Studio Visits

Studio visits to
figurative artists

When travels take us near any of our figurative artists, we try to arrange studio visits. Maybe we’ll drop by your Studio and blog about you! Hope to see you soon.


Nicola Wheston, studio visit in sunny Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Nicola Wheston divides her time between BC, Camada and sunny Puerto Vallarta, She’s shown at the Ian Tan Gallery in Vancouver for over ten years, both figurative and  landscapes. It was painting coastal temperate rain forest that got her interested in tropical rain forest and it was her hobby ‘bird watching’ that brought her to Yelapa and lead to her painting in her jungle studio.

Graduating from Ruskin School of Art in Oxford, UK in 1975, the art world seemed to hold figurative art in great disdain but she continued to work painting from life in spite of it, encouraged and supported by other artists. She’s been showing her figurative paintings in Puerto Vallarta with The Loft Galeria for 8 years and John Strawn, the owner always used to look forward to what she would hike out of the jungle with next. She always paints oil on canvas and always paints from life, not from photographs. This winter she’s rented a little studio apartment in Art Vallarta where she does some teaching and works in a nice room, currently used for the wonderful Fearless Fridas exhibition, where we caught up with her.
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I came across Dario’s work when I was searching for figurative artists to visit in Berlin. His work is very dramatic and quite mysterious, figures with masked faces, lots of movement and brushwork. His studio is in a big converted industrial building, a hub for all kinds of creative types. He’s been here in this studio since 2010. Originally from Rome, he relocated to Berlin when the Italian economy and political situation collapsed “with no money for culture or museums.” He thought of going to Poland which would have been better value for his money but he was hearing the big “art noise” from Berlin and so he came. He’s been working full-time as an artist for the last two years.

His new work speaks “about bodies, trying to open a gateway for the paintings to tell stories from inside the human being. Painters are like archaeologists, both search for something, knowing where to look but not exactly what they will find. They only know it is necessary to dig.” His artwork tells the story better than his words. “If you need to speak the story it’s not necessary to paint it.” His gallery is very excited to have Dario in their stable and feel he is definitely on a path to major breakthrough success.
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fine art photography by Paula O'Brien

Bo’s studio and home are very spartan, almost monk-like and dedicated to his work of portrait painting. Light comes in from both sides of the main room where he works on his paintings and also photographs his models. Steep narrow wooden stairs lead up to his bedroom, his darkroom, an annex and a small kitchen leads off the back.

Catching the “natural element” he’s looking for in his portraits takes a lot of luck and sometimes accident to arrive at the right photograph to work from. Response to his early work was that only stiff poses created “portraits” and loose, more natural spontaneous poses were not “portraits”. His response to that comment was “Well, then Frans Hals is not a portrait painter because his work is loose and natural!”

When he craves more comfort he spends time at his girlfriend’s place, a close 4 km away but mostly he’s here working on his classical oil portrait commissions.
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After visiting family in South Africa, we spent four nights in Utrecht, Netherlands, staying Airbnb. Dennis had originally intended for us to stay for one week in Amsterdam but he had been completely unable to book anything Airbnb for the entire week as there were holidays. Dutch friends of ours suggested that we might also consider Utrecht and we’re so glad we did! The old town heart of Utrecht was the perfect size to explore by foot.

One of the first things that I noticed about the house was the fabulous art collection on the walls in the hallways. I told Cees I was here to see art galleries and visit figurative artists and asked if I could interview him as an art collector…. and so we were invited to visit his part of the house. He and his partner collect mainly two streams of art, sculptures by Georges Minne and artwork on theme; one artist and one theme plus a few others sprinkled in between which have caught his eye over the years at auctions.
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Brett Williams creates huge drawings in chalk pastels of full figures on 300 gram Canson paper bought in 10 m rolls and cut as needed. The big pieces are 195 x 150 cm. He starts with the eyes and face and then works outwards as the pose calls for, spraying and fixing each area and working forward, leaving dark hair for last as it’s quite messy working with dark chalks and he doesn’t want to pollute his clean colors and whites. He uses Faber-Castel and Cretacolor predominately.

They’re spectacular in scale, beautiful in surface and lovely in composition. His color work is very subtle and even though he’s colorblind. 

Brett entered the Australian portrait prize contest The Moran Prize with a $100,000 purse and became a finalist with his third picture. Brett’s splits his work life into art and acting. South Africa shoots a lot of commercials and television series. We’ll see him in the upcoming ABC drama Kings and Prophets, or Black Sails which he’s currently working on.
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We first saw Lee Chapman’s lively colourful paintings there in 1998 when we were here on our family sailing adventure. The gallery was a colorful whimsical bijou in the brand new and bustling Marina complex. Seven years later they expanded to a second gallery in Puerto Vallarta Old Town which ran for about 7 years before closing its doors two years ago. We enjoyed his current paintings at Galeria Contempo on the South Side Art Shuffle the day before our visit.

