Palm Beach painter Camilla Webster draws on her formidable skill set to keep her and other artists’ careers going during the coronavirus pandemic, Palm Beach painter Camilla Webster is no sissy.
She hunkered down in the battered Sheraton hotel in Baghdad when she was a television producer covering the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. And she’s a born entrepreneur. As a journalist for companies such as The Wall Street Journal and Forbes, she landed interviews with powerhouses such as British business magnate Richard Branson, now British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde. She has co-authored books about finance for women, anchored Forbes.com, created a documentary for The History Channel and co-founded a blog for New Yorkers. In 2013, as her mother was dying from Alzheimer’s disease, she began painting. That’s when she decided to become a full-time artist, a dream her mother had encouraged since Webster was a child. Her first paintings were for her mother. Now 47, she had a toolbox of skills to draw on when the coronavirus slammed the door in early March on her thriving solo exhibition at Paul Fisher Gallery in West Palm Beach. “Camilla doesn’t sit passively waiting for opportunities to happen,” said her art dealer Valeray Francisco. “She’s a promoter, an organizer and a creator.” When her exhibition closed,she created a digital catalog and a virtual tour of the show and posted it on her website. She doubled down on her social media output. “The first $10,000 painting I ever sold was on Instagram,” she said. Soon 3,000 masks decorated with Webster’s painting of a coronavirus mask maker dressed as Rosie the Riveter will be distributed to American veterans’ hospitals, thanks to a deal Francisco negotiated with the Remember Everyone Deployed Foundation and Werner Enterprises. MHer first solo museum exhibition, scheduled to open June 13 at the Coral Springs Museum of Art, is still a go, although it might have to be postponed. Webster has been sheltering in Ocean Reef on Key Largo with her father since March 15. She’s been painting up a storm. Webster’s art can’t be confined to a specific style. She paints dreamy abstracts recalling the sun and sea around Palm Beach and the Keys. Bold figurative paintings. Playful and brightly colored palm trees.
Her mentor, Bruce Helander, who is curating her show at the Coral Springs museum, sees a connection between her career as a journalist and her painting. “Instead of reporting, she’s using a paint brush to say ‘I was here and this is the way it felt’” he said. “She’s using it to report on an incident, a time, a place, a feeling, a gesture or a memory.” Webster’s storytelling power and mastery of paint “inspire my imagination and leave a searing impression,” said Karen List, who calls her Webster painting a cornerstone of her pied-a-terre in Palm Beach. Melanie Charlton Fowler first spotted the Webster painting of sea grapes that hangs in her Palm Beach living room on Instagram. “I fell in love with it,” she said.
Down in Ocean Reef, Webster has taken a roll of raw canvas, nailed it to a wall and painted on it. Moved by the recent deaths of several friends, some from the coronavirus, she’s also begun a painting inspired by the loss. “I will never forget this experience, but we all understand we have to keep moving forward,” she said. That’s why she set in motion two online auctions to raise money for $500 grants to Palm Beach County artists adversely impacted by the pandemic.
“We hope to help artists get through this time so we can have a flourishing art community with new work in 2021,” Webster said. The May 29 auction is the first project of The Art Altruist, a group Webster formed to help the local art community survive the coronavirus crisis. She hasn’t made a sale since her show at Fisher’s gallery closed, but that might have to do with the nature of the art business, where it’s often feast or famine. Or it could be the dampening effect of the coronavirus. Either way, Webster remains undaunted. “I’m doing what I love – painting,” she said.