Mike Savlen's Suggestion

Mike Savlen's Suggestion

Paint Hard Before You Die

  • By: Bob White
  • Photography by: Bob White
Technicolor Fishy

I enjoy mike savlen’s paintings for the same reasons I like the man: The artist and his work are bold, honest and colorful.

Savlen grew up near the water, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and began to fish with his father at the age of two. Since then, he says, water and fish have fascinated him. His interest in painting began at about the same time, when he found a can of house paint in the trash and decided to re-paint the family car. “I guess,” Savlen says with a grin, “that my parents didn’t quite understand my artistic vision!”

There was never a doubt in Savlen’s mind that he’d become a painter. As a child, he was constantly in trouble at school for gazing out the window. “They called it daydreaming,” he says, “but in reality, I was breaking down compositions, mixing colors in my mind, and trying to figure out how to make simple scenes more interesting.”

There was no turning back, and today Savlen paints incessantly, dissecting the world around him in his mind and reassembling it on canvas, in hues that seem to make his work glow with an inner life. I get the distinct impression that Savlen could no more stop painting than stop breathing.

Few painters put so much of themselves into their work. Savlen expresses what he sees around him in a free and flowing manner, with all of his passion and energy. He paints fish in rich, vibrant colors with bright auras of vivacity. Savlen is fearless in his use of color, a quality that affects both astonishment and admiration in me. His style is so distinctive there’s no need to sign his paintings… they couldn’t possibly have been rendered by anyone else.

When I asked Savlen to describe his style, he hesitated, perhaps not wanting to be pigeonholed. “That’s a tough one,” he said, “it depends on the day.”

I laughed, and after a thoughtful moment he continued, “I guess if I had to nail it down, I’d describe it as, ‘contemporary impressionism.’ I really like to push colors and use thick paint that shows the chisel-like marks of my brushwork.”

The inspiration for Savlen’s work is drawn from the natural world around him. “The outdoors is my cathedral,” he says. “I have a visceral need to be in the woods, or on the water.”

Last summer, he and I spent a week on the water in Alaska, at Bristol Bay Lodge, where we painted and fished. It quickly became apparent to me that Savlen approaches his painting with the same enthusiasm as his fishing. He has a hunger for living in the moment, whether he’s holding a fly rod or a paintbrush.

The most difficult thing about being a painter, Savlen reports, is that he’s consumed by it. “I mean completely consumed,” he says. “I wake up thinking about painting and I often have trouble sleeping because I have a new idea, or can’t figure out a particular problem. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night because I have to paint. It’s kind of nuts and I’m not even sure it’s healthy, but I want to have a few paintings that I’m truly happy with before my time is up.”

There’s a sentence that popped into Savlen’s head one day while painting, and it’s never left him. “Art and life are a race against time, and one can only hope to be as good as on the day he dies.” He says this with a smile. “That kind of sums it up for me.”

Contributing editor Bob White is a writer, fine artist and fly-fishing guide; go to www.whitefishstudio.com