Artist Michael Provenza is having a moment. Inside his small studio atop a popular downtown restaurant in historic Perrysburg, Provenza has just put the finishing touches on seven original oil paintings he was asked to create for the upcoming Disney D23 Expo 2022 taking place Sept. 9-11 in Anaheim, CA.
The event is part of Disney’s multi-faceted 100th anniversary celebration this year and will feature approximately two dozen fine artists from around the country, including Provenza, who have created original pieces and limited edition signed prints that pay homage to classic Disney characters.
Provenza, who lives with his wife Shelley and 15-year-old son Myles in a 1920s Perrysburg bungalow, is a full-time artist who paints nearly every day in his local studio, creating some five original oil paintings in a typical month. He also offers painting tutorials via videos on his website, michaelprovenza.com, where he currently has a two-part class on how to paint clouds and is working on broadening his curriculum. Provenza also volunteers his talents to his church and frequently donates original paintings to local schools and other non-profits for fundraisers.
His artistic technique has been described as “surreal pointillism,” which helps Provenza create an interactive type of experience, drawing viewers into the beauty of nature through his incredible mastery of light and the multi-dimensionality of his work. Viewers don’t simply look at a Michael Provenza painting in a two-dimensional sense, there is a feeling they could step into it, taking a path surrounded by funky trees, clouds, hills, plants, flowers and atmospheric light.
Provenza, who has a broad smile, sly sense of humor and humble nature, has created work since the 1990s that has been shown in some of the most respected galleries around the world and featured in corporate installations and public murals. Among others, his accolades include a 2019 honorable mention in the “Artist of the Year” category from the Circle Foundation for the Arts (CFA), an international arts platform, for his painting “Bright Morning Star.” He also earned a “Best of Show” designation earlier in his career from what is now the SiliCon comic con convention in San Jose, CA. “My paintings are an exploration of a world that comes from my imagination with pieces of reality sprinkled in,” Provenza says. “I look to give the viewer the feeling of walking into an environment that is happy, peaceful, and full of enchantment and color. They have the freedom to explore it and make it their own. Just follow the path.”
After some in the art world mentioned to Provenza that the fantasy style and energy of his signature work would marry well with Disney characters and themes, he was encouraged to pursue, and ultimately earned in 2018, a license that sanctioned him to feature Disney in his work.
For D23, Provenza was commissioned months ago by Disney art collectors to create three of his seven original oils—Sorcerer Mickey, the Skeleton Dance from Silly Symphonies, and Mary Poppins—and they have been sold, but limited edition signed prints are expected to be available. His remaining pieces—Steamboat Willie, Grave Digger from the Haunted Mansion, a Silly Symphonies compilation, and Mickey and the Beanstalk, which also includes Goofy and Donald Duck—will be offered for sale as original oil paintings and limited-edition prints. Provenza and other artists at D23 will be signing prints in person and holding live painting demonstrations each day of the expo.
Following D23, Provenza will also have originals offered at an invitation-only Disney All-Artist Showcase Oct. 6-9 in Orlando, which will be held in conjunction with the Promenade Gallery there. This show features only original work from a cadre of Disney licensed artists and pieces are expected to sell in the tens of thousands of dollars. “I am incredibly grateful to have been selected to participate in the celebration of Disney’s 100 years on the planet with my art playing a part in it,” Provenza says. “Disney is all about creating happiness, filling the world with light and telling stories that inspire people, creating a world of imagination. In many ways, I believe we are both trying achieve the same things. It’s a relationship I value and I congratulate Disney on their centennial.” It is a busy fall season for Provenza with a calendar chock full of rare opportunities to gain exposure for his work not only in conjunction with Disney, but also for his personal signature work, which continues to gain traction in galleries from Japan to Hawaii and Los Angeles to Orlando. While it may seem as if his success came all at once, like most true talents, it was hard-fought over decades.
A Born Artist
Provenza was born and raised in San Jose, CA, and as a child was always creating art in one form or another, often trying his hand at drawing popular cartoon characters, and then moving into other art forms and various media throughout elementary and high school.
