Spotlight: Following the call of art

BY LAURA WILLIS | APRIL 27, 2011 7:20 AM

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Eliezer Sotillo spent one morning constructing an abstract, Picasso-like painting of a brunette woman — the same subject that appears in six large canvases on his studio walls.

In some portraits the woman sits with her arms nonchalantly crossed over her bare legs. Other images highlight her skin in bright blue and green hues, yet the dark hair and eyes remain the same.

Her name is Mandy, Sotillo's wife — and muse.

But an array of colorful spray paint bottles in the room hint at a different talent. With the vivid blues, reds, and yellow shades, Sotillo has created 60-foot murals in both Iowa City and New York.

The 28-year-old may have a nursing degree behind him, but his passion for art eventually won. Today he is earning a bachelor's degree at the University of Iowa, exploring the elements of colorful, abstract, street art and the realistic qualities of portraiture.

"I like that because it allows me to have more creative flow so that I'm not stuck in one area," Sotillo said about the two art forms. "You can experiment with so many different ideas as to how the composition works with the size of the canvas and how the audience reacts to it."

This year alone, the Venezuela native has led a group effort to paint pianos downtown, donated paintings to a Japan relief effort, and created murals with artists such as Lady Pink.

But art wasn't always Sotillo's main focus. He came to study painting later because his family had encouraged him to follow a career in medicine.

Growing up, he was surrounded by family members who specialized in science, but unlike his family members, he preferred creative art. At 6 years old, the family moved to Fargo, N.D., and after high school, he attended the Minneapolis Community and Technical College. After studying art for one year, he switched his major to nursing, a program that would gain him a job as well as his family's support.

But a nursing degree failed to cure his initial passion: art. And in 2007 he moved to Iowa City.

"I decided to take a gander and do a complete switch, and do what I love, which is painting," Sotillo said.

His artwork involves an intricate process: taking photographs of the subject and later combining numerous images to form one painting.

"When I see the painting, I don't feel like it's me necessarily," Mandy Sotillo said. "He tends to capture a different side of me that people don't usually see, sometimes one that I don't usually see."

Like portraits, Eliezer Sotillo found that the direction of street art is also consistently developing. Last spring, he joined other art students to work on a mural alongside New York graffiti artist Lady Pink. The following summer, she invited Sotillo and friend Tony Carter to paint at Long Island's 5Pointz outdoor graffiti exhibit.

Since his experience at 5Pointz, Sotillo has continued to work with other artists on murals, including a colorful piece next to the Yacht Club, 13 S. Linn St.

"We want to develop Iowa City into a mural city," said friend Joshua Cornelis. "[Sotillo] has great visions, and his passion to work hard will bring great success to the city."

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