Artist of the Week Cisco Velasco ’23 on Capturing Connections

Walking through a maze of senior portfolios, Cisco Velasco ’23 brought me to his station. I immediately noticed figure paintings covering the walls of his studio. Compared to my tiny, dirty easel in Old Tarble, his space in Whittier seemed like a pristine art gallery littered with mini masterpieces. 

But, when I asked about his prior experience, Velasco responded: “I did stuff in high school, but nothing ever formal. [My first spring semester at Swarthmore] was probably the first time I got to do art formally. Then, I took some art history courses that lined me up to have enough credits for the art major. From there, I took more painting classes.”

Above all else, Velasco wanted the opportunity to explore the art department’s resources. He enjoyed “having the opportunity to learn professionally; it was something I was excited about … Just me fiddling around with things and then just access to all the supplies that I’ve never had access to before was really exciting … I think it’s always been observational. They start you up with still life kind of studies and those are cool.”

As he began taking more classes at Swarthmore, Velasco transitioned from still lifes to figure paintings. Moreover, he became fascinated with manipulating color: “Once we started painting and putting color, I think that was more exciting. And so that transitioned eventually into figure painting, which was a class that I … [found] more exciting because there’s a lot more about technique. But also focus on composition. Getting into that was that challenge.”

Rather than traditional gestural drawings, Velasco uses his friends as models. Though in class a subject is typically provided, he prefers depicting people he has a connection with. “It’s just my friends doing their normal things, whether I pose them or [take a] regular photo. Just being able to do that is interesting in a way that makes [us both] happy.”

Gazing at his wall, my eyes fell on a half-finished painting of Velasco’s friend. It was painterly, and presented compelling contrasts. It was realistic in its depictions, but abstract in the strokes themselves, and fixed in its focus on the subject, but showing motion in the details. He blended the paint in some areas, while others had clean, bright strokes circling the figure. The background, though incomplete, felt complete in its vision. I was fascinated by the confluence of finished and unfinished, and his realistic fluidity of movement.

Velasco has been focusing on artistic vision and intent in his final semester at Swarthmore. 

“I think that … this semester is all about figuring out my visual language … I want to play around the borders [of the canvas]. That’s when I found this book [of patterns]. We’re like, developing language for that. And just sort of decorating the borders and not leaving them alone, with different types of iconography.”

He has also been blending his style with that of famous artists. After seeing Frank E. Schoonover’s “White Fang’s free nature flashed forth again, and he sank his teeth into the moccasined foot,” Velasco recreated the painting in impressionist, almost pointillist, strokes.

When I asked what’s next for Velasco’s artistic vision after college, he replied, “I think I will work after being a student for a bit.” But, he’s quick to note: “I don’t want to embed art so working and then doing art are both exciting jobs. The hardest part will be the space, [but having it] would be nice.”

Regardless of Velasco’s professional plans, he wants to continue creating for leisure. Despite being an Art and Computer Science double major, he emphasizes the importance of having fun and exploring through artistic media. He creates paintings of friends, plays with color, and experiments with form because “I think it’s just trying to capture a moment. An interesting moment. That doesn’t necessarily have to be spectacular.” 

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