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Contemporary Portraitist & Urban Landscape Painter

By Jaimie Lilienstein

Michael Sokolist is an American contemporary artist. He was originally a non-figurative artist and soon became interested in urban realism and traditonal portraiture. Sokolist's work depicted a contemporary view individuals dealing with challenges of life within the urban environment. By placing individuals in their urban setting his work conveys an attempt to make a statement on present-day reality

Table Of Contents


Contemporary realist Michael Sokolis paints portraits of people living in the heart of the urban landscape. While he originally painted in a non-figurative style, over time his visual vocabulary evolved into his own synthesis of urban realism and traditional portraiture. This was perhaps due to his observation of individuals heroically pursuing the challenges of life within the urban environment. With a skilled hand, Sokolis paints compositions that warrant repeated viewing and cause the audience to identify with his subjects.

In 2000, the native Californian returned from a 10-year stint in the Southeast, and rediscovered the West Coast. Similar to his "plein-aire" predecessors, he saw the light, the ocean and the hills - the pureness of the California landscape. However, Sokolis focuses on today’s established urban culture, which he admires and interprets in a unique manner. The juxtaposition of people with urban settings makes a statement that reflects present-day reality. This recurring theme inspires an empathetic personal response to his paintings, which present short narratives on contemporary life.

When the artist initially returned to Southern California, he chose to work in series and painted non-figurative symbols that reminded him of California, and particularly its signature icons. Years later, the artist concentrated on the hues that are specific to the Californian atmosphere. Titling this series Shadows and Light, he slowly began illustrating the figure in a co-dependent relationship with the landscape.

II. An Analysis of the Artist's Work

The Balancing Act Series is about people finding internal resources, enabling them to deal with rigors of contemporary life.

Sokolis’ current cycle Balancing Act is in the realist style, accentuated with an air of surrealism. He creates a tenuous relationship between the viewer, the subject, and the artist. As with most portraits, the model is the focus or each construct. Working directly with individuals from the streets of Los Angeles, Sokolis uses the canvas to isolate the subject, erect the tension of life's toil and fuse a tableau of daily endeavor. The artist places his subjects above the city on telephone wires, rooftops and walls balancing with umbrella, or briefcases or other objects. In each scene that artist finds a way to remind the viewer that life is fragile and that, at times, a wrong step can lead to tragedy. As a painter that artist finds a way isolate each individual's struggle to remain in equalibrium, to find the narrow path in which all elements are in balance.

In contrast to the tension created by the artist's model, the cityscape is idealic and beautiful. The placement of models, the hues blending into one another and the architectural lines create compositions that are, at once, bright and inviting, calming and unsettling. Together, these elements speak to questions and issues raised by post-modernity. In Sokolis’ paintings, the viewers remain the interpreters, placing themselves on a metaphorical tightrope.


  • California State College at Long Beach

  • Dove Award Finalist

  • Public Collections (selected list):

  • Black Toast Music, Los Angeles, CA
  • The Castle Recording & Production Group, Franklin, TN
  • Gaylord Corporation, Nashville, TN
  • Paramount Studios, Los Angeles, CA
  • Union Camp Corporation, Atlanta, GA
  • Reunion Records, Nashville, TN
  • The Turner Company, Nashville, TN
  • Western Sandblast Writers Group, CA
  • Private Collections (selected list):

  • Lucinda Bridges
  • Jimmy Buffett
  • Drew Carey
  • Roseanne Cash
  • Steve Cropper
  • Rodney Crowell
  • Fred Hayman
  • Dr. & Mrs. Harry Jacobson
  • Tatiana Blackington/Todd James
  • Jozef & Candace Nuyens
  • Larry Moss
  • J & J Wachbrit
  • Bill & Kim Wood

  • 2006 Gallery C, Hermosa, CA
  • 2005 Gallery C, Hermosa, CA
  • 2005 George Doizaki Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
  • 2005 Long Beach Museum of Art, CA
  • 2000, 2005 Venice Art Walk, Venice, CA
  • 2004 Gallery C, Hermosa, CA
  • 2004 Cumberland Gallery, Nashville, TN
  • 2003 Gallery C, Hermosa, CA
  • 2002 Cumberland Gallery, Nashville, TN
  • 2001 Cumberland Gallery, Nashville, TN
  • 2001 Schomburg Gallery, Bergemot Station, CA
  • 2001 Perry Tessel, Los Angeles, CA
  • 2000 Cumberland Gallery, Nashville, TN
  • 2000 Edenhurst Gallery, Beverly Hills, CA
  • 1999 Cumberland Gallery, Nashville, TN
  • 1999 Coburn Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1998 Cumberland Gallery, Nashville, TN
  • 1998 The Lowe Gallery, Atlanta, GA
  • 1997 Cumberland Gallery, Nashville, TN
  • 1996 A.C.L.U. Invitational Art Exhibit, Nashville, TN
  • 1996 Cakewalk, New Works: A One Man Show Nashville, TN
  • 1995 Sinking Creek Film Festival Invitational Art Exhibit, Nashville, TN

    1. 1. Los Angeles Magazine. 2005
    2. 2. Los Angeles Magazine. 2003
    3. 3. Los Angeles Times. Dec. 16, 1998
    4. 4. Nashville Scene. Ma. 28, 1996. vol. 14, Isuue #9
    5. 5. “McCall” A Continuing Tradition. Golden Coast Publishing. C 1992
    6. 6. Southern Accents. September-October, 1993. Vol. 16, Issue #5.
    7. 7. Southern Accents September-October, 1992. Vol. 15, Issue #6.