Profile: Drawing Deep
Caricature artist Mark Siermaczeski wants to look beyond your likeness
Mark Gregory Siermaczeski sits at his drawing booth at Las Vegas’ Largest Mixer, a business networking expo held at Texas Station. He is surrounded by a few key tools: an interactive drawing tablet, a printer, an interactive pen, and a flatscreen TV. He wears a magenta button-up, pointy white snakeskin boots, and ripped acid-washed jeans folded at his ankles to reveal his polka dot socks.
In front of him sits Liz Killackey. She is a part-time real-estate agent in Las Vegas, a recent ovarian-cancer survivor, and an art school dropout who’s looking for a fresh start in life. Siermaczeski asks her to place her hand on her heart. She appears intrigued but perplexed. Then he asks the question he asks each person he illustrates: “In this moment, if you felt completely free, you could be or do anything, what would that be for you?”
She stares at the ceiling, measuring her options. “I’d be doing more artsy things, like painting,” she says. “I really love cooking, too.”
Clearly, Siermaczeski (Seer-ma-chess-key) is not your typical carnival caricaturist. He calls himself a “theracaturist,” a hybrid of a therapist and caricature artist, though minus the actual psychology degrees. “I’m not intending to make fun of people’s appearances,” he says. “I think people are often fearful of being ridiculed when drawn.”
As a kid in the mining town of Riondel, British Columbia, Siermaczeski began drawing vintage airplanes on yellow typing pads. In 1993, at age 22, he was admitted into the animation program at the Vancouver Film School by simply drawing on a sticky note at the registrar’s office. He subsequently worked on Ned’s Newt, an animated show on Canadian TV, and his artwork is featured in a 2001 book, Yes! Quotable Quotes and Flagrant Fluff, and in a 2019 book, Unstoppable: Stories of Change Makers Who Dare to Make a Difference. He moved to Las Vegas last year.
His art was deeply shaped by his relationship with his father. “My father didn’t understand what I did,” Siermaczeski says. “He always had a look of shame and regret when I talked about my art.” He often drew birthday cards for his father, who remained unemotional every time his son handed him one. “I wanted to be seen by him,” Siermaczeski says. “I tried to show him what I could do.”
In 1998, Siermaczeski, then 28, brought his art tools to the hospital in British Columbia where his father lay dying from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He began drawing the patients in beds next to his father. “I drew a picture of a patient who liked golf, with a giant turd as his caddy. The patient had an impacted bowel,” Siermaczeski says with a laugh. “The patient was just lying there crying, choking on his hospital hose, and laughing.” As the room filled with laughter, Siermaczeski remembers, his dad’s eyes went from shame to wonder. For the first time he seemed to understand that his son’s art had value. His father died a year later, but that day shaped Siermaczeski’s approach to art and his sense of purpose. By 2016, he’d coined the term “theracature.”
Now, 21 years later, Siermaczeski, has drawn in more than 100 cities, and travels throughout Canada, Europe, and the U.S. for private parties, corporate events, conferences, and trade shows. His intention: Turn a mundane interaction into something meaningful. “People who have just met him will break down into tears and hug him and say that he completely shifted their frame of thinking,” says Nikki Roe, a client who met him at an event in San Diego.
At Texas Station, Siermaczeski is surrounded by curious onlookers. Finished, he turns the monitor to reveal his work to his subject. Her jaw drops. On the screen is a joyous Liz Killackey in a mid-century modern kitchen, with one hand stirring a pot of food and the other painting on a canvas. She appears in charge of her life. She appears empowered. As onlookers wander off, Killackey’s face still radiates. “I’ve never gotten a caricature done before. It’s refreshing ... for someone to ask that kind of question. It was eye-opening.”
“To feel heard and seen is a powerful thing,” Siermaczeski says as he packs up. “It can be very transformative.”