Anthony Velasquez grew up surrounded by well-worn trinkets and decor in his mom's antique shop in Avondale.
He says he never did well in a school setting; he spent most of his time in class doodling and sketching the pictures from his textbooks. He says he eventually dropped out of high school because he found he learned more by reading on his own.
His interest in art was born in graffiti, a common activity for kids in Avondale, he says. But when he started drawing portraits from photographs of his friends, he started to realize that he was pretty good.
Velasquez earned his GED and began looking at art programs. There were only a few that specialized in realism, one in Canada that had a satellite school in Florence 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," he says. He picks up a salt shaker over lunch at Pane Bianco in downtown Phoenix. "We would have to capture every detail in an object like this ... and if we didn't, we simply weren't done."
Because of his training, the 30-year-old painter thrives in quality and detail -- a focus made very clear at his latest solo show titled "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, but that it was absolutely the beginning of his career.
His latest collection of still life paintings have a warmth and distinct 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."
In "Senses #2", a sculpted hand balances on top of a can of black ink, which rests with a yellowed thimble and rusted sardine can on top of a container of black pepper.
"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.
There's a dull gray background in each of his still lifes, a detail he says that came from his want for his audience to truly focus on each object, almost as if in a dream, and to be able to have an interaction with each without being distracted by their surroundings.
Velasquez just moved back to Phoenix after living in California for a few years. He says after spending years at big name art parties and going to art auctions and fairs, he has no aspirations of climbing the contemporary art ladder.
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Instead, he wants to stay. 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."
"An Odd Kind of Sympathy" is on view at Lisa Sette Gallery, 4142 North Marshall Way, Scottsdale through June 30. For more information, check out the Lisa Sette Gallery website.