His art was particularly encouraged by his mother, Kay, and his grandfather, Thomas Giambalvo, who resided in Chicago and was a talented oil painter and commercial artist. It was his grandfather who had the most profound impact on the young Provenza, sparking his interest in working with oil paint and even in commercial art as Provenza experimented with logo creation and other commercial work over the years. But it was at Westmont High School in Campbell, CA, where Provenza started to get noticed for his talent. His work was accepted into a district-level competition where he earned first prize. Yet, while art was clearly emerging as a driving force in his life, he was not sure if art could be a money-making career.
Even with these lingering doubts, Provenza moved forward after high school to attend West Valley College in Saratoga, CA, ultimately earning a degree in fine art. To support himself, Provenza wielded a different kind of brush, painting commercial signs and retail windows throughout the Bay Area. Weekdays were for what he had to do, and weekends were for what he wanted to do, as Provenza spent all of his time outside of work on oil painting, often inspired by the work of Eyvind Earle, an author and artist who in the early 1950s joined Walt Disney studios as a background painter for films such “Lady and the Tramp” and the highly acclaimed “Sleeping Beauty,” which Earle’s work helped give an unprecedented magical quality. In those days, Provenza frequently jumped in his late ‘80s white Dodge Ram van, which he adorned with a mural, and started showing his work at area art festivals and galleries up and down the Bay Area, often taking home ribbons and various honors for his landscape paintings and sometimes making the van his sleeping quarters.
Taking a New Direction
At one show in 1988 Provenza got noticed for his work in an unexpected way when he was approached by a woman representing a company in the emerging video game industry, EPYX of Redwood City, CA. With his uniquely styled environments and landscapes, Provenza’s artistry seemed ideal as backdrops and scenes for video games. He jumped at the chance to join the company, especially as it seemed his path in life could mirror that of his inspiration, Eyvind Earle, but in a modern, digital way.
After a time at EPYX, Provenza spent much of the next 20 years working for leaders in the industry including Crystal Dynamics, SEGA, Capcom and Sony. He created art and animation for Xbox, Play Station, 3DO, and SEGA games including “The Horde,” “Mad Dash Racing,” and “Jurassic Park SEGA CD.”
He also played a part in creating the first motion capture 3D baseball video game. In many ways, the work of Provenza and his colleagues was groundbreaking as the industry was in its infancy. Like other start-ups, the video game business demanded a 24-7 work commitment, but Provenza, now married and with a young son, Nick, was still passionate about pursuing his own art, which was evolving due to the influence of his work in video games. “The 3D animation of my video game work sharpened my ability to bring enhanced dimensionality to my paintings,” Provenza says. “That experience also improved how I shaped light and created a sense of movement—a path forward—in the environments of my paintings,” he adds.
Life’s Journey-Full Circle
While his video game career and signature art progressed well, his marriage dissolved, and Provenza’s former wife and son relocated from California to Northwest Ohio. Committed to being a present father, Provenza followed, leaving California and his video game career behind.
The inspiration for his work comes from nature as well as his faith. “I envision the most compelling natural environment with trees, water, botanicals and remarkable skies and translate it through my paintings,” he says. “God is always present in my work, which is created to help people visualize themselves in this world and feel invited to take the path forward in a way that is personal for each individual.”
One of the galleries that features Provenza’s work is the Tabora Gallery in Waikiki, Hawaii, owned by Roy Tabora, who is recognized as the world’s premier seascape artist. Tabora says that Provenza’s artwork “gets me inspired to be reflective, grateful and to be in awe…it is very humbling and exciting at the same time.”
According to Mary Ann Lewis, owner of Lewis Galleries in Simi Valley, CA, who was among those who suggested Provenza’s collaboration with Disney, “Michael’s art brings us into his magical world…a place where we can all dream of and imagine being.”
Even with the newfound attention lately, Provenza does not take anything for granted, and knows that the future will be one where his work must continue to evolve while staying true to his core. “I’m fortunate to have my art and my life intersect in so many ways, and to do what I love,” he says. “I am grateful for my family, friends, mentors and all the opportunities I’ve been given as an artist. For the future, it’s like one famous Disney Pixar character says, ‘To infinity and beyond!’”