Norma Lopez's artwork has been displayed both locally and nationally, even at The White House. Now, the local artist's work has gone international, with some of her pieces chosen to be exhibited at the 56th art exhibition La Biennale di Venezia in Venice, Italy.

Two works in Lopez's five-piece set titled "The Universe" and another painting called "The Black Mara" were selected for inclusion in the highly competitive exhibition, which this year boasts the theme "All the World's Futures."

The North Andover resident who works out of her studio in one of Lawrence's old mill buildings was on hand for the show's inauguration this spring and said it was an event she'll never forget.

"It was the most incredible experience that you could ever think about," she said of seeing her work displayed among pieces by top artists from around the world.

Founded in 1895, the Biennale's goal was to create a new market for contemporary art. Since, it has become one of the world's largest cultural organizations, with more than 50 countries participating in this year's event. 

To take part in the show, artists are either selected by their country to represent them at their pavilion in Venice or must apply for acceptance through the organizational board, which is how Lopez was chosen for inclusion.

"It is very competitive because the organization has to present very qualified artists," she said.

Lopez's selection did not come easy. In 2013, she traveled to Italy through a program with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, her alma mater. During the trip, she visited with some friends living in Venice. One of the friends knew a representative at the Biennale organization and scored Lopez an interview. 

"They never give an interview just like that," she said. "But I was kind of lucky they gave me the interview."

Lopez's application wasn't initially accepted by the organization, but she did not give up. A year later, that same Venice friend began working for the Biennale organization, and the committee decided to send representatives over to see if Lopez's work was something they wanted. 

Last fall, Lopez got the news she was hoping for.

"Finally in October, they decided to take me," she said. "This was great news for me."

Lopez's interest in art began at a very young age. 

"It's always been in me," she said. 

Born and raised in Colombia, Lopez moved to the U.S. in 1972. She lived in New York, Minnesota and Texas before settling in Massachusetts. 

Soon after earning her first degree in astrology from the University of Minnesota, Lopez began traveling the world on a quest to learn different art forms. When she returned to the U.S., she enrolled at the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston. 

"That school gives so many opportunities," she said. "The experience is fantastic for students." 

Lopez's artwork crosses many mediums. She prides herself on practicing several different art forms, from painting and sculpting to creating three-dimensional photos using a special gold-leaf technique she learned in Florence, Italy. Her work is described as abstract, but conceptual and realist, and has been recognized for its use of movement.

Her subject matter tends to veer toward explorations of humanity's struggle and well-being.

"The Universe" set of paintings — vast canvases that stretch from the ceiling down to the floor — depict the birth of the universe through chaos and order. "The Black Mara," meanwhile, is a darker painting, demonstrating the theory that there are two opposing forces sustaining the universe — when there is life there is death, illustrating that a positive cannot exist without a negative. 

Her pieces will be on display at The Biennale until the show's end on Nov. 22. 

In the meantime, Lopez is busy creating new pieces. Just two weeks ago, she moved into her new studio, right down the hallway from her previous one in an old mill building on Canal Street in Lawrence. The studio's rooms are already filled with countless pieces of art.


Inside The Biennale 

The idea for a biennial international art exhibition first arose in 1893 when the mayor of Venice, Riccardo Selvatico, passed a resolution to begin the event the following year. It was to be an invitation-only show, so artists from other places in the world could be included.

In 1895, the First International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice took place. It was opened by the king and queen, Umberto I and Margherita di Savoia, and attended by 224,000 visitors. 

By 1914, other countries, including Belgium, Hungary, Germany, Great Britain, France and Russia, were beginning to take part in the exhibit.

After a temporary halt from 1916 to 1918 during World War I, the exhibit resumed. In the 1930s, the exhibition expanded to include music, cinema and theater, which it still showcases today.

The Biennale celebrated its 100th birthday in 1995. Three years later, live performances were added to the schedule. By 2001, 63 countries were participating. The Biennale was incorporated as a foundation in 2004 and introduced a kids carnival in 2010. A record turnout of 475,000 people toured the exhibit in 2013.

This year's art exhibition highlights work by more than 136 artists from 53 countries, 89 of whom are showing there for the first time. Grenada, Mauritius, Mongolia, Republic of Mozambique and Republic of Seychelles are participating for the first time. In addition, 44 collateral events are planned throughout the course of the exhibition.

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