Vicki Walsh pop-up art ‘heads’ above all others at La Jolla exhibit
By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt
Vicki Walsh is not interested in skin-deep beauty. She looks at what lies beneath people’s cultivated exteriors to create the sometimes shockingly hyper-realistic paintings she is known for — detailed, large-scale, in-depth portraits that show the influence of her years as a forensic medical illustrator.
Her latest pieces, a series of 20 Haloed Heads, were on display for a day at “Tomaytoland,” the home of Robin Lipman, member chair of the San Diego Museum of Art’s Contemporary Art Committee.
“These are the smallest things I’ve ever done,” said the artist. “They’re about half the size of a normal face, so they’re not as stark as my larger paintings. I think if they were 4- by 5.5-feet, they’d look completely different, the way you do in a magnifying mirror. But they took me a year to do: they’re all drawn in silver and gold, with thin glazes on top.”
Why the haloes? “They’re sort of a riff on Renaissance icons,” Walsh said. “I like doing something new with old techniques, and I like the idea that we’re all human and divine.”
You don’t see much hair in the portraits — Walsh would rather paint skin than hair — and few happy faces. She works from photographs, and discourages her subjects from smiling. She wants more interesting expressions.
Among the 100-plus guests at the pop-up exhibit were most of Walsh’s subjects, and a number of local art-world notables, including Sheryl White, one of San Diego’s 15 Arts & Culture Commissioners who happens to be the artist’s sister, and Hugh Davies, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, where several of Walsh’s supersized heads were part of the 2010 exhibition “Here Not There.” Davies’ own head was one of the haloed ones on view — here, not there.
Lipman said she first saw Walsh’s work on an art tour of the Whites’ home, about six years ago. “What really struck me were two heads in their living room, which turned out to be Vicki’s. She was there, and she invited me to visit her studio, and I ended up buying one of her portraits, that’s now in my office.”
What Lipman really wanted was a portrait of herself. “But it took me a long while to build up my courage,” she said. “Because Vicki doesn’t camouflage any flaws. Then last year, I decided to do it. I wanted a dramatic expression, so I made a kissy-face. And when I saw the finished piece, I was surprised: I think she made me look good!”
Having once seen a pop-up art exhibit, Lipman thought she might do one herself, someday. So when Walsh suggested the idea, she leapt at the chance. “It’s like having a party,” she said. “For someone whose talent I believe in.”
For more about Walsh’s work, visit