Anthony Velasquez grew up surrounded by well-worn trinkets and décor in his mom's antique shop in Avondale.
He never did well in a school setting; he recalls spending most of his time in class doodling and sketching the pictures in his textbooks, eventually dropping out of high school because he found he learned more by reading on his own.
As a young man, Velasquez was more into art, an interest born in graffiti, a common activity for kids in Avondale, he says. But when he started drawing portraits from photographs of his friends, he realized that he was pretty good.
New Times art review
An Odd Kind of Sympathy is at Lisa Sette Gallery, 4142 North Marshall Way in Scottsdale through June 30. Call 480-990-7342 or visit www.lisasettegallery.com.
Velasquez earned his GED and began looking at art programs. There were only a few that specialized in realism — one, in Canada, had a satellite school in Florence, Italy, at the Angel Academy for Art. Velasquez cashed in money from an inheritance and packed a few bags.
He describes the program in Italy as "insane."
"There was no pass or fail in these classes. You were either done or you weren't. We would have to capture every detail in an object like this," he says, picking up a salt shaker over lunch at Pane Bianco in Central Phoenix. "And if we didn't, we simply weren't done."
Because of his training, the 30-year-old painter thrives on quality and detail — a focus made very clear at his latest solo show, "An Odd Kind of Sympathy," at Lisa Sette Gallery in Scottsdale.
Sette has known Velasquez since 2007, when she got a phone call from a friend who had been to the Framer's Gallery, where Velasquez was having a few of his paintings framed. She saw his work and quickly put him in her stable of successful local and international artists. Velasquez says it was luck — and it absolutely was the beginning of a career.
His latest collection of still-life paintings has warmth and a distinctly ethereal quality. In each, five items — one for each of the five senses — are carefully balanced on top of one another and painted, with an obsessive attention to detail, on dark walnut panels.
Velasquez says he made charts of the senses and objects he wanted to find, then searched eBay, antique stores, and junk shops. The result is a series of vertical arrangements of boxing gloves, spice jars, musical instruments, vintage telephones, and ephemera he calls "totems to human experience."
"It's human nature to stack and arrange things according to system, purpose, or importance," he says, and each stack of objects was made and carefully balanced (with help from only a little bit of rubber cement) before he painted them.
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There's a dull gray background in each of his still-lifes, a detail that came, he says, from a desire for his audience to truly focus on each object, almost as if in a dream, and be able to have an interaction with each without being distracted by their surroundings.
Velasquez recently moved back to Phoenix after living in California for a few years. He says after spending years at big-name parties and going to art auctions and fairs, he has no aspirations of climbing the contemporary art ladder.
Instead, he wants to stay here. He's looking to buy land in downtown Phoenix where he can build a house, continue to paint, and hold creative classes in his neighborhood. He says studying antiques and spending hours painting their every detail gave him a greater appreciation for craftsmanship and handmade goods.
"We used to know how to make things from resources that we had around us and to appreciate how they were made," he says. "I want to bring that back."