Since the release last November of the film Bohemian Rhapsody about the British rock band Queen, Santa Fe-based artist Victoria de Almeida has been on a kick that has taken on a life of its own.
She saw the movie in theaters eight times, watched hours of interviews with band members on YouTube, read multiple biographies and played Queen’s music so much around the house that her husband, Doug, had to make up a rule — no Queen after 7 p.m.
“My husband, who’s the one who introduced them to me to begin with, he was like, ‘I used to love Queen. Now I hate them,’ ” de Almeida said with a laugh.
She’s able to laugh these days, she said, because of Queen.
When her son, Douglas, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in February 2018, de Almeida entered “a place of darkness.” She said she fell into a deep depression, struggling to eat or sleep and experiencing constant panic attacks while working in her small downtown studio/gallery.
An award-winning folk artist who has painted professionally for 20 years, de Almeida said she was ready to walk away from painting.
“When your child’s well-being is out of your hands like that and you have no control over it, it will take you down,” de Almeida said. “And it did take me down.”
Bohemian Rhapsody sparked a dramatic transformation in de Almeida and inspired what she considers her greatest work.
While watching scenes in which the four misfit band members create their groundbreaking music, de Almeida said she realized she was “born to paint.” She soon started work on a Queen painting that, in essence, became her refuge.
“With every paint stroke on that canvas, I was getting a little bit of myself back,” de Almeida said. “I’d felt like I lost who I was.”
Her son, Douglas, 19, could see the change in his mother as she became immersed in her work.
“It kept her mind off of things when things got rough,” said Douglas, who is studying nursing at Santa Fe Community College while continuing his struggle with cancer. “Something would come up, and she could always go back to her painting and just be one with what she loves.”
The painting depicts the band in a setting de Almeida describes as an “Alice in Wonderland” Mad Hatter tea party. Seated at a table are bandmates John Deacon, Brian May and Roger Taylor. Lead singer Freddie Mercury, who died from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1991, is raising a glass and standing off to the side, cast in a turquoise glow.
Adam Lambert, a 2009 American Idol contestant who now performs as the group’s lead vocalist, is walking into the party. He’s holding a pair of Adidas boxing shoes like the ones Mercury wore during Queen’s legendary 1985 Live Aid performance. De Almeida says Lambert isn’t filling Mercury’s shoes, but rather helping carry on Queen’s legacy.
De Almeida put her research and knowledge of Queen into the piece. Twenty-nine Easter eggs scattered throughout the painting. Each represents the name of a song or an aspect of life of the band members. For example, an old radio sits on the table next to Deacon, a nod to the band’s 1984 song “Radio Ga Ga.”
After 375 hours of work spanning seven months, Queen The Miracle was finished. De Almeida sent an image of the piece to long-time Queen Fan Club President Jacky Smith earlier this month.
De Almeida will exhibit her painting at the club’s annual Queen Convention in England in October. She said she will donate proceeds from sales to the Mercury Phoenix Trust, an organization dedicated to the global fight against AIDS.
It’s also become de Almeida’s dream to present her painting to the band. She was told by Smith that May and Taylor called the painting “epic” and that May would love to receive a print from de Almeida at the band’s concert Tuesday in Phoenix, if time allows.
It will be de Almeida’s first time seeing the Queen live.
“I’ve had family members laugh at me because of this obsession that I’ve got with Queen, not understanding why I’m holding onto it so hard,” de Almeida said. “People don’t understand the depth of my pain, of why I’m doing this. So Tuesday’s going to mean the world for me.”