STAMFORD, Conn. -- A Stamford police officer is carving out a successful career as a painter.
Michael Wagner, 55, who will be celebrating his 20th year as a Stamford Police officer this summer, is also a gifted artist who is currently showing his work in the Art About Town exhibit in Westport. On his website, his paintings show a strong popular culture influence with many paintings of artists such as The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
"I'm not big on landscape or still life, although I do them. I really like trying to capture the true spirit of a person through their likeness," Wagner said.
He arrived in Stamford after earning a degree from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1980. Although he went to study art, he said he took only one painting class and just eked out a pass.
"I only took one painting class in college, and I didn't do well in it," Wagner said, explaining that he and the instructor differed strongly on their artistic approaches. "I barely passed that class."
He switched to graphic design, which is how he arrived in late 1980 to work for GE in Fairfield in advertising.
After a few years, he went freelance for about a year when Stamford-based Champion International hired him for its creative services department. He was there for about 10 years and ended up as manager of the department.
He left shortly before Champion was purchased by International Paper.
Wagner got to know the city's streets while running, which played a role in becoming a police officer.
"It was something that always fascinated me," he said about a career with the police. "I took the Stamford test, and here it is 20 years later and I'm still doing it."
In the past 10 years he has become serious about his painting. Wagner said he has drawn on others to grow as a painter and pointed to a German art instructor, Sebastian Kruger, as an important influence.
"You pick up techniques by watching other people. That has really catapulted what I have done almost at hyper-speed," Wagner said. "I don't labor over paintings any more. I can do paintings in two weeks before it would take me a month-and-a-half."
However, he said the careers are related. As a police officer, Wagner carefully watches people's faces to see whether they are telling the truth. He said that is similar to the close attention he pays to faces when doing portraits.
"People who know me as an artist have a hard time thinking of me as a police officer and people who know me as a police officer have a hard time thinking of me as an artist," he said.
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