Two years ago, Todd Mrozinski started to paint a photo of his father on the one-year anniversary of his death. He started to paint from a black and white photo, but became frustrated with the results, and laid down on the couch.
A few minutes later, his wife, Renee Bebeau, walked into the room and asked if she could cover the canvas and the palette so the paint would not dry up and go to waste. Mrozinski agreed and took a nap.
"When I woke up I noticed the beautiful warm light coming in through the front door, looked outside and saw an amazing tree shadow. I took the dry canvas off the painting wall, laid the canvas on the ground and traced the tree shadow directly onto the canvas. With the warmth of the sun on my back, I felt my dad's presence profoundly and realized that he was showing himself in a new way," says Mrozinksi.
This was the first painting of many of his "Shadow Series" for which he traces a model's face, back of the head or a profile onto a canvas and then uses oil-based in different combinations of purple, orange and green paint to create an abstract – yet hauntingly accurate – silhouette.
For the past three months, Mrozinski has focused on family, friends and fellow artists drinking beverages in a series of shadow paintings called "Libations!"
"One night at dusk I noticed my shadow while drinking a glass of water in the kitchen," says Mrozinski. "Next I painted my wife and daughter drinking and realized that I was wishing them nourishment and refreshment and that through painting this moment in time, I could offer that wish to others. It is wonderful to look at the paintings and see the way people drink, how they hold the glass or bottle, if they sip or slam."
Some days, Mrozinski paints one shadow painting. Other days he paints three. Somedays, he doesn't paint any. As for how many he intends to paint, well, only the shadows know that.
"I might paint 1,000; I might never paint one again," he says. "Although, I will probably keep going because I’m having fun."
The paintings currently cover much of the wall space in his studio, called Studio 2C, which he shares with Bebeau, who is also an artist. The couple's studio is located in The Nut Factory, a warehouse in Riverwest occupied by artist studios and other local businesses.
A few of the shadow portraits are of Bebeau, some are of Mrozinski’s 7-year-old daughter and the rest are friends and artists including Della Wells, Anja Notanja Sieger, Jeff Redmond, William Zuback, Michael Kautzer, Ted Brusabardis, Erika Block, Melissa Dorn Richards, Matt and Robin Luther, Stacy Williams Ng, Jessica Laub, Stephanie Bartz, Frank Juarez, Ryan Laessig and more.
Many of the subjects he spontaneously traces when they are visiting his studio, but sometimes he specifically asks a person through a Facebook message to pose. (And sometimes, a writer shows up to interview him about his work and she is spontaneously traced as well. Ahem.)
"Sometimes I’ll see someone out and think ‘I would love to trace that person’s silhouette,’" says Mrozinski.
The shadow portraits and "Libations!" series will be on display at Cafe Lulu, 2265 S. Howell Ave., Friday, Oct. 17. Selections from Mrozinski’s "Window and Clothing" series will be shown at the Hide House, 2615 S. Greeley St., for Bay View Gallery Night on Friday, Sept. 26. The Bouquet Shadow series is currently on view at Juniper 61, 6030 W. North Ave.
Mrozinski, 39, grew up in Fond du Lac, graduated from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD) and studied painting in New York. Both Mrozinski and Bebeau are represented by Woodman/Shimko Gallery in Palm Springs, Calif.
Mrozinski also takes commissions for shadow paintings. One is $200, two are $175 each or three or more are $150 each. He also paints family and individual portraits and offers painting classes in his and Bebeau’s studio.
"A lot of people have never sat down and looked at their shadow before," says Morzonski. "And when they see it, so close up, they’re like, ‘wow.’"
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.