The animated, expressive eyes of world-renowned models such as Georgia Palmer and Kate Moss, frozen still with oil paint, stare back at art enthusiasts as they walk through the “Look” gallery at the Marblehead Arts Association on Hooper Street. The maestro responsible for these lifelike, personal, and alluring portraits is not a veteran painter with 25 years of experience and university-level training, but Marblehead’s Shawn Stolarz — a 16-year-old rising junior at Bishop Fenwick High School.
Stolarz, now co-chair of the Marblehead Arts Association Youth Council, attended the opening reception for his “Look” exhibit on Aug. 12. The gallery primarily features oil paint depictions of icons and celebrities, with a focus on the expressions in their eyes.
The paintings, inspired by photographs, consist of a blend of realist and surrealist techniques and subdued backgrounds that surface models’ beauty in a single moment.
“In my current show, I’m inviting the viewer to look further than just the beauty of a photograph, to take a closer look at and start thinking about what the model might have been thinking or feeling when the photograph was taken — their eyes, the way they glance, their faces, their expressions, you know, the parting of their lips, the tilting of their head,” Stolarz said. “When you look beyond the beauty, you can start to see the real person.”
First learning to sketch at the age of 11 by drawing along with art tutorial videos on YouTube, Stolarz’s budding artistic talents soon evolved into painting. Now, he spends most of his free time either attending art classes at Acorn Gallery School of Art in Marblehead or painting at the makeshift art studio he set up in his parents’ garage.
“I love the process of painting. I like seeing the outcome and where it goes, but I also just love going into my space and working and changing things and trying to fulfill an idea,” Stolarz said.
At Acorn, Stolarz honed his talent and painted a multitude of abstract paintings, including multiple portraits of his unacquainted muse, the British model Kate Moss. While the young artist’s work is mainly inspired by human beauty, it is not constrained to just portraiture.
In April, Swampscott put out a call for artists to paint four Humphrey Street utility boxes for a $500 stipend. Stolarz, who had already painted two utility boxes on Salem’s Essex and Canal streets, took on the project. He spent three days across the street from the Mission on the Bay restaurant painting a utility box with detailed blue floral patterns spread across a white backdrop.
The piece, which Stolarz said was influenced by the blue-and-white patterns of Dutch Delftware and Turkish pottery, depicts an abstract face on the back of the box — an addition Stolarz said he painted to add a bit of his love for portraiture to the project.
“I’m really inspired by contemporary art. I like to put a huge focus on a painting’s composition and I really care about its design,” Stolarz said. “It was a great opportunity. People stopped by and offered me drinks, they took pictures, and offered me ice cream. Everyone was extremely nice.”
One of the teenage artist’s current pieces, which hangs in the “Look” exhibit as a work-in-progress, is a 60-inch re-creation of Michelangelo’s “Battle of Cascina,” painted on wood, which Stolarz plans to cover with bright-pink pop art-inspired flowers.
His next project is a series of bohemian egg-tempera pieces inspired by the style of late 19th-century Vogue magazine covers.
“I’ve been planning this painting for months, fascinated by how the idea of beauty has evolved over time. We can see that evolution through fashion, body type, and body language,” Stolarz said. “I am making this painting with egg tempera, which is a medium created by mixing egg yolk, pigment, and water together. This will be my first attempt at this medium, so I am really excited.”
Stolarz, who plans to go to college for painting and fine arts, said he was in the process of writing and illustrating a graphic novel for young adults that he plans to eventually submit to publishers. He said he has written roughly 75% of the script, and hopes to illustrate the first 50 pages before pitching it.
In the next 10 years, Stolarz said he hopes to display his work in a variety of galleries across the world and make his artistic style and message “distinct and knowable.”
“I hope and want to be a professional artist, a professional painter, and hopefully use galleries to just get my art as far out there as possible,” Stolarz said. “One of my long-term dreams is having the opportunity to paint models from life, as they might appear on a runway. I find it really inspiring that the late Lucian Freud, a renowned British artist, spent nine months painting Kate Moss in his own style.”
The “Look” exhibit will be on display until Sept. 24.