustrated Noah's Song, a forthcoming children's book by Jerry Johnson. All proceeds from the initial print run of 500 copies will go to an art scholarship established in Patenaude's name.
"He was a caring and valuable asset to Newport," says Newport Mayor Paul Monette. "When the city wanted welcome signs, we turned to Adrien for the job. He will certainly be missed for his generosity and contribution to our community."