Home & Garden

Miami artist transforms ugly backyard generator into tropical painting

Works by Matisse, Picasso, Miró, Louise Nevelson and Alex Katz hang on the walls of the 1939 Coconut Grove home of judge Pat Seitz and lawyer Alan Greer. So it’s not surprising that these art lovers didn’t like the view of their backyard after they had a generator installed.

It was an “enormous big box that nobody wanted to look at,” says Seitz.

The couple had the 36 kW LP gas generator installed because of health issues and concerns about power outages. But it was out of place in a landscape design that was done almost 25 years earlier by Raymond Jungles. He has since become internationally acclaimed for his work, including the Miami Beach Botanical Garden and rooftop garden at the New World Center.

The couple thought of asking for Jungles’ help landscaping around the beige metal box, but they were warned that because the generator’s temperature can reach 250 degrees, plants wouldn’t survive within three feet of it.

Then they imagined building a wall around it. But that would only make the box seem bigger and block more of their view.

So instead of camouflaging it, they decided to make it stand out as a piece of fine art. “We wanted to work outside the box itself and make it a ‘canvas,’ ” explains Seitz.

Now they needed an artist to help work this magic. Having bought fine art, the couple knew that even if a picture looks good in a gallery, it may not work once you get it home. “We wanted something that would reside comfortably here in our yard and someone who shared our vision,” Greer explains.

Through a mutual friend, the couple discovered the work of Lisa Remeny, a 56-year-old Miami native. Searching her website ( lisaremeny.com), they found watercolors and oils showcasing very realistic, beautiful nature. Think mating green lizards and the bright pinks and lime greens of a bromeliad.

“My intention with my art is to create an aura of peace, happiness and well-being,” Remeny says. And that’s what Seitz and Greer wanted for their backyard.

Because the generator has numerous vents that would need to be painted over, Remeny steered them toward a simple image without too much detail. They chose a 22-by-30-inch watercolor entitled Coral bromeliad that Remeny had in her portfolio.

After they settled on a price, based on the square inches to be covered and the complexity of the design, Remeny helped them visualize the project.

She used a computer program to superimpose her artwork on top of a photo of the generator itself. The couple found that reassuring because usually when you purchase art, you see the finished product before writing a check. But here they knew that once she started painting, they would own it, says Greer.

After they agreed on an image, Remeny started her research. “I needed to figure out how to get the paint to stay on that hot metal box,” she says.

She finally settled on an enamel designed to withstand high temperatures. But it came in only red, orange, yellow, blue and white.

She couldn’t paint a bromeliad without green for leaves. So she devised a way to add pigments to the enamel without changing its heat resistance.

She also made sure the paint she used would adhere to the powder coat already on the generator. She prepared her “canvas” by having an assistant use a sanding block to scuff the surface.

Next, she had to determine how to transfer the two-dimensional flower with all its curves to the three-dimensional metal box. She drew a grid on a print of the original painting, then drew a larger grid on the generator. She transferred the contents of each square from one grid to the other. “That way I could relate to a smaller space,” she says.

It took only a few hours to complete the drawing on the generator. Remeny was ready to paint.

But she soon discovered that the paint set within seconds, making it difficult to blend colors or create effects. With further experimentation, she learned to work with the paint to achieve what she desired.

“It was fun to watch as the work of art develop in our backyard,” Seitz says.

Remeny tried to start work around 9 a.m. each day and finish by 5 p.m. But working outdoors presented problems. Wind, rain, blowing leaves, yard men wielding leaf blowers and a roof that was being pressure-cleaned were obstacles to her painting. And in the evenings, bugs attacked.

She probably could have finished the project in two to three weeks if it hadn’t been for the weather, she says.

But six weeks later, the bright coral bromeliad on the generator canvas was complete, and the couple deemed their experiment a success.

“I like that we’d already filled our walls with prints and paintings, and this gave us an unexpected place to display our fine art,” Greer says.