“I was painting in Los Angeles before I moved to Mexico but mostly images I had seen on prior trips to Mexico, marketplaces, musicians, Yelapa scenes, etc. plus some landscapes and impressions of Laurel Canyon where I lived. At that time I was “borrowing” from Paul Gauguin and Diego Rivera. Some interesting work but I didn’t yet “own” my style. I put off painting in a true Latin folkloric style because I was a “gringo”. Finally my Mexican friends pushed me in that direction and gave me my Mexican appolido of Lencho. After that the images came pouring in.
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José Marca is a small soft-spoken gentleman living in old town Puerto Vallarta Mexico. He has been painting for 40 years. He used to paint in a traditional Mexican style, lots of Fridas, flowers and cats.

Ten years ago, he started to paint from his own ideas. This little yellow 6 x 6″ painting is like the father of all the new work that came afterwards. The galleries which used to carry his Fridas and flowers did not like the new work and told him it was garbage and he must throw it out.

His wife supported him and said “No, your work is not for the garbage. No more painting of these old things, no more Fridas, no more flowers, no more cats, only your own ideas“. His work transitioned and became his own original style. Many of his customers are artists, sculptors, painters, theater people.
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Michael Hermesh, studio visit Summerland, BC

On our recent road trip to British Columbia’s Okanagan wine region, we arrived at our hosts Michael and Carol Hermesh bang on the expected dot of 7 pm in Summerland. Michael Hermesh is one of my figurative artists from and the only one we will visit on this trip. He works in sculpture mainly but also in drawing and painting.

The home studio is spacious and set up to handle up to very large works with an overhead pulley and a large door to the loading area outside. No large sculpture pieces were in the studio on the day we visited but many smaller works were about, in various stages of progress and states of dress and undress.

In preparation for a solo exhibition in Vancouver’s Petley Jones Gallery in late 2012, Michael returned to painting, creating many canvases and panels to fill the walls behind his sculpture works. The show was very successful and almost a complete sell out.
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Because bringing out all the materials to deal with each stage of work is quite space and labor-intensive, Jacquline Hurlbert works in big chunks of time either on the making process; hand building the forms in clay or the embellishment stage where she works in her own distinct way, using a mix of underglazes, paints and other patinas to bring her unique surfaces to her figurative ceramic sculptures. She does not keep a strict technical diary but rather lets each piece evolve in its own organic way to completion. This allows the work to really come to life under her fingers, keeping her work very fresh.

Behind the ceramic studio is another room where she paints. Colorful canvases hung on the walls in various stages of progress and completion. Her worktable bulged with all kinds of paints and brushes, a wonderland of tools!
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Kicki Masthem is a very feisty Swedish woman with lots of talent, humor and spunk. She fires high fire clay using low firing temperatures with her own special technique. In the main, she uses very matte glazes. Kicki juxtaposes the matte with little bits of glossy shine in small details as in the flowers above, delivering a subtle delight.

Undaunted at over 50, Kicki started to learn to play the cello, bringing back muscle memory from when she took classical guitar lessons as a small child in Sweden. This challenges her brain. She even played a duet with someone from the Philharmonic Orchestra. Of course it was only Twinkle Twinkle Little Star but it gave her great pleasure knowing she had such a wonderful backup musician.

Instead of a midlife crisis, Kicki bought herself a sailboat. Now with a bit less mobility, she has a 20 foot Ranger which is a nifty little power cruiser she tootles up and down the waterways in when she steps away from her ceramic sculpture work.
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Sara Swink’s large and well laid out studio is behind her home in a large garden, tidily arranged with large tables for her students and her own figurative ceramic sculpture studio time. She started working with clay as a kid then life got busy. She started back into ceramics again in 1997, into wheel throwing and then hand building with her sculpture mentor Coeleen Kiebert.

“The possibilities with ceramics are endless.” To feed the inspiration well, she builds collages on paper, adds doodling and then brings aspects of those things into the clay. All the women in her family were involved in fabric arts; knitting, crochet, quilting. Binge watching Project Runway on TV in 2009 and seeing them putting together all those materials together reminded her of these women’s influence in her life and her artwork at the time. The family textile artists are an ongoing influence, even though they’re gone now.
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In 1990 – 95, Clint Brown produced maybe his most important body of work, The Plague Drawings about AIDs epidemic unfolding around the world. These drawings are large, several are 44” by 8’ on paper. The Plague Drawing exhibition traveled to universities galleries all around the country. Proceeds from the show and associated book went to an AIDs foundation.

