BY SAM DESTEFANO
Seeing Mike Strescino’s art for the first time, conjured strong feelings of nostalgia. A fitting response, as his work focuses on capturing layers of moments and experiences of the past. Being Colorado natives, we often times feel the need to place a firm grip on old Denver, before it becomes a memory. Mike gets this, and we were lucky to learn more about his craft.
Before we delve into your art, tell us a bit about your past. You made the choice to travel before finishing college. How did this impact who you are today?
I can’t imagine who I’d be without all of my travel experiences. I knew I wanted to see the world early on. Other cultures have always fascinated me and there was never any doubt in my mind that I would wander. As soon as I turned 18 I moved to Maui with some friends and stayed there until I was 22. During that time I took my first trip abroad to Europe and backpacked for 9 weeks. I was hooked for good. Since then I’ve traveled all over North America, central America, SE Asia and India. My connection with humanity has been strengthened in a way that can’t be substituted. I could go on forever about all the ways I’ve grown from it but to put it as simply, I have no doubt that no matter the culture we all share our humanity and the vast majority of humans just want to live good lives and love each other.
I did my first oil painting when I was 9 and found graffiti when I was 12, so both seeds were planted early. Pueblo is an art loving town and finding a wall to paint is as easy as walking up to someones door. My friends and I were painting walls all over town as teenagers. There were no committees or rules. Graff writers from all over the country have painted there and until recently the worlds longest continuous mural was there. It’s part of the fabric of the place. In 2013 my friend Mat Taylor and I won a commission to paint the Lucky the Horse mural depicting the story of a mannequin horse (Lucky) from a saddle company that was washed away by the 1921 flood and found in a tree miles away still intact. It’s a huge mural, 7,200 square feet. From that things took off and it lead to quite a few giant walls. After a few years of that my girlfriend and I moved to Denver. My first year here was rough professionally and personally. At the end of 2015 I took off to the Big Island of Hawaii to camp on my friends land for 6 weeks to do some soul-searching and I decided to start tattooing, which I did as soon as I returned to Colorado at my friends shop, To the Grave Tattoo, in Colorado Springs. Tattooing made me realize that I needed to sharpen my skill set and I did that through obsessive drawing and painting study. I did everything I could to improve for the sake of tattooing well. Or for the fear of tattooing poorly. In turn my ability to paint improved drastically. I still tattoo and I’ve recently got the itch to paint some murals as well, but I’m pursuing studio painting intensely.
We were originally drawn to your work, because you so beautifully capture old school Denver. It gives us a bit of hope to see these treasures in our city become immortalized in your art. How do you select these locations that end up in your paintings? Are you ever commissioned to paint a particular place or person?
I feel like painting things that are already picturesque is obvious and boring. I look for character and texture. I seek out subjects that are bruised by existence and easily looked over or even seen as eye-sores. My girlfriend will often tease me when I stand in awe in front of a dilapidated wall. But I think for many artists that is where the goods are. Sometimes Denver can be so shiny and new, and that’s okay, but for the sake of depth and intrigue there has to be more than that. There has to be a story. the walls must have something say.
I have done quite a few commission portraits of homes and people. It can be very rewarding to not only make a painting that someone likes but of something or someone they cherish. I’ve even tattooed home portraits. So yea, I’m open for business.
Describe your concept of capturing the “blur of memory.”
The science behind memory fascinates me. As it turns out, none of us are shooting a high percentage when it comes to accuracy of memory. I don’t know how it is for anyone else, but my memories are attached to feelings more so than lists of details. For me trying to relay a memory with words has always seemed to fall short. I’m no writer. I talk in pictures. When I look through my millions of travel photos I feel inspired by the feelings and stories behind them. However I’ve become bored of painting singular images. One painting of one scene gets tired creatively for me so I started to experiment with multiple scenes, often from very different places, merged together to create a single composition. As far as the blur of memory, I realized through looking at over two decades worth of travel photos that so much gets buried deep down and can only be sparked by a reminder. When it is sparked a feeling surfaces. To me the feeling is more accurate than the details I conger up. The feeling is automatic; the details take work. I try to capture the feeling.
You work with so many different mediums. Tattoos, large murals, drawing, painting. Do you have a favorite form and do you find that forms and techniques bleed into and inform each other?
Forms and techniques definitely overlap but every medium does it’s own dance and as an artist I have to respect whatever medium I’m using and dance with it. Once trust is established your rhythms combine and become a unique language.
Sometimes I wish I had a favorite. But for better or worse I am in love with them all.
Tell us about your journey of reestablishing yourself as a Denver artist after leaving a town where your work is widely known. It seems as though the Denver art scene is welcoming and artists respect one another. Have you found this to be true?
It’s taken me a while and I hardly think that I am established here, but the people I’ve met and become friends with are very supportive and generous with opportunities. Moving here from a much smaller place was humbling. There’s a bunch of incredible artists working in many different ways and it was a bit intimidating at first. Overall it’s made me work harder and given me a greater sense of what it takes to earn recognition. Because I tend to move between different worlds within the arts it can be a challenge for me to find my footing and understand my own path but simultaneously I’ve been able to connect with different groups of people and really feel the support for what I do. I have never felt unwelcome amongst the artists I’ve crossed paths with here.
Can you give us a glimpse of your process? What is the mood in your studio when you are deep into a new piece?
Everything begins with drawing. Not every piece starts with a drawing, though many do, but drawing is the fundamental skill that I value most. It’s the purest and in many ways the hardest thing to do well as an artist. No matter what my endeavors may be at any given time this is the skill I work to maintain. After that processes can shift dramatically. While working outdoors it’s all about capturing things quickly and without much thinking. But lately as I work on oil paintings in my studio things start out methodically. I’ll carefully map out a composition or accurately draw a face before any painting happens. More and more I’ve been using a grisaille method to capture my values and temperatures.
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Each subsequent layer becomes freer and faster. A process that begins logically and at the fingertips gradually becomes meditative and moves through the shoulder. Balance is the goal. I never aim for a photo real reproduction or pure abstraction. Each piece informs me as to what it needs and I do my best to bring it there. I try not to decide what something will be before it arrives at a conclusion. I’m trying to have fun in there and too many illusions of control makes the whole thing pointless.
I’d love to say that I go into the studio like a monk in a cave and disappear into oblivion but really I bring life in there with me. To do this as a career means I have to treat it like everyone else who may not want to go to work that day. Sometimes I’m not feeling it, sometimes it’s all I’ve ever wanted, but it’s always work and I always show up. In the end it’s a lifestyle and I hope that my work reflects the entire spectrum of a life lived.
Where can we see your work?
I have a solo show in May at S.P.Q.R. Gallery in Colorado Springs. Also in May I’m in a group show at Sky Gallery in Aspen. I’m always open for studio visits at my studio in 5 points. To set up a visit or inquire about purchasing or commissioning a piece just email me at email@example.com or message me on IG @mike_strescino.
I tattoo at To the Grave Tattoo in Colorado Springs by appointment. To see my tattoo work go to Mike Strescino tattooer on FB.
My website is www.strescino.com
Thank you for taking the time to sit with us, Mike. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for you and your beautiful work. In the meantime, we can think of a few dozen places that we’d love to see you test with your brushes.