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A study in the surreal

After Lori-ann Latremouille closes her eyes at night, she dreams of beautifully exotic half-human, half-animals intertwined with birds, fish and plants with no name.

On what she describes as her nocturnal subconscious dives, her "mind plays" unfold and she sees new shapes "unfettered by the chains of reason," figures that metamorphose into exquisite beasts: a shark swimming with a nude woman, perhaps, or panthers, demons and large black birds perched in trees.

When she wakes up, she picks up a sketch pad and pencil on a table by her bed and begins to draw what she had just seen.

Later, she turns the rough images into charcoal and pastel works of art. They can be shocking like "Wound," which depicts two demons holding sharp arrows and her life partner with a bleeding hole in his arm. Or they can be gentle like "Dream Flight Last Night," portraying the artist flying in a swimming motion above a forest of trees under a dark sky filled with starfish.

Syd Entel Galleries in Safety Harbor is now showing a collection of Latremouille's works in an exhibit called "Let Your Imagination Run Wild," running through April 19.

Susan Benjamin, owner of the gallery, said Latremouille's works are some of her favorites because "I happen to like the surreal effect," she said.

Her customers, she said, are also drawn to the artwork the minute they walk through the gallery doors.

"I have glass (art) on one side, (paintings) on the other," Benjamin said. "Everyone that walks in says, "Oh, I have to go there.' And they run right over there. They want to study them, they want to understand them. They want to get inside (the artist's) head."

When asked about her creative process, Latremouille, 38, a native of Vancouver, says "it's all really subconscious."

"I start sketching and an image appears," she said.

If she doesn't get the image from a dream, she sees them and mentally stores them for future use during walks with her 120-pound Alaskan Malamute in a forest a mile away from her home.

Latremouille is a self-taught artist who had no formal education beyond high school. After graduating, she worked at a job she considered "boring." But all the while, she sketched.

When she was 20, she went to a local gallery and paid the owner $100 to show her artwork for two weeks.

Although she only "sold a couple of things," she got the attention of the local art community and was invited her show her works at one of the best galleries in Vancouver.

Since then, she has shown her work at galleries in Portland, Ore.; San Francisco, Seattle and Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Future exhibits in Switzerland and London are being planned.

She creates 25 to 40 works per year, and chose charcoal over acrylic because she did not like the shiny effect of the paint.

Early in her career she used lead sticks, but "I felt it wasn't rich enough and black enough," she said.

Then she stumbled upon charcoals and loved the texture they left behind on her canvas.

"I loved the beautiful velvetiness of charcoal," she said.

The works displayed at Syd Entel Galleries range in price from $800 to $6,000. And although Benjamin, the gallery owner, said most people are "fascinated" and "glued" to the works, "they are so unusual, not every Joe is going to like them," she said.

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