Clint used to borrow the University anatomy skeleton which his daughter nicknamed Skinny Guy and bring it home in the summer. These complicated poses with the humans and the skeletons were all worked as composites and not from actually posing the model with the skeleton. The main point Clint tried to impart to his drawing students was to use value to render light and model form.

Clint loves charcoal and then conte for the deepest velvety blacks, sprayed with a light fixative.
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Rory Coyne & Lauren Levato Coyne, studio visit Chicago

We arrived just in time for a nice glass of wine (or 2…) at the home and studio of Rory Coyne and his wife, Lauren Levato Coyne.

Captured here in a tranquil forest glen with their dog Billie are a real couple, professional tattoo models they met through Instagram. The deer heads came from the Field Museum collection, their tattoos are their own. One sports a large Irish Claddagh ring of love across her neck. The white tailed deer heads refer to Diana the huntress goddess, a symbol of power of who these women really are.

The piece in foreground is slated for an upcoming show, a beautiful young woman with the body of a hairless Sphynks cat. The self portrait near the brushes is the most recent piece. The dark Velasquez background anchors these contemporary figures within a more traditional European artistic context with layers of Galkyd Light used with the paint and overtop, creating a smooth lustrous glow to the skin and surface.
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Ravenswood Atelier, studio visit Chicago

The first thing that hits you when you walk into the Ravenswood Atelier is the inky darkness and the sheer scale of the place. It’s enormous! The cavernous space is draped with black cloth and lit carefully by artificial or natural overhead light. Magda was away and the dramatic and long locked Matthew Almy shared a very generous hour with us, even as he was getting ready for a 6 week teaching stint in Australia.

Matthew describes himself as a naturalist as opposed to a realist, giving examples of Titian and Rembrandt as naturalists and David and Michelangelo as realists. After studying at the Florence Academy, the Ravenswood Atelier was setup 7 years ago, accepting serious students into full time training. Students start with lots of drawing and copying and work up, by merit, through the different progressive stages of teaching.

The scale of Matthew’s largest paintings is ultimately determined by the size of his freight elevator and moving trucks. His works are on a grand scale in both physical size and narrative concept. His mastery over painting flesh and surfaces left us gobsmacked. With a devotion and passion for details, Matthew either finds or makes his own props, even going as far as building stage sets for his models or props as he almost exclusively works only from life and not from photographs.
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Visit to the home and studio of artist husband and wife team, Igor & Marina, Igor Kozlovsky and Marina Sharapova. Marina was away visiting family in their native Russia and Igor was a delightful host.

They came to America 16 years ago, after Perestroika and tough times in Russia. He was out with some friends (no doubt probably enjoying some vodka) and they urged him to enter a contest for a lottery for an American Green Card. One year later they won it and packed up and moved to America. They started out as interior architects and interior designers with their own company in St. Petersburg for 12 years but the move to America without the reputation or connections and with the language difficulty set them back a bit. After 6 months of doing regular jobs, they started to make good connections, began to do commission paintings. Pretty soon a gallery came calling and they were able to paint full time. Their painting process is a challenging one as they work together on the same pieces. Igor creates the backgrounds and Marina does the detail fine figurative work. As you can imagine this is not an easy task and Igor admits to much arguing over things artistic. Anything else, they can talk easily about but after painting together for 32 years yesterday (happy anniversary!!), its does not get any easier.
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Joyce Polance, studio visit Chicago

After just a quick bus trip from our earlier visit to Vitruvian Fine Art Studio, we trundled up some great old wooden stairs and Joyce Polance opened her door and studio to us. She’s been in this shared studio space for 8 years and has a great spot right beside the windows. Her works this year are in a place of transition as she’s trying out a looser approach. Her earlier works are quite large but she’s enjoying working in smaller formats, about 30 x 30 inches as she explores new kinds of mark making and expression. She’s also enjoying creating new smaller works in weeks rather than months, such a better way to allow new ideas to bloom and grow.

All of her works are about relationships, relationships between the subjects in the paintings or with others not present, sometimes others from the past who are no longer here but suggest themselves in a slightly ghostly white washed appearance in these new works. Having much experience is correct rendering, she’s feeling both excited and a little nervous about her new loose work but it seems to work very well indeed.
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Vitruvian Fine Art, studio visit Chicago

My husband and I were recently in Chicago doing a home exchange with a family who enjoyed the refreshing cool mountain air in Gibsons, BC while we enjoy the humid muggy heat and sights in Chicago, IL.

