Michael Volpicelli: Portrait Artist Extraordinaire


“A picture paints a thousand words” except for artist Michael Volpicelli, in which case, a thousand words paints a picture, and then some. He is a gifted portrait artist, but in his art, the words Volpicelli uses like other artists use colour, are intimately connected with his subject, so they speak just as much about the subject as the portrait does itself. And each portrait is weighted with powerful emotion in a gripping, lifelike image.

To produce such a portrait, Volpicelli’s technique may seem simple, which is hardly the case. It’s the application of his technique that impresses. He begins with a photograph and alters it “digitally into a grayscale to see the various shades.” He continues describing his process:

I lay down my darkest layers first and go from dark to light. The entire piece is done with micron pens in various sizes. I use the thicker microns for my darks, and progress to thinner microns for the lighter areas. . . . I also adjust the word size to help with the shading. The words in the darker areas of the art piece are smaller and more compressed than the words that make up the lighter areas of the drawing. There is some overlay for shading, but I try to keep the words as legible as possible. (Volpicelli, “Eye of Truth”)

The words Volpicelli uses in his Word Art portraits are in some way associated with the subject. In this portrait of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, he uses words from the lyrics of Israel’s songs. In his portrait of Mattie Stepanek, Volpicelli uses words from Stepanek’s poetry. The effect of this technique is that while the portrait is amazingly realistic and lifelike under Volpicelli’s care, and expresses a great deal about the inner being of his subjects, the words amplify that effect because they also express the soul of the subject with equal power. Click an image for a crisp view.

Volpicelli uses another technique for his drawings, one that I find surprising. He calls them “scribble drawings,” and they are equally as impressive as his word art portraits are. His drawing of the Tiger and the Elephant serve as examples, with detail and precision and power. So, what does this tell us of Michael Volpicelli’s work? How shall we categorize it?

In another article that AAA recently published on German artist, Astrid Stoppel, I discuss the idea of minimalism and give one possible definition: works of art created by the use of a limited number of tools for the artist’s tool box. In Volpicelli’s case, he limits his entire set of tools to a single tool: “line.” So, could we say that Volpicelli’s art is minimalism? Well, yes and no, because, while he uses a decidedly minimalist technique, minimalism itself is not about shape or form, and yet, with the use of only line, Volpicelli creates these other tools for his art, which, by definition keeps it out of the realm of minimalism. It would be like deciding to build a house using only a hammer and nails, but using the hammer and nails to create a saw and a screwdriver for use in building the house.

So I shan’t bother with labels, because Volpicelli’s work defies such things. Instead, I shall borrow from his technique of using words to create art to create my own description of his art; that is, I shall use a list of words: original, unique, inspired, inspiring, poignant, personal, quality, descriptive, meaningful, stirring, moving, artistic, powerful, creative, ingenious, magnificent, brilliant, deep, captivating, portraiture, natural, life-like, animated and beautiful.

Michael Volpicelli does do commission works. He avidly supports charities with his work, too, for fundraising. Feel free to contact him via Art, Artists, Artwork.  See more of his work below.

Click on any of his images above and below to see a larger slideshow view.

About the Writer

A. J. Mittendorf does not have a degree in art, but he does have equal credits—perhaps more in art history, appreciation and interpretation, and he has continued to study art on his own since the end of his university days. He is a long-time educator, having taught high school and university courses in both Canada and the U. S. He is also a poet, an actor, and a musician with symphony experience. The arts are his passion, and he longs to keep all of them in the forefront of our society.





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