ARTS & COLLECTIBLES

THE MASTER OF NEO-EMOTIONALISM

The powerful portraiture of Los Angeles-based artist Fabian Perez has won international acclaim—and today, he is one of the world’s most collected figurative artists.

MANDI KEIGHRAN

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Fabian and Lucy at the balcony II

Capturing the essence of character is perhaps the most challenging aspect of portraiture—yet it’s at the heart of each painting and sculpture by Argentinian-born, Los Angeles-based artist Fabian Perez. Each evocative gesture or quirk of expression realized in the artist’s signature strokes offers a glimpse into the inner world of the characters he captures, from dancers and couples to circus performers, musicians, and celebrities.

The artist describes this idiosyncratic style as “neo-emotionalism” for the visceral reaction it inspires in viewers and the liberating effect it has on himself as an artist. “With every portrait, I paint people’s bodies to capture their soul,” he says. “It is fascinating to see how our bodies react according to the way we think, the way we treat them, and the way they respond to unconscious impulses sent by the brain.”

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Artist Fabien Perez in studio

Perez’s journey began in 1967 when he was born in the city of Campana, in the Buenos Aires region of Argentina. Here, his father owned illegal nightclubs and bordellos—a world from which he still draws inspiration today. In his early twenties, following the death of both parents, he followed Japanese karate master Oscar Higa on a long journey through Italy, where he taught martial arts and began his career as an artist in the town of Padova near Venice.

Seven years later, he moved to Japan, and at the age of 30, he arrived in Los Angeles, where he still lives today with his wife Luciana and their three children. “I was passing through and decided to stay,” he recalls. “I didn’t speak any English, but I found a cheap hotel in Venice Beach that offered accommodation in exchange for cleaning services.” A few weeks later, he was promoted to a nightguard, giving him the opportunity to work on his paintings during the day.

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Today, he has adapted his work around his family, painting in the mornings and afternoons when the light is at its best. He works in a studio the size of a double garage, simply furnished with an easel, canvases, and a small table overflowing with colored paints and brushes. Artbooks and sculpture casts are piled onto shelves, and his paintings, photographs are displayed alongside work by his children. “Getting into my studio is like going into a bubble full of energy,” he says. “When I start, I feel pressure but also enthusiasm for being able to express myself.”

While Perez is perhaps best known for his portraits of “living legends”—from Pope Francis to Arnold Schwarznegger—he also takes commissions and has worked on close to 100 personal portraits of people from across the globe in the last two years alone. “I like to do my own photoshoots to ensure I get the perfect picture with the correct lighting and atmosphere to translate to the canvas,” he reveals. “This moment is very important to understand the essence of the client’s personality.”

Smoking under the light II

Tyson

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Al Pacino

After living in Los Angeles for more than 20 years, Perez opened his own gallery in the Melrose Art District. “I’m a strong believer that physical galleries are not dead,” he says. Although, alongside this more traditional route to engage viewers with his work, he is embracing new digital technologies—most recently, an app to accompany his most recent book, Neo-Emotionalism: The New Era, which brings the cover to life through augmented reality.

“I am thankful for the talent I have got,” says the artist. “I try to be focused, disciplined, and confident as much as I can, to have a successful career and to provide the essentials for my family. The rest is all karma.”

 

www.fabianperez.com

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