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‘Angst to Zen’: Delana Bettoli’s art history goes on display

By Brenna WiegandA rare piece from Delana Bettoli\'s portfolio from the 1970s.

Delana Bettoli’s 40-year art career spanned the country, frolicked across art mediums – and punched up the red of the carpet ushering in The British Invasion.

For her September show at Lunaria Gallery, Bettoli has put together a complete overview of her career as an artist called “Angst to Zen … the Strange Range of D. Bettoli.”  The Artist’s Reception is Friday, Sept. 7, 7 to 9 p.m.  at Lunaria Gallery, 113 N. Water St. The show runs through Oct. 1.

Most people know Bettoli as a children’s illustrator or a gallery painter, but these are just the bookends of a mind-blowing career as a visual artist in the rock-and-roll and film industry.

“When I was about 11 my dad and I went to this little fruit stand for some fresh corn. I looked at this man’s signs, sort of peeled myself off from my dad and said to the guy: “I could make you some signs – you need a picture of a cantaloupe there…” Word was business picked up.

“That might have been the first time I realized I could get more than my allowance with this. There was never a question if I could do it.”

Bettoli’s high school display case – alongside the trophy case – contained a complete Beatles display, including a life-size bust of Ringo Starr.  The single-minded teen shunned the regular-paycheck summer jobs her peers were landing and hung up a poster at the pool offering to paint people’s pets.

“I’d charge a whopping $20, but it was enough to bump myself along and have a dandy little savings account. It was just like ‘This has to happen.’ It’s just such a simple solution.”

The “Jersey Girl” studied painting for three years at Boston University. In the summer of 1968, between sophomore and junior year, Bettoli entered an art contest, which catapulted her into a new dimension.

“Winning that contest was a portal into WBCN-FM, the most famous radio station at the time. I got to do posters for the venues and I was always doing artwork off to the side for the Daily Free Press or the Crawdaddy or other hippy literature. I was a part of the scenery and it just never stopped.”

The station was an outcropping of an established concert hall situated in Boston in a former synagogue. “The American Revolution” became the first stop for a flood of blue-collar British bands in a rush for an American audience.

“Their mission was to get to America and they didn’t want to blow it. So when they were booked into Madison Square Garden, they had one stop before that, and it was Boston – their rehearsal stage. Everybody you would ever want to see would stop in Boston for a couple of nights – Procol Harum, the Moody Blues – all of these British guys whose dream was to make it here – and I just got to be there.”

Bettoli’s contest-winning rendition of Paul Revere was the first of many pieces of art created for the launching of this new, freeform station named, like the concert venue, The American Revolution: WBCN.

“It was a new day,” Bettoli said. “They were starting to play LP (long-playing) records instead of 2½-minute Top 40s. The British invasion was coming out of the Beatles’ quick little songs and going into Cream and The Doors and all of these really gifted artists wanting to have longer songs.”

At the time, it was unheard of for a disc jockey to be the one choosing which records were played in what order, but that was part of the revolution.

“So you had segue art; you had the end of this song sweeping gracefully into the beginning of the next song and that had never been heard of before.”

By 1969, Bettoli was on her way to Los Angeles to study illustration at Art Center College of Design. It was a heady time to live in L.A. Bettoli plunged into the rock-and-roll scene and was soon part of the orbit of the radio station everyone listened to.

“If the music business were the solar system, KPPC was the sun.”

Bettoli never considered taking another job to supplement her income.

“I found myself from very early on understanding that my art could open the doors. I didn’t have a plan but I set lots of goals for myself.

“I would want to go backstage so I’d look at the back of the album and pick a name, which just so happened to be the name of an Italian producer. And I have an Italian name. I would show up, ‘Hi, I’m Delana Bettoli; I’m the niece of whatever the name was and I have this for him’ and I’d be summarily waved in by the guys at the door.”

She painted roller skates and Harleys, created posters for rock-and-roll legends and embroidered jeans for “rich hippies” who all wanted gardenias. Across from the Beverly Hills boutique was Lookout Management, started in 1967 by Elliot Roberts.

“…It was Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell; all that went into that ‘California Sound.’ And they were all coming up and hanging out and eating carob cookies.”

An art director saw somebody’s jeans and upon discovering Bettoli was a skilled draftsman hired her on the spot.

“This was before personal copiers. He said ‘I’ll pay you to draw what I ask you to so when I send it to the printer they’ll know where everything goes. Let’s see how it goes; there might be some other projects in store.’”

The first album she worked on was After the Gold Rush, Neil Young’s first solo album. She was only there to sketch where things went.

“I remember hearing my director screaming over the phone to the printer, ‘I said black and white, not dark blue and white. I cut my teeth on some real serious deadline things and just made sure everything I did was perfection.” The “human Xerox machine” was wrapping up Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s album Four-Way Street. A sketch she’d made of Neil Young in the footlights landed on top of the wastebasket.

“Neil Young found it and asked, ‘What’s this in the trash for?’ The director said we were done with it. He said, ‘Well, I’ve got the sheet music coming out; why couldn’t this be on the cover?’ …I never failed to meet somebody I wanted to – my art opened doors, sometimes quite by accident.”

A recent piece by Delana Bettoli.With the birth of her son Tavis in the 1980s, Bettoli segued into illustrating children’s books, her drawings rife with natural settings, animals and children. In 1990, just before the LA earthquake, the family moved to Silverton, drawn by the Northwest’s “emphasis on nature – and lower stress levels.” She’s illustrating children’s literature and returning to painting “with a particular emphasis on horses.”

Her exhibit this month “gives the complete overview from A to Z – Angst to Zen.”

“I have loved to draw since I was a little girl, but that’s not quite the whole deal for me. I want my images, realistic and convincing in the way I render them, to be a little layered.”

Roughly chronological, the show gives visitors an eye into the evolution of an American artist. Aside from the hint that it’s from her time in the film industry, Bettoli has been keeping her featured piece under wraps, saying only, “It is the most extravagant thing I’ve ever painted in my entire life; it’s the real deal. I’ve never done anything like it before or since.”

“There are some really provocative paintings. Some are for the sheer glory of the work but others are really going to leave people saying ‘I wonder how this came to be.’”

Bettoli’s show card features a bird with a woman’s face. It’s wearing an ankle tag. “People have told me they find my bird painting a little disturbing. My eyes always brighten when I hear that.”

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