Our first day was spent just riding bikes around the local neighborhood of Evanston, where we were staying in a very nice older building. Our second day, we battled the Chicago transit system and eventually made our way to meet Melinda Whitmore and David Jamieson who run the Vitruvian Fine Art Studio in Lincoln Park. They’ve run this classical fine art school since 2008. It offers traditional education in anatomy and realistic rendering of the human form in drawing, painting and sculpture. A life drawing session was in progress when we visited and the students all seemed very advanced and capable. Their teaching space is very well set up for excellent visibility and well lit.

Their courses usually run in 8 week blocks or over weekends and are designed for people who are not ready for full time academic education or who are already holding down a job or other obligations. This way, the student can advance along their own long term goal as well as have a life, too.
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Dean Gazeley, studio visit in Mexico

Originally from Comox, BC, Dean Gazeley has lived in Mexico since 1999. He tried San Miguel de Allende but only stayed one night! He carried on to Guanajuato and never left.

Dean works in portraits and landscapes, in oils. His portraiture work keeps him busy and has most of the next year planned with them. He usually about 10 sittings of 3 hours each. Studied with Ted Seth Jacobs in France.
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Toller Cranston, studio visit Mexico

I had the great pleasure of traveling with 3 other painting friends to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico where we stayed just 4 doors up from the imaginative figure painter, Toller Cranston. His home is a wonderland and riot of exotica, color and costume! I have been a fan of his artwork since I first saw it in Montreal in the 1970’s.

Toller’s artwork features exotic characters in wonderland settings, no doubt influenced by his passion for theater, ballet, music and above all the fine art of skating! Toller’s skating style revolutionized the ice skating world in the 1970’s and paved the way for the artistic skating we enjoy today.

His lush art garden is a wonderland with lively blue iron structures and thousands of Mexican ceramic objects adorning the walls and plant stands.
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Marina Dieul, studio visit in Montreal

When searching for some good workshops, Marina Dieul found Ted Seth Jacobs in northern France. His Renaissance technique workshops were intensive 6 months sessions and that just did not fit with their young family life here in Quebec. A bit more searching brought up Studio Escalier with teachers Tim Stotz and Michelle Tully, former students of Jacobs who had their own school in a small village near their master and workshops were 3 months long.

Her husband supported her idea of submitting to be a student there. She was thrilled to be accepted and soon the family was all packed up and shipped off to France to a wonderland of learning and painting. Daily 6 hours life model sessions in natural light, working up to two weeks on a portrait including the drawing, color study, under-painting and painting were the in depth approach that she was looking for.
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The walls were hung with large canvases nailed flat onto the wall. Lina Vandal works in acrylics and these are the smooshy colorful backgrounds for her current body of work from which faces or bodies will later emerge. She leaves a good 3 inch border to allow for stretching onto wood later and bare wooden stretchers line the hallway like gentlemen callers waiting to pick up their beautiful girlfriends who are still putting on their makeup and getting dressed inside.

She uses different techniques but for her current production, she draws faces with charcoal and then gets those sketches scanned and printed out in large format and resolution on large sheets of bond paper. Later these will be image-transferred onto the painted backgrounds with acrylic medium and the paper backing will be removed. This can create some interesting accidents and a nice scratchy, dark image with a mysterious feeling.
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Gianni Guiliano is influenced by spaghetti westerns, comics, western music which come together in his paintings. Elements of the advertising world, the Marlboro Man, come together in a deliberately staged and realistic but not quite correct rendition. He likes to keep the audience guessing a bit and spending more time with his images as there are elements that seem like things we’re all familiar with and yet something is not quite right. He is not concerned with the correct technical elements, like the rider whose one foot is supported in a stirrup and yet the other one has no stirrup.
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Elaine Despins, studio visit in Montreal

Elaine Despins works with a very intuitive approach, not a conceptual one. In fact she doesn’t always quite know what the series is about until it has ended. She just knows she has a deep connection to the work and once she can express in words what she is putting into her paintings, the series is over. It is complete.

She starts with playing around with the actual paint on canvas or watercolour on paper, manipulating the paint and rubbing away the surface like playing with clay in her hands when out of the darkness, out of the blobs emerging before her, a feeling, an connections starts to take shape like seeing meaning in a Rorschach test.
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Kai McCall, studio visit in Montreal

Kai McCall’s works have a subtle, wry humour about them, some deadpan humour that comes partially from going through the effort of labouring away in oil paints in the manner of our artist forefathers when there are so many other ways to capture an image today. Having lived abroad and spent time in both North America and Europe, his work juxtaposes some 1950’s pinup attitude with old European masters like Tiepolo and Velasquez. Of course Vargas and many of the classic pinup artists were well-steeped in European art history before they branched out to carve their very popular niche.
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