I stepped in the Petersen Automotive Museum opening night for LA Fashion Week in a pair of floral, open-toed Steve Madden heels. My strut from the red carpet to cocktail hour was just as purposeful as I was sure the models onstage would be during the Noe Bernacelli Haute Couture show later in the night.
In the midst of a bass-heavy track booming through the rooftop space and the endless chatter of LAFW guests, a distinctive voice called to me (cue “a voice which calls to me and speaks my name” from the Phantom of the Opera).
The voice belonged to none other than world-renowned artist and muralist, Robert Vargas, whom I became acquainted with through mutual friend, Mari Makatsaria at a private gathering at the Huntington Library Gardens a few months back. The event in the midst of the lush sculpture gardens of the historic museum was held in honor of Vargas’ modern rendition of the Blue Boy painting, which could be viewed alongside the original in the rococo-decorated art rooms.
When I had initially met Vargas, he was speckled in multi-colored paint, kneeling over a half-finished canvas. He barely looked up from the work, save to lock eyes with his subject. I glanced at Mari in complete awe of the brief intimacy of that relationship, artist and muse. This was something she knew quite well, as Vargas painted her at LA Fashion Week last fall. As an audience member, I felt like I was imposing on something transcendental. I was not alone, but amongst the crowd that swarmed Vargas during the live painting. Never did I imagine that I would be asked to sit for the artist whose work I had come to deeply admire.
That changed when Vargas embraced me like a long-lost friend at LAFW SS20. He then began to study me with a critical eye. I supposed my entire look that night was visual stimulus overload. I dawned a royal purple chiffon shirt that echoed the Edwardian period with its ruffles and buttons, which I paired with a bright red pencil skirt made of wool. The color-blocked pieces I brought together with a cherry-colored Gucci belt and an architectural headband of the same shade. It was so voluminous in fact that it resembled a halo.
Vargas grinned at me and said, “You must sit for me tonight. I would love to open my live painting with you.”
I immediately blushed, thinking back to the evening I met him. It would be pretense to say that I had not entertained the idea. In fact, I had hoped for it and faintly remembered him saying in passing that ‘maybe next time I could paint you.’ I obliged and joked that it was fitting that he chose to paint me tonight of all nights, as I looked like a modern Madonna with my halo headband.
“Well, I suppose I am Leonardo Da Vinci then,” he mused.
The LAFW team had set up significant space for Vargas’ craft. I took a seat on a chair in front of him, and immediately a crowd drew to us like moths to a flame. I met their stares, slightly unnerved that so many eyes were watching along with all the iPhone cameras pointing at us. Clearly, this was not something Mona Lisa had to endure during the Renaissance, but how could I expect any less?
“Be sure to stay still, don’t look at the painting or the crowd. Keep your eyes on me the entire time,” he kindly instructed.” I smiled and nodded.
And then the trance began. Standing still and keeping my gaze locked on only Vargas was an otherworldly experience. The crowd blurred around me as did the paint being splattered to-and-fro. In those moments it was only the two of us. Artist and muse. There was nothing quite like it, the intensity and vulnerability of allowing someone to create your likeness. Because the last person to do so was my creator. I was silently thankful that we had a friendship already, a pre-established trust between us.
And then like a flick of the wrist, it was over. Vargas rotated the canvas to reveal my face fashioned in shadows and angles. An uncontrollable smile spread across my face, because it made me feel special. I voiced as much to him and gave him a hug in thanks.
“That’s why I do this. I want my subjects to know how special and beautiful they are.” Well, he was successful in both aspirations.
Many have asked me if I kept the painting, which I could not do any more than Mona Lisa could keep her portrait. Is it a shame? Perhaps, but I revel in the fact that I am now a part of Vargas’ art gallery and one day who knows? My painting may be a part of some person’s treasured collection or a museum someday. What a legacy.
Keeping it Krischic,
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