Terminal 3 at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport Sebastiao Pereira’s portraits

Seven of Ahwatukee artist Sebastiao Pereira’s portraits are hanging along a wall of Terminal 3 at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

Thousands of people have seen the work of Sebastiao Pereira.

They can’t help but notice it.

The Ahwatukee artist’s work has been displayed on a corridor wall at Terminal 3 at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport since last November — and it has been so popular that the airport museum staff is keeping it up until this November instead of taking it down three months ago as they originally had planned.

Pereira’s exhibit consists of seven 4-foot-by-5-foot portraits that he collectively calls “Making Faces.”

Using photographs of his subjects, he ends up creating each portrait with thousands of one-inch square pieces of paper and paint samples.

He said his process begins by photographing the subject. Then, using photo editing software, he increases the image contrast to see the various tones and values in the image. 

By drawing a grid on the reference image and the art canvas, he can focus on one square at a time, systematically interpreting the image with scraps of paper. 

Arranged in a mosaic fashion, the portraits are composed with paper cut and torn from Art in America magazines and color samples from a home improvement store. 

“They are portraits of people I know,” he said, noting one is a chef who cooks for seniors, another a caregiver in a nursing home and another is a self-taught engineer. Others are university or college professors and high school teachers. 

“They are fellow artists and former students. They are my heroes. They are my friends. I love to see them, side by side, sharing the same wall space,” Pereira said. 

Pereira, 69, has lived in Ahwatukee since 1992.

The Brazilian native holds a degree from Pontificia Universidade Catolica de Minas Gerais in Brazil in education, Portuguese and English. 

That background prompted the Peace Corps to hire him to teach Portuguese and Brazilian culture to the volunteers down in Brazil between 1976-1979. 

In 1981, a pair of his students, Elden and Bethel Winkle of Mesa, offered to sponsor his art education at Arizona State University.

“In my first semester at ASU, ASU granted me a retroactive scholarship,” he said, and that enabled him to earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in fine arts.

“At this point in my life I do not depend on the sales of my art,” he said. “I was an art educator for many years. My work until recently was mostly in watercolor and I have an extensive list of local, state, national and international group exhibitions.”

His work was the subject of a cover story in International Artist Magazine, an Australian publication distributed worldwide. 

He also has a large collection of fine arts photographs but has not yet entered them into a public exhibition.

His work came to the attention of the airport museum through a friend and fellow artist, Clottee Hammons, whom he describes as “my non-official agent and my guardian angel.”

“She knocked on the doors of the Modified Arts gallery on Roosevelt Avenue and they offered me a show there. Garry Martelli, the Airport Museum curator, attended the opening reception and offered me the show at the airport.”

The portraits have been in the making for over 10 years and the museum exhibit represents only a fraction of some 30 pieces.

“The portraits are not photographs,” Pereira stressed. “They are paper collages on board or canvas. They are made out of thousands of little pieces of papers. Each of the colored ones is made out of 2,880 one-inch-square pieces of paper individually cut.”

Was that a challenge?

“Yes,” he replied. “It requires a lot of patience and precision.”

He also uses paint samples from home improvement stores — and once was thrown out when he brought a five-gallon plastic bag to take a bunch to his home studio.

 Pereira was humbled to learn that the Airport Museum staff wants his show hanging in October, when a group of airport museum curators from around the country will be touring Sky Harbor’s works.

“I hope my show will take off from there,” said Pereira, whose work is included in a book titled “Watercolor: Masters and Legends” by Bettsy Dillard Stroud. He also recently won the people’s choice award sponsored by Focus Brasil Arizona.

Pereira makes some of his work available for sale. People can contact him at thebluebrush23@gmail.com.

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