When two talented artists collaborate, it’s not surprising that their creations take on a life of their own. But what Denver artists Jonathan Saiz and Wes Magyar are collaborating on is even bigger than a work of art. At the beginning of January, they started a pop-up art market where they will paint up to 7,000 original portraits until July of this year, pricing them at just $143 each. Located in what used to be Saiz’s apartment in RiNo, the pop-up market revolves around an overabundant optimism— with saccharine colors, goofy facial expressions, tea parties and the ever-evolving discussion about successfully making a living as a full-time artist. The project, titled 7000 Reasons is whimsical but it also serves as an experiment for both Saiz and Magyar, one that has taken a risk on both their parts to actuate.
Saiz has more experience revolting against art-world norms than Magyar does, with several previous installations that provided a wider audience with affordable and one-of-a-kind art, like the Blue Chipped art vending machine in December last year. But Magyar’s calm demeanor coupled with Saiz’s fiery spirit serves as a balanced base for their steadily growing business experiment. And it’s appropriate to call it a business because the duo is collecting payment, painting portraits and shipping them out by themselves (except for the valuable help from their own spouses). Their hope is to become their own benefactors instead of relying on an outdated system of buying and collecting original art.
Both artists have experience in the art gallery world and met 12 years ago at Denver’s PLUS Gallery. They are trained as oil painters, though Saiz’s style verges on abstract whereas Magyar’s style is meticulous and highly informed by his photography work. “This is interesting to me because contemporary art, where both Jonathan and I typically exist, has its own world,” Magyar commented. “It can be hard to decipher the work if you aren’t in that world, there’s a lot of knowledge required to really get it. Part of this project is making work that is simple and universal.” Magyar is currently represented by William Havu Gallery where his realistic portraits use darker hues and capture serious or complicated facial expressions. This project propels both artists toward an unusual tone compared to their other work, and in moving beyond their comfort zones, they are learning more about their skill and about an untapped demand from the public.
For 7000 Reasons, the artists combine their techniques to paint portraits that embody happiness. Passing each square board back and forth across a table in their shared studio, the team is able to produce several simultaneously. The unique snapshots come to life in layers, with Saiz sketching the initial face, Magyar painting in oil, Saiz spray painting the background, Magyar touching up with shadows and highlights and Saiz adding finishing touches. Most of the portraits are of people and children, though as the project expands, pictures of pets and favorite toys and other random objects like a pineapple have been requested and completed.
“We are making a large quantity fairly quickly but it’s not a factory. Every one of them takes a lot of care and thoughtfulness,” Magyar explained. “We can’t just tune out and build them, they take a lot of effort.”
Saiz and Magyar were immediately attracted to the idea of spreading happiness, hope and optimism with 7000 Reasons because those were the qualities that directed their motives from the start. “2017 was a dark, frustrating and scary year for me and for a lot of people. It was easy to be a reflector of all that dark energy. Personally, the start of this year and this project has been an opportunity for me to swing the pendulum back to positive thoughts,” explained Saiz. “We aren’t saying that everything in the world is great all of a sudden,” added Magyar, “but we are trying to do our part to put something out in the world that is meaningful, beautiful and positive.”
Seven became a symbolic part of their project, with seven being an auspicious number, from the colors of the rainbow to the number of chakras in the body. So it became seven months in duration, painting seven-by-seven inch portraits, and finishing 7,000 artworks at most. Each is priced at $143— not only because that’s affordable for a commissioned original oil painting but because the number 143 stands for ‘I Love You’ (1=I, 4=love, 3=you) in old pager code and according to Mr. Rogers. If they sell all 7,000 portraits, they will earn a little over a million dollars. All of these symbolic gestures add meaning and value to the project while ascribing to the basic optimistic framework.
“We are looking at a little bit of a naïve, best-case scenario, unapologetically gleeful projection of what’s possible instead of what’s probable,” Saiz commented. “Maybe we can manifest that for ourselves and our families by stepping out of our career to do something limited like this. We were taught that in order to make that much money, to make an impact, you had to go bigger. Go to Venice, Go to New York. It’s an unsustainable type of growth that doesn’t often work for artists.”
So for six days a week, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., the two artists create unique portraits together in their nicely lit studio, capturing moments and expressions of happiness. Especially when the portraits are placed together on the wall, there is a sense that each snapshot distills in it that childlike wonder for life.
What the duo are also finding out quickly is that seven-by-seven inch portraits might seem small, but they add up quickly. So far, 7000 Reasons has already paid for itself. Within the first few weeks of announcing the project through Facebook and Instagram exclusively, Magyar and Saiz have been able to pay the remaining rent on their studio until July and for all of their materials. As they ready themselves to send out the first dried batches, they are excited to be sending some across the world, to locales as far as France, Australia and Bhutan.
How to Get One
As their website explains, there are at least 7000 reasons for making these. “To be a goofball, to feel interconnected, to stay grounded, to radiate brightness” are some of their reasons, and you might have your own reason for wanting one.
Anyone with $143 can commission a portrait and the process is fairly simple. You’ll have to submit your payment first, after which you’ll receive a prompt to email the team with one to three photos of yourself or a photo of the item you want to be painted. On the 7000 Reasons website, there are clear instructions and examples for submitting the photographs. One of the main parameters for submitting a photo of a person is that the expression must fall into the category of playful, goofy, happy or any other optimistic emotion— they will return your photos and ask for more if it’s too serious. There is no limit on the number of portraits commissioned per person.
Keep up with the project on Instagram and see how many they’ve painted as they update their website.
All photography by Amanda Piela, unless otherwise noted.