Some people take days, weeks or months to paint a picture. Jessica Gorlicky can do it in minutes.
The self-described abstract and figurative artist recently finished a 77-day run with the Cirque du Soleil’s Totem show, where she put on a “live painting” performance each night in a VIP tent before the main show began.
“People were amazed. They were blown away,” Gorlicky said in an interview. “They’d never seen the technology I was using, which was the LightBoard, and they couldn’t believe how fast I painted.”
She had 45 minutes to turn a blank four- by five-foot backlit canvas into a work of art, in front of an audience ranging from 30 to 300 people.
At the end of the evening, she would erase the bright, swirling colours to prepare for the next show’s performance.
Gorlicky, 31 and now a full-time artist, began painting regularly as a teenager living in Thornhill, Ont.
“It was my escape,” she said. “All of my test papers had doodles everywhere – scribbles, faces and abstract things just floating around. And I would always be just playing with colour and paints.”
When she was 18, she took a summer-long renaissance art history course in Italy, where she developed her skill painting landscapes.
After she got back, she began to paint faces, especially of women, which have become the subjects of many of her current works.
“I’m a woman. I have two sisters, and I have beautiful friends,” she said, adding that she loves lighting and makeup. “All these things tie into why I love painting a woman’s face.”
Many of her paintings are brightly coloured, with lots of pinks, purples and oranges, and the occasional heart or butterfly on the canvas.
She spent years travelling the globe, an experience that she said gave her the inspiration for her many paintings.
“I can look at pictures and feel those experiences and remember brilliant moments,” she said. “[You] take what you’d like from that moment and jump right into painting and creating.”
She said she has sold about 2,000 paintings in her career so far. Many of these come from her live performances, which she puts on up to four times a week, while others are from commissions.
“I paint on my own a few times per week,” she said, “and I’m not afraid to say that, because a painting doesn’t always take me a week or two, or a month, or a year, like other artists.”
Some weeks she doesn’t paint at all, while other weeks end with many new works. She said she doesn’t necessarily see her speed as a good or a bad thing, but working fast means she’s very prolific.
She often produces paintings in groups with similar themes. She might sit in a circle surrounded by canvases that are all part of a group, and then take turns working on different pieces as each one dries.
She said her work is often commissioned by clients who come to her with specific criteria. One client asked her to incorporate his five favourite album covers into one painting.
Others specify the colours, subjects, and any other aspect of the painting they’d like to see in the finished product. She said she works to make sure their ideas are doable, but still meets their expectations.
“I don’t think I’ve ever turned down a commission at this point, even a 20-foot wall of Batman and other superheroes,” she said, explaining that this was an unusual request, but she has done it. “Generally it’s my style that they want.”
It’s a challenge to create what someone else wants, she said. “You have to feel the energy and really listen to what the person wants.”
In October, Gorlicky held her most successful exhibit to date, called Paint My Candy. It showcased 24 works of art plus another 25 on display for sale to an audience of more than 1,000 people.
She calls this show one of her greatest achievements as an artist.
Another career highlight was the eight-minute live painting performances she did before the Olympic torch came through Canadian towns leading up to the 2010 Olympic games in Vancouver.
In addition to expressing herself with paint, Gorlicky has learned to speak four languages – English, Italian, Spanish and French – and is currently learning Russian.
“I like to see how people express themselves in different languages,” she said, explaining that she always recommends language learning, especially to young people.
“Language, to me, represents different colours and thoughts and emotions,” she said, “so I think the emotional aspect I get from that – I put it into my work.”
For example, she said some of her Indian clients paint their homes with reds and golds, and find cultural meanings in these colours.
Her own Jewish culture is an important part of who she is, she said, and five years ago, she travelled through eastern Europe visiting places her grandparents journeyed through during and after the Holocaust.
Starting in Romania, she followed her grandparents’ trail as they were captured and brought to various concentration camps before finally being taken to Auschwitz. They were freed in 1945 and continued their journey through Europe trying to find a new home.
Despite this sad bit of history leading to a sad travel experience, she calls herself a happy artist, with most of her work conveying an upbeat, excited atmosphere.
And apart from her work exemplifying her love of the human body and colour, she said her work is about doing what you love and expressing it in every way.
“[Painting] is what comes naturally to me,” she said, “and I’m trying to explore that with every fibre of my being all the time.”
To visit Gorlicky’s studio to see her work, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, go to http://www.jessgo.com or call 416-451-0788.