Maria Vlasik - Painting Painted Skin

Published: 01 May, 2009 - Featured in Skin Deep 171, April, 2009

Marie Vlasik paints some stunning canvases with a healthy percentage of her work, based around images taken by a photographer friend, Anthony Camera. Anthony takes the photos and Marie paints the images giving them her own special tilt that captures the ambiance, feeling and passion in each of her paintings.

Marie is fascinated with tattooing and the process of getting a wonderful piece of living art from a set of very small needles. She has a few small tattoos herself and is currently planning a full back piece.
We spoke to Marie to find out more about her painting process and her passions in life – paint and ink...

How long have you been painting and what inspired you to start work with a paint brush?
I grew up with a paintbrush or pencil in my hand. It’s just something I had to do. I was one of those kids always doodling in my notebooks, drawing pictures of the teacher and the other kids. Art has always been present in my life, though I really didn’t start painting in earnest until college. That’s when I discovered oil paints and I was hooked. I’ve left it on and off over the years to pursue “paying jobs”, which were always creative, but left me wanting. I always missed painting, and was finally able to convince myself I could actually make a living at it about 8 years ago, and I did. I can’t imagine doing anything else, and I’ve never been happier.
This cultural obsession has taken hold and refuses to let go, pulling me along on its journey of discovering the humanity in all of us, and in myself. Even when painting the occasional still life, I find myself imbuing the subject with the glow and life of the figure. I feel the heart, the soul in painting the human form, and so the flesh is always calling me.

Can you tell me a bit about your history as an artist?
It really all started in college. I went to the local community college and started out with an oil class and a watercolour class. The more I learned and painted, the more voracious my appetite became. I wound up taking just about every art class they offered, at every level. I never finished my degree, just wound up with a ton of art credits. I had some great teachers that taught me so much and really encouraged me. I loved being immersed in the mass act of creation that was the classroom. I guess you could say the college experience really woke me up as an artist. After that, while “finding myself” in my 20s, I did various artsy jobs, such as graphic design for a T-shirt transfer company, making posters for nightclubs, architectural renderings, floral design, etc. There was a good ten years or so where I really didn’t paint at all, then it hit me rather suddenly that I just had to start painting again, and I haven’t stopped since.

What mediums do you like to work with?
For me, only oils will do. I fell in love with the medium, with its soft, sensual feel and rich intensity of colour, over 20 years ago. I tend to work thin, layering the paint. This technique gives my work a luminous quality. Because of the brief, expressive nature of the images I am creating, I work from photographs, many taken myself and some in collaboration with local photographers. I am often asked which painting is my favourite. The answer; whatever one I am now working on. The process of watching each work unfold; that moment when the flat canvas begins to breathe; that is the fuel that drives me to keep creating.
I occasionally do some sculpture and have other creative outlets, but these are mainly for my own gratification. Oils are my J.O.B.

Are all your subjects in your tattoo paintings from real life?
Yes. I work from photographs. Some I take myself and photographer friends take some.

Do you go to many studios to paint or are your paintings done from rough drawings in the studio?
I work from the photos I take at the tattoo studios. I think painting at the tattoo shop would be a bit messy and distracting. Besides, I can’t exactly say “Hey great pose! Would you mind not moving for the next 6 hours?” I really don’t do roughs. I just go right to the canvas. I have had a few shows at my friend Joe’s tattoo studio/gallery, Kitchen’s Ink, here in Denver.

What drew you to painting tattooed individuals?
I have a fascination with the art of tattooing. I find it to be a beautiful and intense form of self-expression. I love to see what people choose to decorate their bodies with, and to find out why they choose the designs they do.

Have you ever drawn flash or considered it?
No. It’s just not my thing. I may learn someday - never say never.

Are you tattooed or do you plan on getting any and if so who would be your first choice artist to do the work?
Yes, I have 2 small tattoos on my forearms, and am in the planning stages of a back piece. I have a friend here in Denver, Joe Manly, who owns Kitchen’s Ink, and is an amazing tattoo artist. I really trust him, and well, he likes to trade for art ;-)

Who are your favourite tattooists
That would be really hard to say. I’ve seen so many incredible artists. I do tend to gravitate towards the really intensely detailed and shaded work. I’m just so impressed they can do that on skin with a little needle.

Do you find working with tattooed individuals interesting?
Absolutely. People with unique tattoos tend to be really unique and interesting people. Many of my subjects have become friends. I love to hear the stories behind the tattoos.

What doo you think of tattooists as artists?
I think they are amazing. It takes a lot of balls to permanently art-up someone’s skin. A lot of people ask me if I do it, and the thought scares the shit out of me. I mean, with paint, if you mess up, you can fix it. I have a lot of admiration for what they do.

Have you ever seen your art transformed into a tattoo?
No, but I think that would be pretty incredible. I am working on designing my own tattoo, but that’s it, so far.

Have you ever displayed your artwork at a tattoo convention and if so, how did your work go down with the public and other tattooists working there?
No, not yet. I’ve certainly thought about it. I’d also love to go just to find more models.

Do you paint to a standard size or are your canvases different sizes?
I work in all sorts of sizes, everything from 4” x 4” to 3’ x 6’ so far. I’d love to work bigger, but will need to get into a bigger studio first. I usually let the image dictate the size of the painting.

Who are your main influences and what inspires you?
People inspire me in general. Sometimes I see someone I find interesting and I just know I have to paint them. I love to capture a fleeting moment, the glimpses of emotion crossing a face, the colour and depth of the flesh. I am also very inspired looking at other artist’s work. I’ve found some incredible artists online that have really broadened my view and pushed me to keep getting better.

Do you have a favourite style of artwork and can you describe your style?
I do tend to be drawn to art that is similar to mine. I really dig expressive figurative work. One of my heroes who exemplifies this is Lucien Freud. I usually classify my own style as “realistic impressionism”.

Have you travelled with your art and do you get different reactions from different areas?
I haven’t really travelled with my art, except locally. Most of my sales are online, mostly to clients on the East Coast. Denver tends to be a bit conservative, though it is starting to come around. I’d love to travel more, and am seeking representation in New York and San Francisco, for starters.

Do you have any ambitions with your art or otherwise?
In general, just to keep getting better and keep growing as an artist. While I am making a decent living at it now, it is my ambition to make a really good living at it, and to inspire and help other artists to do the same. I’d like to be represented in galleries in New York, San Francisco, London, Paris, and the Far East. I’d also eventually like to live in NYC or San Fran. My dreams include having major museum exhibits and to see my art on the cover of ArtNews and Art in America. It is most definitely my intention to die at a ripe old age with a paintbrush in my hand.

Can you tell us a little about your book?
My book, “The Flesh Is Always Calling…” is my first art book. It is self-published, and covers much of my figurative work to date. I really enjoyed doing it and will probably do more in the future. It is available on my website

Is there anybody you would like to thank for helping you over the years?
I actually do this in the dedication of my book, but to sum up, my first real art teachers in college, my ex, who supported me in beginning painting as a full-time career, my boyfriend for his continued love, support, and encouragement, my friend Anthony Camera, who takes most of the photos I paint from, and my wonderful collectors, who make it possible for me to keep painting. I’m sure I’m forgetting somebody…

Is there anything that you’d like to add?
Thank you so much for the interest in my work. You can see more at My book, prints and paintings can be purchased there as well. Please feel free to email me anytime if you’d like to know more. I’m on Facebook and MySpace as well.


Interview: Neil, Photos: Anthony Camera


Skin Deep 171 1 April 2009 171