Airbrush Action June 2002


Vargas Awards 2002
By Jack Romig

2002 marks the eighth year that Airbrush Action has recognized the stars of airbrush painting with the Vargas Awards. This year, as always, our honorees are far more than just long term practitioners of the craft. They are, in fact, those most special talents whose efforts have actually defined - and redefined - the possibilities of airbrush.


Marc Gabbana, Audrey Flack, Dennis Mukai,
Luis Royo, Jack Radetsky join the
distinguished and elite list of
Vargas Award winners


Marc Gabbana has spent much of his life using airbrush (and any other suitable tools) to propagate a gaggle of inventive, amusing, and often alarming creatures. His latest and perhaps most prodigious creation is a Hollywood career - something even more extraordinary for his refusal to abandon his home in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Gabbana's paintings, known for sly wit and technical virtuosity, have the look of outstanding sci-fi illustrations: relentless detail, a punchy and provocative use of line and perspective, meticulous attention to surface. In fact, Gabbana has seldom accepted commissions from science fiction publishers. A near-obsessive concern over the increasingly dicey distinction between flesh and machine means that these are pictures at a very special exhibition - a gallery of monsters, half animal freaks, cyborgs, and things that go bump in the mind.

This work, though produced by his own satisfaction, has paid handsome dividends; it's been key to his penetration of the first rank of moviemaking.

Except that he was born in France and lived there until age 11, Gabbana's background is definitely small town. A gifted artist since his youth in Windsor, he dumped and an architectural scholarship to draw and paint at Detroit's Center for Creative Studies. Like many Vargas winners, he was favored upon graduation with all the advertising illustration he could handle - but it wasn't enough.

"Soon I was getting stale," he says. "everything I did was in the service of someone else's agenda."

Ad business - art for game manufacturers, automakers and other big-name consumer and industrial clients paid well and helped keep him current on the airbrush technique so central to his independent painting.

Whatever the project, he has always sprayed for smooth color gradation or for something special like spatter effects.

When he got introduced at George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic in the mid 90's, the strong story element of his personal work was at least as important as his technical abilities. The whole package helped him win a place as conceptual artist on the live action science fiction feature Spawn. Once established, he became a hot property for some of the highest profile film projects of recent years. In rapid succession, he signed for Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace and Episode Two: Attack of the Clones, as well as the upcoming Matrix sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and Matrix 3. While unable to discuss specifics, Gabbana says he is in line for several more major assignments.

Gabbana thrives in the high-pressure, high-reward atmosphere of the movie concept artist - he packs up for California, settles in for the duration, and hammers out hundreds of drawings and directions a week. When it's over, he withdraws to the relative peace of Windsor for some much needed R&R.

There's one more river to cross in his career. His ultimate ambition is to make his own feature film, and he feels he's moving closer to realizing that dream. "I'm building more and more contacts, growing my reputation in films." he says. "The screen is a new canvas for me - a natural transition from illustration board. Someday I'll have the opportunity to delve deeper.