Written by Betsy Abraham, Babraham@antonnews.com Thursday, 04 April 2013 08:22
Ed Balcourt of Port Washington is living proof that the old adage “age is just a number “ is true. He has been painting for 65 years, is now 90, and has no plans to stop.
Six-feet tall and broad-shouldered, Balcourt has a gentle demeanor, openly expressing his love and knowledge for art. Despite his age, he is sprightly, and displays vivacity. He lives by himself in a small, studio apartment in a complex near Main Street.
His apartment is not only his residence, but also his studio and gallery, with every wall covered with oil paintings the artist has produced during his long career. His realistic works demonstrate a remarkable attention to detail and lighting, with subjects ranging from Native Americans to senior citizens to waterfalls to family members.
“I like to tell the truth,” Balcourt says. “I show every little detail for a reason. I like to show the height of an expression. It’s important to me to show the highest emotion of whatever particular scene I’m painting.”
A sampling of his work is at www.edbalcourt.net. And despite so many paintings on the website, it’s just a small sample, since Balcourt has lost count of how many he’s done.
“I don’t have a favorite. I like them all,” he says. “There’s a different reason I painted each one of them.”
Hanging above his bed is a painting of him and Harriet, his late wife of 56 years. The painting is based on two pictures, and features him with two different interpretations of his wife—one of her smiling, sitting in front of him, the other, of her on her toes, fixing his hair with her fingertips.
“I did this painting and I can see her everyday. She was 76 when I painted her but she looks like she’s 35 in that painting,” Balcourt says. “That’s how I remember her.”
In the painting, a smiling Balcourt holds a single pink rose. This detail conjures up a special memory in the artist’s mind.
“When I was doing good business, I would bring home a dozen roses,” he says. “It didn’t have to be an occasion, I just brought home the flowers when I had the money. One day, I walked in and I had one rose. I couldn’t afford a dozen. And my wife looked up at me and started to cry because she understood. She said, ‘This means more to me than anything because it was the thought.’”
Growing up in 1920s Brooklyn, Balcourt’s interest in painting was sparked by grade school art classes and fueled by his mother’s encouragement. Praising his work, his mother would hang it on the wall, fostering his love of expressing himself creatively.
At 19, Balcourt enlisted in the army to fight in World War II. He spent two years on active duty in the Pacific before getting sick with malaria. He recovered and was transferred to the Special Services and Entertainment Group, which ran USO shows.
Balcourt says this is when his art career really began. While on a Navy ship, a solider offered Balcourt money to draw a picture of his girlfriend.
“So I drew it on a sheet of paper and he gave me $2. That was the first time I was paid for my work,” he says.
After the army, Balcourt moved back to New York and studied art illustration at Pratt Institute. After a 40-year career in the illustration business, where he worked on book covers and movie posters, Balcourt retired and moved to Syracuse with his wife. There, he began teaching art at Syracuse University. After battling prostate cancer, he moved to Florida and continued teaching, this time to students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. After his wife died, he moved to Port Washington, so he could be close to his son Barry.
“He’s taking care of me. Otherwise I’d be in Florida where it’s 80 degrees,” he laughs. “But I like it here.”
Balcourt currently teaches painting classes at two senior citizen centers in Port Washington. After being a successful illustrator, having his work on the walls of numerous commercial buildings, galleries and private homes, as well as receiving accolades such as Master Artist of the Year by the Slidell Art League, Balcourt says that teaching at the senior centers is the most gratifying thing he’s done in his long career.
“My biggest accomplishment is teaching these senior citizens and keeping them occupied and their minds going, and their spirits up,” he says. “I feel so grateful to have them be my students and see their progression. They don’t see it, but I do. I can see how they’re progressing. They’re terrific.”