Polk State students learn from accomplished muralist Gillian Fazio

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

For Polk State College’s The Arts Program, students are afforded the opportunity to learn hands-on from accomplished people in the fields of Music, Theater, and the Visual Arts.

During the Spring 2024 Semester, students from Professor Holly Scoggins’ ART2995 – Portfolio and Resume Development and ART2570C – Mural Painting I courses, and Professor Andrew Coombs’ ART2750C – Ceramics class received firsthand insight from local muralist Gillian Fazio. The Lakeland-based artist’s work can be found throughout the local community, but has reached as far as Washington D.C. and most recently, Disney Springs.

“Art is so important to the community, especially where we’re from,” Fazio said. “There may be people who never step foot into these pristine closed-door galleries, so what I love doing is putting it out in the public and making it more accessible. You’re bringing just a little cheerful, bright moment to everybody’s day.”

Fazio has muraled more than 30 local venues, including Catapult Lakeland, RP Funding Center, and Visit Central Florida Welcome Center among others.

“I found her being a local Central Florida artist really inspiring,” Polk State student Jahlisa Evans said. “The art community has been growing vastly over the five years that I’ve lived here. Being able to see that she has connections here and that she’s making it here really inspired me.”

A graduate of the University of Florida, Fazio’s work has also appeared in college communities such as Gainesville where she attended college and Auburn, Ala. Her creation “Easy Tiger” can be found near the campus of Auburn University.

“Art, at the end of the day, is about connecting,” student Gustavo Ortiz said. “Community is about connection as well, but to have a visual representation of that is why art is important. We all probably have our doubts, but it’s nice to have someone from our community to lean on.”

In 2022, Fazio was commissioned to paint “Sea to Shining Sea” for Jill Biden at the 109th First Lady’s Luncheon. The painting depicted red, white, and blue waves crashing to the shore.

“What I did here today hopefully inspires artists who are just slightly behind me in their professional career,” Fazio explained. “I’m honored and thrilled to show them what a working artist looks like and show them what they could potentially be just a few years down the road.”

She considers her style to be “new age flora and fauna,” where realistic landscapes are depicted in spaces where culture and nature meet. Fazio also visited a mural painting class on a separate day. In nearly two hours with each of the classes, Fazio explained the inspiration behind some of her works, how she became a muralist, the materials necessary, and mural-specific techniques.

“My scale for oil or acrylic just kept getting pushed larger and larger,” she added about her development from student to career artist. “That changed my comfortability with making larger art and that just naturally transitioned into murals.”

Already the local, affordable option, Polk State’s Visual Arts’ small class sizes have allowed students like Ortiz and Evans the opportunity to work more closely with their professors to perfect their crafts. Events like the ongoing Student Exhibition and Competition and Destroyer Media’s Bandit Market allow their art to be seen by the public, creating exposure, and building confidence.

Polk State offers an Associate in Arts track with an Art Transfer Intent which provides students with a clear pathway and the prerequisites to transfer to a four-year university art baccalaureate program.

“Polk State is such a great steppingstone. It’s been such a great opportunity to learn from the professors here,” Evans added. “They’re not just professors but they’re almost like friends. Everyone here is just such a great welcoming community you can learn from and progress.”

Fazio shared that greats like Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keefe, and Kehinde Wiley inspired her to paint. She encouraged students to find inspiration and styles that work for them. Fazio also explained how she markets herself on social media, business planning, and gave tips for interacting with clients.

“My advice for art students is to keep making and be consistent about your practice and share what you make,” Fazio said. “People won’t know you’re an artist unless you share.”

Fazio joins an accomplished list of artists, including Bump Galetta, who have volunteered to lend their knowledge to Polk State students. These ventures help prove to students that they, too, can make a living as an artist.

“Usually, we have a thought in our heads that we want to do this,” Ortiz noted. “To see an artist like this in person really solidifies our pursuit for what we want to do or are planning to do in our life.”