Layla Fanucci’s rise to success is a story straight out of Hollywood; on second thought, her story might seem too unbelievable for a movie script. From a small town music teacher, she has risen to fame and fortune in the international art world. After taking up painting in mid-life, she has had solo exhibits in New York and overseas, and has appeared on CNN, Today Show and Food Network.
The San Francisco-born St. Helena resident taught music for 25 years, raised children and made wine with her husband and family at their Charter Oak Winery & Vineyards for many years, before discovering a passion for visual art.
It started innocently enough: She was looking around for a painting, something sizeable, to hang in her living room and found nothing she liked – or could afford, even if she did.
On something of a whim, she bought a large canvas and paint, and produced her own abstract work. That seemed to open a new world for her. Friends and family liked her works and wanted to own one. In 1997, she took a risk and quit teaching to devote full time to her painting.
In 2013 she sold 32 paintings, earning more that year than she would have in 33 years of teaching. That was also the year she had a solo exhibit at Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville.
Her story is so compelling it rated a chapter in Marlo Thomas’ New York Times bestselling 2014 book “It Ain’t Over … Till It’s Over.”
As of this writing, Fanucci has reportedly sold more than 400 paintings and her second art book, “Striking a Creative Note: Passion to Progress,” was just published. A number of her works have reportedly sold for six figures.
The one-of-a-kind character of each of her paintings is at the core of her success, according to art writer and critic D. Dominick Lombardi.
“Yes, there is a lot of great art out there, but there is very little that cannot be reproduced, and Fanucci’s work cannot be reproduced,” Lombardi writes in the book.
Her style has been characterized as “urban pentimento,” urban landscapes layered one over another. Of her work, Lombardi says, “the shimmering glow of it all” produces “a palpable liveness” and “the utmost degree of rarity.”
The subjects of her works include Paris, London, Rome, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Venice, New York, Washington and San Francisco.
“Fanucci works on her paintings in much the same way the centuries have worked on the cities he depicts, adding, subtracting, then adding again. She builds the images layer upon layer, often plotting out three or four cities and burying each under a fresh layer of paint,” writes Mona Maloarsky.
The bleed-through gives texture and depth and suggests multiple dimensions in time and space, she wrote.
Her fascination with cityscapes may have originated with her father, an architect.
She developed her unique style, she said, after meeting with a New York City art broker, who told her in order to be successful she needed to paint like no one else in the world.
“She got right in my face, and said each word: ‘in — the — world,’” Fanucci said.
She still enjoys music, she said, and practicies piano for about an hour each day.
She also shares the family passion for wine. The boutique winery produces about 1,000 cases a year of several different varietals. Her husband, Robert, a lawer by trade, and their son make the wine the way Robert’s grandfather, Guido, did: with an old hand press and redwood batts.
Fanucci’s work is returning to the Mondavi Oakville winery with a solo exhibition from Oct. 7 to Dec. 30. The show opens with a reception and book signing, from 5 to 7 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 7.
In the book, Fanucci attributes her success to hard work and following her passion.
“I believe we all have many passions and talents inside of us waiting to come out and flourish with hard work and dedication. The heart speaks to each of us: When we listen and follow, we live the dream.”