VCU graduate combines anatomy and art

A skeletal horse is shown rearing up in a selection from “Unmasked: A Visual Dissection.” The installation is at Tompkins-McCaw Library. Photo by Jon Mirador.

Iman Mekonen, Contributing Writer

Orange, turquoise, red and yellow compliment black backgrounds to depict detailed human organs and portraits on the white walls of Tompkins-McCaw Library.

The artwork by 2014 VCUarts graduate Nickolai Walko made its debut at the second installation of “Unmasked: A Visual Dissection.”

The exhibit, which opened Feb. 8, showcases Walko’s detailed portrayal of the human body and those of animals through drawings of bones and organs, such as the eye, brain, heart and ear.

Walko designed his sculptures with masking tape, guided on top of a first layer of color, then revealed by the strokes of an art knife. The first colored layer of the work represents skin. Then the artwork is dissected, revealing the colored layer underneath with a precise blade.

“I like to think of the knife as a scalpel to the artwork, revealing what’s underneath,” Walko said.

Walko said his interest in anatomy and art emerged when he was a child. The exhibit displays Walko’s admi

ration of human anatomy and different artistic mediums.

“I’ve always been fascinated by anatomy,” Walko said. “My father is a physician, so I would always find myself looking through his anatomy books and practicing my sketches from those.”

Born in Russia and raised in Virginia Beach, Walko’s curiosity toward everyday sights sparked his interest in drawing.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by aviation and always thought of planes as giant metal birds,” Walko said. “It really helped me gain a new perspective.”

Walko’s love for art led him to attend the Governor’s School for the Arts in high school, where he first utilized masking tape as an artistic tool. His teacher, Virginia VanHorn, brought masking tape into class one day and challenged her students t

o incorporate it into their work.

“She wanted us to explore using masking tape and I became completely fascinated by it,” Walko said. “It literally stuck to me.”

After high school, Walko attended VCUarts and graduated with a BFA in sculpture in 2014. He said he was extremely honored to have been a part of the school’s program.

Walko said he was mostly inspired by art movements such as the Renai

VCUarts graduate Nickolai Walko depicts anatomical subjects, using masking tape and an art knife to reveal layers of color. Photo by Jon Mirador.

ssance and others from the late 1800s and early 1900s. He said the vibrant colors used in the drawings were derived from the 1950s pop art movement.

“I like to look at different time periods and find my way through them all,” Walko said. “Leonardo da Vinci was one of my first inspirations. I used to practice sketching from his art.”

One piece in Walko’s show, titled “Emille,” shows a portrait of a woman with half of her body represented in bone and half in muscles and ligaments. The inclusion of copper metal and black masking tape bring shape and depth to the two-dimensional figure.

The piece took him about a month to complete — he spent at least five hours a day working on it. He said perfectionism “gets to [him],” but he pushes through to what he thinks is close to perfect.

“I would love the viewers to have their own take on my work,” Walko said. “It’s up to the audience to interpret the art so I leave the personal aspect out of it.”

“Unmasked” is on display in the first floor gallery at the Tompkins-McCaw Library until April 29.

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