By Jim Wright, Correspondent
The artist from Upsala stood by the acclaimed King of Country Music, George Strait, looking at his just unveiled portrait of Strait — created largely of repurposed materials.
“Awesome job,” the international star said. That artwork is now the cover for Strait’s just released album, “Cold Beer Conversation.”
It’s made out of scraps of this and that and junk.
For Wayne Brezinka, an artist since his school days in Upsala, 1975 to 1987, that is the stuff his dreams are made of. He himself is a repurposed graphic artist, who attended Staples Technical College for commercial art and worked in that field for a few years.
He is a small town boy who went to the big city, Nashville, Tenn., because ultimately he wanted to create album covers for recording artists, with whatever he found laying around.
“I did not want to look back someday and wish I had done it,” Brezinka said about chasing that dream.
“I’m a big fan of music of all kinds, so I thought what better way than to marry the two,” he said.
His art and music got married in Nashville, with congratulations since then coming from many star musicians who have been pleased by Brezinka’s creations for them — mostly from the most unusual materials.
They include album covers for Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam, MOE, Jars of Clay, The Carter Family (Johnny and June Carter Cash family) and many other notables, as well as work like a recent promotional tour poster for Allison Krause and Robert Plant,
His parents, Dan and Kathy Brezinka, still reside near Upsala. He credits them with helping him get on the road to success — the road to Nashville.
His parents are artists too, he said.
“My dad does amazing woodwork, including beautifully crafted, mind blowing, furniture pieces, almost as if it were effortless,” Brezinka said, “And my mom creates extremely detailed, really beautiful quilts.”
Their son is doing all right too, for a junk collector. He finds much of the material used in his creations at yard sales and junk shops or just laying around on the ground.
“I’ve become quite a pack rat,” Brezinka said with a laugh.
He now has a unique portrait of Abraham Lincoln being seen by millions of visitors in the Ford Theatre in Washington, D.C., and a 5-foot-tall portrait of Bob Dylan currently on loan to the Tennessee State Museum, and millions of album covers in music stores and homes around the world — just some of his success — all done with this and that, he found somewhere or was given to use.
“First, people seeing my exhibits stand back like usual,” Brezinka said. “But they tend to end up studying the work very closely.” That would be because they are reading scraps of old newspapers, handwritten notes, ticket stubs, noticing belt buckles, medallions, beer bottle caps and, well, whatever the artist happened upon that he saw as appropriate for the subtle collage of each creation.
The recognition he is earning is not so subtle.
“I’ve been fortunate to have had my artwork commissioned by and featured in the Washington Post, the New York Times, on book covers and in magazines, in addition to the album covers,” Brezinka said.
“Another highlight was when former Vice President Al Gore, in 2014, bought an original work from me, a portrait of civil rights activist John Seigenthaler,” he said. “That was a big moment for my career and for me personally.”
Nevertheless, he made it clear that his greatest success and strength is his family and faith.
“My beautiful wife Staci and I have three children,” he said. Staci is from Golden, Colo.
Parental pride moved him to add, “Our 8-year-old son Andrew is very artistic, currently working in origami, drawing and painting. Our son Zach, 14, is a very gifted drummer who is quickly learning to play the guitar really well and our daughter Abigail, 17, plays the cello and creates beautiful sounds and melodies.”
The strength of his Christian faith has been vital to his creations. For example, when asked by the family of a hometown friend, Rob Sobiech, to do one of his unique portraits, “I felt especially challenged,” Brezinka said.
The portrait was to be of his friend’s son, Zach, who died May 20, 2013, after a courageous battle with bone cancer. Zach, a talented 18-year-old musician, wrote a farewell song, called “Clouds.” It became an Internet sensation and Clouds rose to the top of the music charts.
“About a year after Zach passed away, Laura Sobiech saw the portrait of Lincoln at the Ford Theatre,” Brezinka said. “She saw the sorrow and determination portrayed in Lincoln’s eyes. She said she hoped I could show the soulfulness of her son’s eyes, while creating his portrait from cherished mementos Zach had collected in a box over the years.”
“I felt honored by the trust,” Brezinka said, “I prayed and just had to believe it would come together. I did not want the portrait to end up with them thinking it doesn’t look like Zach.”
“I never got to meet Zach,” said Brezinka. “I had photographs and his family’s memories, and we kept in touch, (Nashville to Stillwater, Minn.) while I was working; and I prayed.”
To recreate those soulful eyes, Brezinka said he used bits and pieces of Zach’s keepsakes, including photographs, letters from his girlfriend and from a young fan, and a colorful sock his mother found in the box, among other precious objects entrusted to the artist.
“He nailed it,” Laura Sobiech said, emphasizing how impressed she was with the artist’s ability to portray Zach’s eyes.
“After I sent her a photo of the finished portrait, she told me she cried for two days,” the artist said. “I wanted it to be that powerful.”
“Speaking of powerful,” he said, “you should see the many YouTube videos, including 3,500 people in the Mall of America, honoring Zach by singing the farewell song he wrote, Clouds. He left a great legacy.”
Brezinka’s artistic legacy is growing rapidly now also. People can see why and how by visiting his website, www.brezinkadesign.com, face book.com/brezinkadesign or just by Googling Wayne Brezinka’s name.
The man from the small town is in the news, big time.