Aug 11

Local artist bares all on “Work of Art”

Santa Maria photographer Mark Velasquez got exposure on Bravo reality show

Mark Velasquez and Simon de Pury share a laugh on "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist."

Mark Velasquez’s moment of truth came when a female teammate asked him to take off his top.

“I don’t take my shirt off at the beach. I don’t take my shirt off while I’m swimming,” the Santa Maria photographer said. “Yet here I am taking my shirt off on national television.”

Velasquez bared it all on Bravo’s “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist,” a new reality competition that invites 14 professional artists to compete for fame, fortune and a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Velasquez  managed to make it through the bulk of the season before being eliminated on July 28. His final challenge, “Opposites Attract,” required him to use his own topless torso as the model for two portraits inspired by the concept of “Heaven and Hell.”

The down-to-earth artist took it all in stride.

“If you look at it in an objective point of view and say ‘First and foremost, this is a television program,’ that’s going to help a lot,” he said. “As long as you smile, enjoy the ride and relax, you’ll be fine.”

I recently interviewed Mark Velasquez for The Tribune. Here are some tidbits that failed to make it to the printed page.

What inspired you as a young artist?

There weren’t a lot of outlets for my creativity as a kid….. The Santa Maria library had two books on art: a book on Michelangelo and a book on daVinci.

Attending the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle must have been quite a shock.

I’ve always experienced this illusion of very high-minded art. I always thought that creating art took all this time and training. I found out that actually you don’t. To this day, I still have a hard time with that.

I basically wanted to get to a point where I could draw and paint a figure as photo-realistically as possible. That peaked at the end of freshman year. (laughs)

You studied printmaking, etching, sculpture, even performance art.

There I was carrying a 12-foot cross through downtown with my long hair and a beard with an Easter bunny pelting me with eggs. (laughs) It was still about me being thoughtful and bringing art to the masses.

When did you become a photographer?

(As a kid) I always carried a little point-and-shoot camera with me. I was always kind of aware that I wasn’t learning anything. I got my first single-lens reflex camera in college. They were only teaching black-and-white photography and I didn’t like it.

Later, I realized that the reason I didn’t like that was because I’m Mexican and I like bright colors… Seeing color is a very visceral, very stomach-oriented experience for me….

After I left college and moved back to Santa Maria, I was left with carrying my camera everywhere I went, using cheap color 35-millimeter film. I started to appreciate color and the intensity of that.

Describe your relationship with your fellow “Work of Art”contestants — including your roommate, Ryan Shultz.

Ryan has a masters from Northwestern. He can recite more about the patterns of Renoir than I could ever learn. His approach to other artists is very commonsense, down-to-earth, respectful.

He’s as far distant as you could get from my view of the world…. I thought, “If this is going to be a crazy extreme experience, let’s be as extreme as possible and room with this guy.”

Technically I have a lot in common with Miles (Mendenhall) but I don’t respect a lot of the things he does.

What was the most difficult challenge for you?

The Audi challenge. It felt so commercialized and so phony. I’m not a car guy anyways. Even driving the car I wasn’t impressed with. I kind of made a piece that was intentionally boring in the way that New York is boring, like a map from above.

What was your favorite challenge?

The one I really enjoyed making was my shock piece. I know a lot of people who have had troubles in their past as children. I thought that piece was really important.

Do you feel you’ve grown as an artist because of your time on “Work of Art”?

I don’t think I learned necessarily anything new except the process of making a television program.

I’m at an age where I know what I do and I know how to do it. The other people (on the show) are still young. They’re still figuring out who they are in their own work.

Have you grown as a person?

I’m a big guy. I’m have my own body insecurities. I don’t like being recorded because I have diarrhea of the mouth.

Being on this program made me confront all of my major issues all at once. I was filmed 24-7. I didn’t have control over what was being shot or how it was being shot. I didn’t have control over how it was edited in the end. I couldn’t hide behind my camera.

Do you feel your profile has risen as a result of being on “Work of Art”?

I have 200 more Twitter followers, so I’m a miniscule amoeba in an ocean of artists. (laughs) I’d like to think it’s broadened my horizon a little. I didn’t expect to wake up as a millionaire.


The season finale of “Work of Art: The Next Great” artist airs at 10 p.m. tonight on Bravo.


Above image by Barbara Nitke, courtesy of NBC Universal.

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  1. Pat

    It takes a brave man to bare all for the world to see. Unless you’re Brad Pitt, I guess.

  2. Sarah

    I’m pretty stoked that Abdi Farah won “Work of Art” last night. He’s a very talented, personable young man with terrific potential.

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