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Down Town Journal - Skyway NEWS
Monday, April 17, 2006
Mark Sanislo Article
A Skyway Portrait Painter
Source:Downtown Journal
By Breanne Doroff

An artist on display

As a child, Mark Sanislo honed his artistic talents by copying Encyclopedia photos of notable figures, like Michelangelo Buonarroti and George Washington.

Today, at age 44, Sanislo is a nationally known portrait artist who shares his talent for capturing a person’s soul through his art in his skyway-level gallery in the Baker Center, South 7th Street and Marquette Avenue.

Portraits, in my view, are representing who they are. Their character and personality,” he said. “I’m taken by the subject matter. The qualities people bring are infinite.

Many of his works are featured in executive offices, private collections and religious publications. But when Sanislo opened his skyway shop in October, he found a way to share with the public not only his gift for realism but also his other two loves: family and religion.
Mark Sanislo Portrait Painter
Mark Sanislo Portraits
in the Baker Center Skyway

Artistic aspirations

Sanislo studied graphic design at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, St. Cloud University, and portrait painting at the Atelier Lack School of Fine Art in Minneapolis.

While working through college, Sanislo discovered his true passion: painting quick public portraits in an amusement park in CMark Sanislo - Minneapolis Downtown Lifehicago, working as people hovered over his shoulder.

I still like being able to have someone there, to race to complete a painting and capture the qualities of the person quickly, like a camera snapshot,” he said.

Following college, Sanislo became a photographer and commercial artist. But doing freelance drawings on the side wasn’t enough. He needed to fill his creative void with something more substantive. “Artistically, I’ve always wanted to be challenged. You can’t fake [portraits]. You have to get it right,” he said.

During the 1990s, Sanislo painted portraits with several other artists on Mackinac Island, a tourist resort in northern Michigan, and later opened up his first Minneapolis gallery in the Gaviidae Commons, 6th Street and Nicollet Mall.

He went on to co-own Fiat Studios, an art-distribution company serving religious gift shops, before opening his shop in the Baker Center and dedicating more time to the craft of portraiture.

Mark Sanislo Baker Center Art Gallery
Photo by Amber Procaccini

Mark Sanislo stands amid his portraits in the Baker Center

Portraiture process

For many clients, portraits are a new adventure.

Nick Berry recently commissioned a painting by Sanislo of his two little girls as a gift to their mother. I would come by everyday and talk with Mark. I saw the portrait evolve. We made decisions together and I worked with him the whole way through,” he said.

Sanislo meets with clients at least three times in the portrait process. He discusses why the clients want the portrait, photographs the subjects and makes head studies.
Theses exercises allow him to conduct preliminary drawings and take notes. Thumbnail pictures miniature examples of the portrait are used in the process.

Touch-ups and eye and hair color are matched during the final meeting.

I find a quality in each person that makes it more than just some technical craft. The painting has to speak to me. It’s much more than just an artistic exercise,” he said.
Photo by Allen Smith
Mark Sanislo Oil Painting an Board Room Portrait
Mark Sanislo Oil Painting

It can take a lot of time to capture these qualities. Pastel drawings take weeks to complete, while oil paintings can take months, depending on their size.

Sanislo said that oil paint allows him to add more texture, more detail and thick brush strokes to the painting. Pastel drawings are much quicker to produce and give a different look.

Dianne Parent recently commissioned an oil painting completed by Sanislo as a surprise for her husband at his retirement party. She contacted him after a referral from a friend and after viewing many of Sanislo’s religious pieces. “I’m usually kind of critical about things, but he did a fabulous job. There wasn’t a thing I didn’t like about that picture,” she said.

Merging Passions

While Sanislo’s artistic passions run deep, they soar beyond his studios. He devotes much of his talents to his religion. He is also a husband and father of six grown(ing) children.

One of his proudest accomplishments is his life-size portrait of Father Bernard Reiser of the Church of Epiphany in Coon Rapids. Sanislo grew up with Father Reiser, so the work carries personal significance.

Influenced by his sons, who are sports fanatics, Sanislo has completed a life-size Kirby Puckett portrait, which he began the Friday after the baseball great’s death. It is on display in his skyway studio.

Sanislo plans to hang the Puckett portrait in his gallery for the next month, while completing a series of people who are considered to be Minnesota legends. He wants to include Paul Wellstone and Charles Lindbergh, too.

Sanislo said notable artists are his inspiration, including, John Singer Sargent, Edgar Degas and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.

He also finds inspiration in his subjects, people who have, in his mind, built legacies. “There is so much more meaning representing their life and work,” he said.

In the future, Sanislo said he’d like to build a body of work and have it displayed in a gallery or in a church. Other goals include painting a governor or senator’s portrait and painting murals at rapid-transit stations.

Until then, Sanislo continues to polish his skills by attending night classes. He also loves to analyze the art in local museums and bookshops.

I’m like a chef that tastes the soup, and I figure out what ingredients they used. I find the palette of colors, and look at the textures and methods,” he said. “Even today I will go to Barnes & Noble and when I walk in, they ask if I need help finding anything, and I just say, ‘No thanks, just looking at pictures.’”

Portrait price ranges

Oil paintings range from $1,500-10,500, depending on the size.

Pastel drawings range from $750-5,500, depending on the size.

Additional charges may apply for additional subjects, backgrounds, travel and photography expenses.