A local burger-flipper is the butt of good-natured ribbing from his family and friends, now that his mug can be seen in promotional clips for a new cable television reality show.
Mark Velasquez, 32, of Santa Maria, is one of 14 people chosen to compete in Bravo’s latest series, “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist,” which is a far cry from working as a fry cook in his family’s restaurant, Tom’s Take Out at Main Street and Benwiley Avenue.
The former St. Joseph’s High School graduate has spent the past few years making a name for himself online as a creative and provocative photographer, who often uses scantily clad female models to comment on society.
When he returned to Santa Maria after receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cornish College of the Arts in Washington, Velasquez found himself without a strong artist community.
Instead of throwing in the towel, Velasquez started carrying around a camera and shooting anything and everything in sight.
“I usually describe my work as a really sexy version of Norman Rockwell. He’s my inspiration,” Velasquez said. “Rockwell used people from his small town, his friends, neighbors, children ... making art from what you have around you.”
Santa Maria Valley residents have probably seen Velasquez photographing amateur models — usually his friends or fans of his work — posing in Waller Park, back alleys around Tom’s Take Out, the roof of the parking lot at the Santa Maria Town Center, or deserted roads in Sisquoc.
“Name a place in this area and I’ve probably shot there,” he said.
Velasquez is a third-generation Santa Marian. His grandfather worked in the fields of Santa Maria and Guadalupe, and his father also spent time picking strawberries.
His parents, Miguel and Mimi Velasquez, have owned the well-known burger joint since 1978.
Now that the Bravo show is only a few weeks from starting — it premieres June 9 — “the teasing from family and friends is reaching a fever pitch; some are calling me Hollywood,” Velasquez said.
From the beginning, Velasquez was less-than-excited about the show, being a more behind-the-scenes guy, who never watches reality television.
He was pushed into auditioning by his friend and manager, and out of thousands of hopefuls, Velasquez said stoically, “It must have been my negativity and realistic attitude that impressed them.”
Even after making it through the last cut, he said he still kept a cool head.
“I never go in expecting to win things. I’ve been rejected from enough shows and galleries and women to know you can’t win them all,” he said.
The show consists of artistic challenges in a variety of mediums, and then judging before Bill Powers, a New York Gallery owner and literary art contributor; Jerry Saltz, the senior art critic for New York Magazine; and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, curator and owner of Salon94 gallery in New York City.
The contestants compete for a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum and a cash prize of $100,000.
Throughout it all, Velasquez said he survived the surreal experience by falling back on his Santa Maria roots.
“Being Mexican and coming from a small town you really learn to appreciate the realness of life and having a proper perspective in life. Growing up in Santa Maria, you see what’s really important, like not ruining the perceptions my parents have of me, and seeking what real people think,” he said.
“My perspective was a lot different than the other artists on the show who just want to get into galleries ... for me art is about what your target audience thinks, not one judge,” Velasquez said. “If four people call you a failure, who cares? People have called me any name in the book and I sleep fine at night.”
Of the actual show and his experience, Velasquez was sworn to silence, and could only say that it was a “fun experience.”
After having the opportunity to show TV viewers his perspective on life through his art, he now only needs to worry about staying grounded after his New York adventure.
“At some point, one of the producers said, ‘This will change your life.’ And I said, ‘Ya, but in six months no one will (remember),’” Velasquez recalled.
But the producer persisted saying that this would change his life “forever.”
“Now I’m nervous. But I don’t want to take it seriously, because then you become full of yourself,” Velasquez said.
For more information
- To learn more about local artist Mark Velasquez on Bravo’s latest reality television series visit www.bravotv.com or see some of Velasquez’s racy and thought-provoking photographs atwww.markvelasquez.com.