If artist Michael Vuksanovich is nervous that the Pope’s eyes may soon view his painting, he’s not showing it.
Standing in the garage of his new home in Squamish, Vuksanovich put the finishing touches on a six-panel oil painting laid out on the cement floor. It’s of a fish, and the flicker of yellow-and-white strokes shining from its scales and eye mimics Vuksanovich’s penchant for playing with lighting in his landscapes.
The painting has been commissioned by an architect who is in the midst of designing the Sacred Art School in Florence, Italy — Vuksanovich’s last home. The school is sponsored in part by Opus Dei, which is affiliated with the Vatican, and it received approval from Pope Benedict XVI.
Having worked as a tradesman for years, in mid-life, Vuksanovich switched course. He got a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in painting and drawing at the University of Calgary, followed by a Fine Arts Diploma from Red Deer College.
The Alberta native then moved to Italy for a year. Vuksanovich’s apartment was 105 steps away from Michelangelo’s David. And Michelangelo was the reason he was there.
“When I was eight my mom gave books about Michelangelo to me,” he said. “I would draw from them. For 45 years I wanted to see Michelangelo’s work.”
But his time in Italy quickly grew into more than exploring the masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance. It’s where he fell in love — three times.
Surrounded by a rich culture and history, Vuksanovich’s passion for art blossomed. Every day he drew, immersing himself in the work of the great masters. There was no turning back. Suddenly, everything fell into place.
"When I was there, I felt that is where I belonged," Vuksanovich said. "It was like a part of my life was missing and I found it."
On long walks through cobbled streets and hours spent admiring sculptures in cathedrals, Vuksanovich found his other love.
“I just became a believer,” he said. “Opus Dei helped me get confirmed.”
Quickly the two loves melded. Vuksanovich travelled all over Italy studying religious icons. Now, approximately 9,000 kilometres from Florence, one of Vuksanovich’s next projects is to paint a set of contemporary icons, starting with his mother.
It was in Italy that Vuksanovich made his connection to Squamish and, more importantly, he fell in love for the third time. On a whim, Vuksanovich looked up a long, lost friend on Facebook. While growing up on the prairies, Katherine and Vuksanovich partied together as teens. After several months of chatting, Vuksanovich found himself picking her up from the airport.
They explored old churches, went on picnics by the sea and hiked Italy’s rolling hills. All the time, Vuksanovich documented their adventures in a sketchbook. It’s full of inked drawings of the cheeses and wine they had during their outings and old buildings they sat beside. Today, the weathered pad sits on a table in their living room.
Vuksanovich feels blessed by the turn of events in his life. Squamish is full of natural wonder and creative people, he said. He’s excited to get involved with the community and continue on his path as an artist.
“I like to think I have three loves,” Vuksanovich said. “God and the woman I love and with love (art) I can show my love for the other two.”