ANSONIA — The brush strokes deftly move from the pallet to the ceiling.

As the minutes turn to hours turn to days, the Virgin Mary’s face begins to show expression.

And Paul Armesto, the French painter and The Rev. James Sullivan, pastor of Assumption Church, like what they see.

“Every time I look at her, I see a series of emotions,” Armesto said of his hand-painted version of the Coronation of Mary. “I see joy, longing, sorrow...”

“I think its the most beautiful face of Mary ever done,” adds Sullivan.

On the opposite side, Armesto is painting the Assumption of Mary. Centered between the two large paintings are a seven winged seraphin carrying the Hail Mary and the Holy Spirit transcending from darkness to light.

“All this is Heaven,” Sullivan said of Armesto’s works.

For the past three and a half months, Armesto has been living at Assumption. He’s known for the largest oil painting (54 yards — or about half of a football field) ever done, which took two and a half years and rests inside the Church of San Diego in Costa Rica. He’s here as a result of a chance meeting.

“He’s a cousin of Tony Burke, our music director. They came to our spring concert,” recalls Sullivan. “After nearly everyone left, I see this man walking around looking at our Stations of the Cross. So I start talking to him. He tells me what he does for a living.”

Not by numbers

What Armesto does for a living is paint — primarily classical religious murals. They are seen in such churches as St. Brigid & St. Emeric and St. John the Baptist, both in Manhattan and St. Thomas in Somerset, N.J., as well as several in Costa Rica.

“Tony (Burke) said when Paul was three years old he was drawing pictures on the walls in his parents’ home. When he was five he drew a perfect lion,” Sullivan said. “When he was 11 his father bought him his first easel.”

As a teen he was painting seascapes and studying 18th century art.

It was in Costa Rica where Armesto perfected his French academic art studies by learning under Alberto Ycaza, an art master who died in 2002.

“He helped perfect my oil painting skills,” explained Armesto, who at 43 speaks perfect English, French and Spanish. “He taught me about layering, about glazing, about how to bring up light...This is classical art. It’s a whole different philosophy of painting. It’s not like taking a photograph and reproducing it. Doing that’s like painting by numbers.”

Here he began with a sketch, a grid on the ceiling and a monochromatic drawing before actually painting

And painting inspires him. Take the Coronation of Mary as an example.

“Since this is historically an Irish-Catholic church I’ve included Celtic elements,” he said.

“Look at that angel,” he said pointing to the one on the far left.

“The angel is holding a harp, he explains. “The cloak is green, the vest is orange and the wings and sleeves are white—all colors of the Irish flag.”

Hanging onto Mary’s cloak as she kneels before Christ are three young angels.

The image moves the priest.

“So many people who experienced the sorrow and despair of losing a child believe their son or daughter is with Christ in Heaven,” explains Sullivan.

Incredible sketch

Since I came here in 2015 I wanted to restore this chapel,” said Sullivan of the smaller church, which rests on the first floor of the rectory “But I never expected murals covering the ceiling.”

That is until he met Armesto that spring day.

“I asked him to give me a sketch,” Sullivan recalls. “He came back with the most incredible drawing. I looked at it and thought how can we not go forward. It sold the job.”

So in June Armesto moved into the rectory. He started by sizing the ceiling.

“Being a former building contractor I figured it was a two-hour job using a roller,” Sullivan said. “I come in and see him with an inch and a half brush using rabbit skin glue, waiting for it to dry and then priming imprimatur (a mid-tone layer which seals and allows light to reflect through the layers). It took three and a half days.”

Once completed Armesto began his real work — painting.

“He’d be in here sometimes until 4 in the morning,” said Sullivan, who added that he comes in about “20 times a day to watch Armesto work. I remember him asking me one night what time it was. I told him 11 p.m. He said no wonder my neck hurts.”

Chapel vision

After three-and-a-half months, but none of it done on his back, Armesto is adding the finishing touches.

Watching it and liking what he sees is Martin Dempsey Sr., a parishioner.

“It’s like having our own little Sistine Chapel,” he said. “I could see people coming here just to look at it.”

Meanwhile — Sullivan reverting back to his contracting days — is dressed in dungarees and a T-shirt, both coated with dust. A parishioner, Dave McDermott, is hanging a chandelier to give the priest a sample of what lighting will show.

Sullivan describes the vision he has for remaking the chapel by Christmas. He talks about taking out the front wall and replacing it with a double door, removing the carpeting and installing porcelain tile, having his brother John build an altar and hanging the 14 Stations of the Cross given to him a decade ago by Litchfield nuns. Instead of pews he wants 50 fabric-wrapped chairs.

“We have daily Mass here,” he said. “It’ll be available for smaller funerals and even marriages.”

“It’s really necessary to have a church open to the public at all times,” Armesto tells Sullivan. “People with problems, those in despair, need somewhere to go.”

“It’ll be open,” the priest responds, “until 10 p.m.”

Outside he has more plans—building a garden on North Main Street just below where overgrown brush was cleared and trees felled exposing a stairway leading to the main church’s rear. He may have Armesto paint a mural on the retaining wall.

“We’re planning to illuminate the back of the church with seven high-powered LED lights. The entire back will be washed in white light,” Sullivan said. “That will make this the beacon of the Valley.”