Artist for the stars visits Edwards | VailDaily.com
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Artist for the stars visits Edwards

Sarah Mausolf
Vail CO, Colorado
HL Bryan show1 KA 03-12-08
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EDWARDS, Colorado ” Michael Bryan’s work is like a skinny mirror. It takes America and reflects it back to us in the form of a fantasy. Whether he paints cowboys or vintage cars, he depicts the nation as it should be, the way we could have sworn it was in the good old days.

When the Republican Party hired him to paint President George W. Bush, Bryan showed him in a stately pose beside Abraham Lincoln. The image was so flattering, it became part of the 2004 presidential campaign.

Recently, John Wayne’s family asked Bryan to do a portrait for the 100th anniversary of Wayne’s birthday. One of the paintings depicts the actor, ruggedly handsome, standing with his horse.

And it isn’t just the glitterati that seek Bryan out. IN-N-OUT Burger named him its official artist. Millions of customers buy the T-shirts Bryan designed for the fast food chain, which show shiny classic cars outside the burger joint.

“I’ve painted presidents and princes and I’m going to be known as the hamburger guy,” Bryan joked in a phone interview this week.

His work emerges from a Laguna Beach, Calif. studio overlooking the ocean. From there, it fans out across the country. His resume lists more than 100 corporate clients ” everyone from BMW to McDonald’s. The Salvador Dali Museum in Florida harbors one of his paintings. He was the official artist for “Yanni in Concert” in 1995.

Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of the hamburger guy.

A sparkle attracts the eye to one of Bryan’s paintings at the Philinda Gallery in Edwards. The 48-by-58-inch portrait of John Wayne dominates the wall. It captures the legendary actor at his best: riding a horse and brandishing a lasso.

One point of dancing light leads to Wayne’s belt buckle, others to glinting studs on the horse’s saddle and bridle. Bryan does most of his painting on aluminum sheets. “I go in afterward with a grinder and buffer and polish off some of the parts of the bridle, parts of the saddle, anything that’s metal, so when you walk by these pieces, they sparkle, they dance, they call out to you,” the artist said.

Bryan will demonstrate this technique during a show at the gallery this weekend.

About a dozen of his works will be on display, mostly Westerns, cars and planes. His paintings fetch anywhere from $1,500 for a canvas print to $28,000 for an original.

“I think he has a style that is captivating,” gallery owner Phil Waldbaum said. “He gets so much action and he’s still a little impressionistic.”

Bryan started drawing as a child because, well, art was in his blood. Son of a fashion illustrator and a painter, he was destined to follow in his parents’ footsteps.

He just didn’t know it.

“When I got to high school I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just be an attorney because these guys are a little bit too far out for me,'” Bryan recalled. “But I found out I could do this, and the girls liked it, so it was a done deal.”

The teenage Bryan had a singular obsession: He drew cars, cars, motorcycles and cars. He started painting cars and monsters on T-shirts and selling them. Before long, he declared a major in commercial art.

His career began in the newspaper business, where he drew car ads one day, an illustration for “The Godfather” the next.

Then art saved his life.

Bryan enrolled in the US Army in 1969, and was on his way to Vietnam. His unit stopped at a replacement station in Hawaii, and as it turned out, the station needed someone to make ads for luaus at Wai Ki Ki beach. The government had been letting men returning from Vietnam socialize with their wives on the beach, and had been promoting the program.

The Army put Bryan in a lifeguarding slot, gave him an office and a driver, and ordered him to make Luau posters.

In the decades since, Bryan has established himself as an art powerhouse. At 60, he still obsesses over cars, but he dotes on other subjects, too. “I really don’t need any inspiration,” Bryan said. “I do all the things that are interesting to me. I mean, I love Western stuff and I love cars. I love women and I love liquor and cigars. So regular manly stuff, I guess.”

One of his specialties is portraits. People often call Bryan and ask to be added into a painting of famous cigar smokers puffing together at a party.

With the help of Bryan’s brush, clients can be anyone they want to be.

“For example, if you want a portrait of, say, someone’s wife or girlfriend and they want to be prettier, thinner, more well-endowed, I can make your dreams come true,” he said.

High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 748-2938 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.


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