The fantastical world of Pecan

On May 28, 2016, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times
“Panda SMASH!” 2013 by Pecan.

“Panda SMASH!” 2013 by Pecan.

By MariyaManzhos

Somerville artist Pecan can’t pinpoint exactly when her fascination with toy robots began, but for the past few years, they have been the primary inspiration for her colorful and quirky paintings. Many of them are true to life portraits of robots, as if they were people. Others are more fantastical, such as one of a robot walking through Boston’s financial district, destroying the Federal Reserve with his eye lasers.

“It’s a way for people to identify with the object, even though it’s a toy, “ says Pecan, who attends toy conventions in Dedham, where she often finds new robots to paint. Her vibrant toy collection sits in the wooden cabinet next her easel in her small studio above her apartment. She especially likes bright colored robots and the way light reflects on their plastic surface. But at the core of Pecan’s obsession with robots and toys is an attempt to bring humor and fun to everyday life.

“Spark! Robot” - 2016.

“Spark! Robot” – 2016.

“I think the world should be a fun place where we’re having parties,” says 34-year-old artist. “And this is a little bit lost.” Pecan’s fantastical paintings are currently on display at the Aeronaut brewery and will be up until May 31. Just up the street from the brewery, the front entrance to Pecan’s home is decorated with a giant dragon mouth, a creation by Pecan’s husband Brad Carreiro, a carpenter and a wood artist.

The playful and humorous character of Pecan’s work is something she tries to bring to all aspects of her life, even her name.She’s gone by “Pecan” for about ten years and prefers not to disclose her real name. Bright orange streaks in her two long braids add a pop of color against her turquoise summer dress.

While living in Jamaica Plain in early 2000’s, she joined the bicycle gang SCUL and on their first mission had to come up with a gang name. “Pecan describes me in a nutshell,” says the artist. “It’s a nut, a little bitter, hard shelled and goes well with chocolate and whiskey.” She initially put “Pecan Nut” as her first and last name in her Facebook profile, but the administrators weren’t so pleased. So she caved and put her real last name “Johnson.” “That’s all they’re going to get,” she says, laughing.

Growing up in Houston, Texas, Pecan watched The X-Files and Star Trek with her mother, who was also an artist and grew up in South Carolina. Pecan took art classes in high school and joined the artists’ guild. She “somehow managed” to get into the Rhode Island School of Design, Pecan says, initially planning to study landscape architecture. But in the process she discovered that the rigidity of the architecture studies and the culture of the field didn’t suit her. So she switched to illustration and painting. “I came out with a very good eye,” says Pecan.

Realism, an impressionistic approach, and a boldness of color prevalent in Southern fine art have seeped into Pecan’s work, she says. Blending her family’s background, her realist training, and a love for science fiction, she applied realism techniques to painting existing objects, but that also reflected fantasies and stretched imaginations.

In addition to vintage robots, Pecan has painted a toy panda, ray guns, finger puppets, and Sir Rutherford the III, Pecan’s toy monkey since she was a baby. Her robot prints she sold for $20 at the recent Open Studios in Somerville were especially popular. “People get a kick out of them,” she says. “They’re whimsical, they’re positive.”

“Self Portrait”  - 2013.

“Self Portrait” – 2013.

While fun and artistically fulfilling, Pecan’s sci-fi art and occasional portrait commissions aren’tenough to support a living.After college, Pecan got hired by the Huntington theatre to help paint a 50-foot drop of birch trees for Anton Chekhov’s play The Cherry Orchard. But she longed to return to her creative projects. So she transitioned to part-time scenic projects and joined the scenic artists union.

Now, whenever a movie is being filmed in Boston, she gets a call. She had just finished working on a scene in Weymouth for upcoming film The Patriot’s Day starring Mark Wahlberg.Along with a team of other “scenics,” she painted cracks on the asphalt to match the scene’s authentic setting and painted a manhole to make it look older. She’s also worked on the sets of RIPD, The Heat, American Hustle, The Sea of Trees, and Ghostbusters III, among others.

“It’s exhausting work. My plan is to take a nap after this,” says Pecan, who typically works from 6:00 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. on set with three breaks. “We do all this work that goes in the dumpster, but the reward is the film.” She also works on scenic projects for the Children’s Museum and the ART theatre.

Aeronaut Brewery rotates the work of local artists monthly and they have known Pecan and her husband from the mutual social circles. “So much of Somerville’s culture is art,” says Dan Rassi, Aeronaut’s founder. “It’s nice to support that and have the space to reflect the community.”


“Buzz Zip!” - 2013.

“Buzz Zip!” – 2013.






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