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by Jess Clarke
July 23, 2006

FAIRVIEW — The South Pacific coral reefs, fish and turtles in Lee Pantas’ paintings are imaginary, but the problem isn’t. His Liza’s Reef project, for which the Fairview artist plans to create up to 40 acrylic paintings in 10 years, aims to increase awareness about environmental preservation. Pantas, 64, has finished eight paintings, the first of which, “Liza’s Reef,” inspired the project. He gave that painting as a graduation gift to Liza Schillo, whom he coached in track and field at Reynolds High School. Schillo is a senior at UNC Chapel Hill, where she is majoring in environmental studies with a minor in geography.

“It’s something that gives meaning to what I do with my energy. I’m very concerned with environmental pollution and destruction. I’m trying to do what I can do to help prevent that,” said Pantas, who has a master’s degree in ecology. He wrote “The Ultimate Guide to Asheville & the Western North Carolina Mountains.” Pantas’ paintings are available to view on his Web site, http://www.lizasreef.com/, as he completes them. The site contains information about oceans and rain forests. Pantas will sell prints and postcards through an online store he is developing on the Web site. Half the proceeds will go to environmental organizations, including RiverLink and WNC Nature Center in Asheville.

When Pantas finishes the project, he’ll auction the paintings — except Schillo’s — and donate half the proceeds to environmental groups and two orphanages in the South Pacific. Schillo hopes Liza’s Reef will spur people to address environmental problems. “It’s not just to save a rain forest out there,” she said. “It’s to save the life that we’re living.” She started what she says is the nation’s first environmental honors fraternity, Epsilon Eta, at UNC Chapel Hill. “The more people we have like Lee the more difference there will be made,” said Pat Lance, director of the WNC Nature Center, run by the city of Asheville. “I think every step in the right direction is a big step.”

MOUNTAIN XPRESS -"The Green Scene"
Liza in the sky with diamonds
by Rebecca Bowe
August 2, 2006, Vol 13, Issue 1

"I just wanted to do some good with my art," Fairview artist Lee James Pantas tells Xpress. "I'm trying to do something that will raise awareness of environmental issues."

Some environmental activists opt to initiate petitions, write letters to the editor or stage public rallies. Pantas has chosen a decidedly more elaborate approach to saving the planet: churning out whimsical paintings of an imaginary underwater landscape. He's also a planner: In 2015, he says, the art will be auctioned off to benefit local green organizations. Entitled "Liza's Reef," so far his series consists of eight paintings – eventually there will be 40 – depicting a coral reef surrounding a fictional South Pacific island. Images of the series can be viewed online at www.lizasreef.com, which will also be the site of an online store established to benefit various environmental organizations.

Pantas' work has been exhibited in New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., and locally at the Blue Spiral and Seven Sisters galleries. But the projected beneficiaries of his long-term project – including local groups WNC Nature Center and RiverLink – have awhile to wait before sales from the upcoming series will generate the needed green.

CEDAR CLIFF NOTES -"Liza's Reef"
Pantas creates imaginary reef to save real ones
by Rebecca Searles Co-Editor in Chief
December 19, 2006, Vol. 17, Issue 3

It started with a friendship and a graduation gift. Now, artist Lee James Pantas is saving a piece of the world, one splash at a time.

"One, I like to paint. And as an artist, I want to create and bring something positive into the world," Pantas said.  "But the motivating reason for this series is to create awareness of environmental issues and also raise money to do something good with the art."

Pantas, who has a master's degree in freshwater ecology, aims to complete a series of paintings, 40 pieces in 10 years, to be auctioned off in 2015. He has completed nine paintings so far. Seventy percent of the proceeds will go to nine beneficiary organizations for protecting the environment, endangered species, and children's orphanages in the South Pacific.

The project began in 2003, when Pantas gave a coral reef painting to close friend and track protégée Liza Schillo when she graduated from Reynolds High School. Schillo's avid interest in the environment and her pursuit of a major in environmental studies at UNC Chapel Hill inspired Pantas' series of imaginary coral reef/celestial paintings titled "Liza's Reef". The imaginary reef consists of bright splashes of color with turtles, fish and occasional imaginative creature.

"Personally, I've always been attracted to coral reefs," Pantas said. " They're the most colorful and fragile environments on our planet. I could talk of them like a crown of jewels. But they could be the first to die. They're symbolic, so to speak."

But it's not just a fondness for coral reefs that spawned the images that Pantas paints. Pantas explained that his preferred Jackson Pollock-style technique, working from splashes and swirls of acrylic paint, tends to lend itself to visions of coral reefs or of galaxies and planets, so his paintings represent a fusion of the two locales.

Rather than starting with a blank canvas up on an easel like most artists, Pantas says, he paints a canvas blue, puts it on the floor, and floods it with water. Then mixes up different colors of paints and pours them on the painting.

" I find a pattern of paint and say, 'What can I do to amplify it?' If the idea of a turtle or fish comes, I go with it," Pantas said.

Pantas has been painting for more than 30 years, but he hasn't always been dreaming up imaginative undersea portraits. Despite his passion for the bright and creative style of his current art, Pantas made a living producing over 2000 commissioned pen and ink drawings of people's houses. But Pantas enjoys the freedom of artistic expression that his coral reef art provides.

"There's two kinds of art, Pantas said. " One level looks at something and just wants to reproduce it. Another wants to give your own interpretation of it. Flat out, it's just more fun! Copying is boring. It's from scratch as opposed to just getting it out of the box. You more from inside yourself."

To keep the creative juices flowing, Pantas works out of a comfortable studio in his Fairview home, where he surrounds himself with art-covered walls, candles, low-lighting, trickling stone fountains, and all kinds of calming music ranging from classical to Snow Patrol. The atmosphere seems to be working for him.

" So far, I haven't run out of ideas, "Pantas said. "Sometimes you get frustrated and hit a wall. But all of a sudden , something shows up. If I was working on a blank canvas, I'd have a dilemma. But the splash gives me something to work with."

With the project website, www.lizasreef.com, getting more than 10,000 visits and two enthusiastic offers to purchase paintings already, Pantas expects success.

"Most people really like it, kids especially." he said. "Kids flip out. and the positive feedback encourages me to keep painting. I think I've hit a theme that appeals to all people.

Pantas plans to keep promoting the project with businesses and friends. Currently he is planning an opening in downtown Asheville to display the Liza's Reef series, as well as  visit to the school Commons to create hype.

"We're in serious trouble on the planet," Pantas said. "It's a big, big issue. I'm not in it for the money. It's just my love of nature and wanting to do something good to help save the world."