Before Vera Wang became a national symbol for creativity and success, she was a talented and spirited fashion editor for Vogue Magazine. In 1981 she began featuring a new face in her glamorous editorial pages. Today artist Wanakee Pugh credits Ms. Wang for giving her a tremendous start that launched a successful twenty-year modeling career. Known in the 80’s simply as “Wanakee” she graced the covers of the country’s top fashion magazines and was regularly featured in publications such as Vogue, Self, Essence and Italian Bazaar. Some of her retail clients included Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales, and Macy’s while beauty clients such as Avon, Revlon and Clairol used her image for television and print campaigns.
Throughout her 18-year career, she worked daily along side the era’s top models and was privileged to be photographed by the worlds best image makers, including Andy Warhol, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Rico Puhlman, and Francesco Scavullo. As an industry groundbreaker, she was interviewed by talk show icons Merv Griffin, Geraldo Rivera and Regis Philbin.
Throughout her world travels, Wanakee was exposed to the world of art. As a long-time resident of New York City, she took full advantage of the city’s rich artistic culture. She routinely visited her favorite spot– the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she would view the museum as her classroom, and keen observation as her instructor. She began deciphering each work as a series of lines, shapes, shadows, high¬lights, and colors. From Rembrandt to Fragonard, the pattern began to resonate from within her.
For this self-taught artist, the defining moment that fueled her first trip to the art store occurred one rainy Tuesday afternoon. An exhibit of the spectacular Hudson River School artists compelled her to sit silently in the great hall, observing the grandeur through tears.
Shortly after this moving experience, with art new supplies in hand, she began by executing studies from the Hudson River School masters. She quickly segued to original landscapes that beckoned the observer to take a closer step in. As momentum for painting increased, her appreciation for different styles also began to mount. The contemporary art that she once overlooked suddenly became a fitting way to express a true sense of well-roundedness.
Wanakee’s love of art, combined with her intuitive ability to create a beautiful environment, prompted her to offer art–by design. “One should never underestimate the power of art within a room. The impact can be subtle, yet profound. While it’s true that not everyone has the ability to paint a picture, everyone has the ability to convey an idea, and most people know what they’re looking for; even it they cannot find it. I endeavor to follow through with their vision through original art that is both individual and personal. I find that some of my clients will commission a painting purely for art’s sake; while others look to add impact to an interior space. I design art for both points of view.
As a custom artist, she paints many different styles, outfitting private residences and businesses throughout the country. “Someone once told me that I needed to find one ‘artistic voice,’ one ‘niche’–that my range was too broad. My clients have wide-ranging tastes, and I take great delight in accommodating such tastes. I feel certain artistic diversity is my niche, and my voice is clearly heard when exercising the freedom to transverse from one style to another. I find traditional old world charm and loose contemporary edginess equally as enjoyable to paint. Painting the same style each time I pick up a brush would be like putting on the same outfit every time I dress. I love the surprise of discovering something new and unexpected each time I walk away from a canvas.”