On the surface, Vicki Walsh’s portraits look like masterful paintings depicting mostly older subjects whose myriad emotional states are profound and palpable.
In other words, the pictures she paints aren’t always pretty.
“My work can be a little disturbing,” Walsh acknowledges. “I know it has an edge to it.”
In fact, she recently took one of her portraits to show to a subject, and a random woman getting off an elevator caught a glimpse. The woman’s jaw dropped and she gasped. That visceral, adverse reaction to her work is somewhat common, Walsh says.
But her intention is not to horrify people with the wrinkles and scars of reality; in fact, the purpose behind her portraits is quite the opposite. Walsh was a forensic medical illustrator for 15 years before she embarked on master’s-degree program at age 51; the morbid profession undoubtedly influences her work, she says, but if she had could talk to everyone who laid eyes on one of her portraits, the conversation would most likely start with, “But wait, there’s more.”
Walsh is experimenting with ideas behind sacred geometry, the math used in planning and constructing religious structures like mosques and churches. She incorporates a circular pattern into her compositions and embeds the symbolism into her portraiture. She hesitates before saying what she hopes the circular patterns accomplish.
“Hopefully, the patterns take people to a more universal place and makes them feel more connected to the universe and to each other,” she says, quickly adding a disclaimer: “That sounds so ridiculous to say that that’s what I’m trying to do…. Of course I’d like to see us more connected than separate; I certainly have a quest for connection between us all. But I can’t possibly say that you’ll see these paintings and it will make you go out and we’ll all hold hands.”
What Walsh could say comfortably is that the adherence to the geometric patterning adds another challenge to her creative process—which is time-consuming and precise—and another level of visual cues for viewers to explore. And even if people who see her paintings choose to ignore the geometric references, she says she still hopes they can find a way to appreciate her work, even if only on a tactile level.
“I like to tell people to walk up and touch my paintings,” she says. “You won’t feel a single brush stroke on it—the paint is that thin. That’s due to the glazing technique.”
Find out more about Walsh’s work when she gives a talk at a Meet the Artist event at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, at the Oceanside Museum of Art, where her Touching the Surface exhibition is on view through Oct. 23.