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Michael Vasquez is a Florida native who has gained notoriety for his painted depictions of neighborhood gang culture. His work pays homage to the history and social codes of street gangs in his hometown and beyond. Explore our Michael Vasquez artwork for sale today, and learn more about his life and work.
Michael Vasquez was born in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1983. The small town lacks an art scene, but this dearth of culture in his hometown was precisely what inspired Vasquez to pursue his dream of becoming an artist. In 2001, Vasquez enrolled on a Graphic Design course at the New World School of Arts, in downtown Miami. He believed that Graphic Design would lead to a place at art school, allowing him to master a field and ultimately land a job with his degree. However, during his time at NWSA, and through observing the recognition his peers were beginning to receive, his attention shifted towards traditional media, and he realised that becoming a Fine Artist was a viable option.
In an entrepreneurial sense, Vasquez liked the idea of freedom, and the ability to control exactly what he wanted to do. In 2007, two years after his graduation, Vasquez displayed his first solo work, entitled “Family Jewels”, at the Fredric Snitzer Gallery in Miami. Today, Michael Vasquez paintings make in excess of $20,000.
It’s no secret that Michael Vasquez’s childhood was embellished by the tales and exploits that come with being part of a gang. As a child raised by a single mother, he had an inherent understanding of his peers, many of whom would later become his subjects. Much like Vasquez, they were primed for the influence and allure of neighborhood street gangs which embodied many stereotypical traits of masculinity that often prove attractive to a teen entering manhood. Together, they navigated the expectations and pressures of their peers, society, and culture as a whole.
In 2010, ahead of his exhibition “Michael Vasquez: What Comes With The Territory” at the University of Tennessee, Vasquez delivered a series of lectures about his work. Later that year, Michael Vasquez’s paintings were first shown internationally at the Saatchi Gallery in London. The paintings were included in the Franks – Suss Collection, which focuses on emerging and mid-career artists from countries undergoing significant social, economic or political change.
Early 2012 proved groundbreaking for Vasquez, whose paintings were exhibited at the Fredric Snitzer Gallery in “Rites of Passage”, marking his first solo exhibition. It also debuted the unique relationship Michael Vasquez had carefully cultivated between Graphic Design and Fine Art, through directly integrating the photographs Vasquez had initially taken of his subjects.
Michael Vasquez paintings often start as photographs, which are transformed, initially through collage and then through paint, into layered investigations of the postures, gestures, and settings that comprise what Vasquez describes as his subjects’ energy. In “Family Jewels”, images were reassembled into aggressive, large-scale photo sculptures.
If the viewer looks hard enough within Vasquez’s artwork, the artist’s sense of compassion for his subjects is clearly conveyed, running somewhat counter to the obvious aggression displayed across his work. In an interview with the National Portrait Gallery in 2014, the artist honed in on the softer side of even his most violent paintings, putting across a level of warmth and tenderness within the eyes of his subjects.
He depicts boys trying to figure out how to be men, seeing people beyond their visual presentation, but also through their energy and the type of mood that is created within paintings that the viewer can connect with. Vasquez hoped that such a portrayal would bring these people into a different light, and in doing so, helped the artist realize the value in relationships between people and the bonds they create.
The media used in Michael Vasquez’s paintings, and their sheer scale, further heighten the sense of visual identity within his work. Vasquez employs a language of mark-making that transcends representational likeness to inform the viewer of something deeper; the emotion, glory and bravado of being part of a community in the absence of any real authority. For example, in Block Watch – Allan, his heaviest and most erratic brush strokes are deployed to create a sort of halo effect around the sitter’s head, arguably symbolizing emotional depth and glory, whilst the brush strokes around his shoulders emphasize masculinity.
The artist’s decision to create large-scale paintings is also impactful in itself, positioning the viewer underneath the subjects, forcing the observer to look up as opposed to down at these people. This flips the perspective they may have had on these figures in everyday life, whether by intimidation or negative social and cultural stereotypes. As such, Michael Vasquez’s paintings give the viewer an opportunity to connect with these people, not solely through their visual presentation, but also through the way the paint translates their energy and mood.
Vasquez’s work has been exhibited in numerous internationally-recognized galleries and institutions including The Kemper Museum, Kansas City; Saatchi Gallery, London; Lehmann Maupin, New York City; the Americas Society, New York City; the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC; and in Florida at Fredric Snitzer Gallery, the MDC Museum of Art + Design; Frost Art Museum; MOCA North Miami; and The Orlando Museum of Art.
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