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Leaving an impression

Italian artist Sandro Negri comes to town and shares

At five, Sandro Negri picked up a stone and carved, for the first time, etchings into a wall of his rural country home in Northern Italy.

Now at 66, he can materialize dreams with a brush onto canvas within minutes, using the vivid memory of places he's been and a spectrum of colors to stun a crowd and highlight the profound emotion he applies to impressionist art.

His thick use of acrylic paint turned blobs of red and purple into voluptuous flowers in front of 200 Athey Creek and Rosemont middle school students at the lunch room in West Linn High School Tuesday.

'He is amazing,' said Kiffini Swartz breathlessly, an Athey Creek parent.

Negri uses a palate brush to spread the colors and sometimes the back end of a paint brush to cut them.

As kids stretched their necks around the bobbing heads of others, parents sat in the back, staring at the painter feverishly concoct with meticulous detail.

'He is happiest when he is painting,' said Brian Marki, narrating about Negri. 'He is struck with emotion and that is what comes out of his brush, out of his soul.'

Marki's Art gallery, at 2236 N.E. Broadway in Portland, is showing the Italian artist's work through Oct. 15.

But Negri, though not overtly so, was nervous in front of the crowds. It doesn't help that he was born and raised in a town of no more than 5,000, called Virgilio, after Dante's guide in the 'Inferno.'

In Virgilio, husbands would work out in the fields harvesting for winter as women would scurry through the town square fulfilling their daily routine. Each family working together gave residents a common bond, which was an enduring memory for Negri.

In traditional farm life during his childhood, men wore black hats and cloaks, called Tabarro, while working. These are depicted in his works of Tuscany, which are noticably more muted as many were done earlier in his life.

His first oil painting was of a jazz musician when Negri was 18. It was for his first house that he and his new wife had moved into, as the walls were completely bare.

Eventually, while Negri worked as an X-ray technician in an Italian hospital during 1989, a director saw some of his work and asked who did it.

'Solo yo,' was Negri's reply.

The director was so impressed, he later used Negri's work to depict Vincent VanGogh's style in the movie 'Vincent and Theo,' giving Negri a stepping stone into the international art scene.

And when he returns from his travels, in London, Geneva and or Amsterdam, Negri says that affection in Virgilio has remained.

'They traveled to various towns, stopped in to get coffee in Virgilio, and they ran into some friends,' said Kathleen Mazzocco, translating for Negri.

'They say 'Hey, Sandrino,'' Mazzocco said. Negri repeated it, smiling to himself as he crossed his legs.

Mazzocco originally discovered some of Negri's art in a gallery in 1994 while traveling in Tuscany with Dave Pagni, West Linn Wilsonville school district community partnerships coordinator. She eventually met Negri and coaxed him to showcasing some of his work by her in the United States for the first time.

Back at West Linn High School, Negri quickly painted three works of completely divergent themes in less than two hours.

His pensiveness and unhurried speech seem to contrast the marked feeling and emotive fury he uses to pour into his work. Negri is humble and shakes hands with affection, using both hands.

In an interview at Hotel Lucía, prior to the show at West Linn High School, Pagni spoke about a certain work of Negri's.

'It's just a real gift to watch him lay it down and watch the form take place,' he said. 'It's just something in him that pops out and the kids are awestruck from it.'

Later, in the lunch room, a parent agreed.

'I wish I could sneak up and get one of them,' said Tracy Clow, a parent of a Rosemont Middle School student about one of Negri's still-wet, newly painted works. 'I want one.'