Nude Alterations by Marie Vlasic at Walker Fine Art in Denver
Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers proposes that greatness and success require an enormous amount of time””10,000 hours. In other words, if you want to be a painter you must paint. If you want to be a great painter, you must paint””a lot. That might seem extreme, but not to the primarily self-taught, 42-year-old painter Marie M. Vlasic. Shes hit her 10,000 hours and feels shes finally coming into her own as a photo-realist portrait painter. Her current series of nudes on exhibit at Walker Fine Art is title “Altered.”
Gladwell by no means suggests that merely practicing something for 10,000 hours will make one Bill Gates or The Beatles, he also points out (oversimplistically some have suggested) that where one is born, their family history, and wealth or lack of it, also come into play. There is no way to know how Vlasics biographical history and ancestry will play when it comes to her art career, but one thing is for certain””she is a hard working and dedicated artist. Vlasic, who was born and raised in Southern California, moved to Colorado 14 years ago and started her career on the art fair circuit. She was featured in the prominent Cherry Creek Arts Festival for three years in a row and also built up an international collector base by combining art fairs with selling her original work on Ebay. Shes entrepreneurial in a way many artists are not.
The 10,000 hours of painting have made her a technical master when it comes to portraiture and capturing the exacting likeness of human flesh. Most of the portraits on display at Walker are 24″ x 48″ and took about 130 hours each to complete. Vlasic works with oil paints on board. Her first step is working with a professional photographer to capture images of the models. Back in her studio, she sketches the initial image and then applies a wash and begins layering paint in thin layers, usually working from dark tone to lighter tone, but not always. With each layer she adds more detail. The human figures are typically created in 4-5 layers.
More than just nudes, these portraits are of those who have altered their bodies with tattoos and piercings. Vlasic completed each figure before hand painting the final layer–the tattoos. Her portraits are unflinching in their accuracy. Some models are demure like “Candice II” who kneels with her hands resting on her legs, her head turned gently sideways, glancing down and away from the viewer. And “Mikel” down on one knee, head down, dreads hanging in front of his face. Others dare you to consider them sexual. “Chadwick” stands with a grimacing expression on his face, his genitals visible, his posture and expression convey what-the-hell-are-you-looking-at? And then there is “Ian” with his tattooed face, nose piercing, huge rings in his ears, with his hands joined gently in front, a quiet intensity to his eyes that draw the viewer away from the front-on tip of his penis. My favorite portrait is “Angela” an attractive brunette with a choppy shag haircut who stands in profile with her hand on her hip, looking over her shoulder. This is a powerful woman, a strong woman, not just physically as is apparent by her toned and taught body, but also found in the expression on her face, the cold stare in her brown eyes. Angela has fewer tattoos than most, a dragonfly on her shoulder, something half hidden by her hand and vines of ivy beneath her breasts. “The ivy tattoo was Angelas first,” Vlasic shared. “She got it after surviving breast cancer.” Yes. This woman is a fighter.
Some may question why photo realistic painting and not just a photograph of the person. Vlasic believes that each person has an essence that cannot be captured in a photograph. “I like to believe Im adding more to them,” she said. “Painting is not a logical process. Its my interpretation of them thats coming out. How I see them. What I see in them, who they are.” She also acknowledges that there a bit of herself in every portrait.
If LA Times art critic Christopher Knight happens to read this hell cringe at my use of the “wheezing cliche about portraiture…being bound up with the revelation of the sitters inner essence,” as he did after the first episode of Bravos “Work of Art” where hostess China Chow proclaimed “a successful portrait is one that shows a viewer the inner essence of your subject.” Duh, yes. But its more than that.
Vlasic does more than just capture the likeness of the individual and their essence. Part of her art, is in selecting interesting, unique and fascinating people. She prefers those who have life experience and unusual personalities. “Pretty people arent as interesting,” Vlasic said. Another important element of this work is that she has consciously selected poses and images of these that eliminates sexuality from the nude. Her portraits alter their subjects in a way that their tattoos cannot.
“Altered” is on view through July 10 at Walker Fine Art in Denver.
(top photo: installation of Marie M. Vlasics nude portraits at Walker Fine Art in Denver)