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Megan Larmie explores John Steinbeck's The Pearl at TwentyOne8

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Six years ago, while working on her bachelor's at the University of Florida, painter Megan Larmie spent a summer working for Professor John Westmark. During that time, they developed a new painting technique. They'd put down a layer of paint with a palette brush, heavily varnish to seal it so the color wouldn't mix, sometimes adding more layers, sometimes sanding them back. It's a technique that looks like screen printing more than traditional painting. But by using textural techniques screen printers can't, Larmie can create rich, complex abstract works.

"Each one of [the pieces] has like 100 layers on them," she says. "There's a lot of depth."

She's never stopped developing the technique since, though she also does realistic drawings. Now, she's brought it to TwentyOne8, a new gallery on West Colorado Avenue. On Friday, April 7, she's debuting a new exhibition, titled The Maybe Pearl.

It's based on the John Steinbeck novella, The Pearl. She was struck by a passage at the beginning, in which the main characters, a couple named Kino and Juana, are desperately catching and searching oysters.

"They're searching for [an oyster] with a pearl because they need to pay a doctor to treat their sick child..." she says. The passage describes "the Song of the Pearl That Might Be," the potential for any shell to have a pearl in it — and, in context, the hope that any given shell will hold the pearl that will save their child.

Larmie took that idea and ran with it in a different direction. Her exhibit takes the potential of every oyster to have a pearl and expands it. Every moment has the potential to change a life, for better or worse, and every person has the potential to become a great force for good.

It's easy to turn that lens around and look at Larmie's art with the same wonder. Her works are pearls — that is, realized potential — that started as a simple smear of paint, and a pondered "maybe."

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