Note the Rust painted by the old salt

Sacre Bleu

Dirk Verdoorn does not just like to paint little boats — non, monsieur! He is a — how do you say, a Peintre de la Marine — an official marine painter. It's an old and unique distinction — "It exists only in France!" says Verdoorn. He adds that the first Peintre was announced in 1680 (after a grueling, full-season reality television competition). "There are always 45," explains Verdoorn. "When there's one dead, another comes. And when you die, someone replaces you — but you have to be good enough."

Titles aside, he's a hell of an artist, and when his friends Joe and Ronnie Harris, owners of the Kona Kai gallery in Key Largo, invited him to winter in sunny Florida and paint, he brought his brushes.

The result was a remarkable series of paintings of the Miami River, recently on display at the Neovertika condominiums at 690 NW Fisrt Ct. in all their rusty splendor. One of the best pieces in the exhibition is a downtown scene depicting a freighter and distinctive Miami River red tugboat in the foreground, with towering condos-to-be hulking in the background.

While working on the paintings, Verdoorn says he got to hang with some of the river's tugboat captains. A captain himself, he felt an immediate bond. "In any river people in the world, you find the same nature," declares Verdoorn. "Because the river makes the rules." The tug-boat captains came to see his paintings, he says, but left when they found out there was no whiskey.

Now fifty, Verdorn has painted since he moved to France from his native Holland in his thirties. Art wasn't Verdoorn's first occupation -- before he moved, he was actually a captain of his own riverboat. His first paintings were of canals and the waterways he remembered growing up; over time, he began to paint bigger boats and naval scenes. Being an Official Marine Painter holds an honorary title of Captain in the French Marines, and Verdoorn sums up his experience this way: "I was a captain on a river barge and from a captain I became an artist and from an artist I became a captain again!"

Verdoorn's paintings have returned to the Kona Kai gallery at Key Largo, where they are for sale. You can see them on the gallery's website at: http://www.g-k-k.com/index1.html

Isaiah Thompson

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