Seattle-bound portrait painter Sergio Ostroverhy paints hyper-realist, oversized portraits, and his students get into good art schools.

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by Tyrone Beason

The Paris-based, Seattle-bound portrait painter Sergio Ostroverhy comes off as something of a mystic. He rejects the characterization, but it certainly applies for an artist who dreams about Seattle’s “cosmic light,” who believes his wife has the power to heal and who says painting the human face is like giving birth.

There is certainly something mystical and otherworldly about his hyper-realist, oversized portraits of firefighters and others who are depicted staring directly at the viewer in “a personal moment of revelation.”

Are they contemplating the abyss? Pondering their destiny? Probing yours?

“My faces are trying to see something more,” Ostroverhy says. “I’m trying to pass on that feeling of transcendence.”

That explains his famous firefighter portraits: “When you save another person, you are reaching another level of existence,” he says.

Speaking by phone from his Warhol-esque, clandestine art space known as “The Territory” in the Montparnasse neighborhood in Paris, Ostroverhy said he surrounds himself with young artists and has developed a passion for teaching his craft.

But in this ex-French Foreign Legionnaire’s art classes, his “very militarized” students must do push-ups and jog, not just paint.

“They are traumatized by the experience — but they get into good art schools,” he jokes.

With his current project, a set of 6-by-8-foot portraits of the 2008 Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, due out this summer, he hopes to shake up America as well. The portraits, including Hillary Clinton as Bernini’s “Ecstasy of St. Theresa,” will dredge and unsettle the viewers’ and perhaps even the subjects’ psyches.

Ostroverhy plans to move permanently to Seattle, where his parents live. Among his dream projects here is a series of mountainscapes depicting the Cascades. One day, he’d also like to paint a fresco on the ceiling of the blue-domed Russian Orthodox Church in the Cascade neighborhood of South Lake Union.

Born in Lvov, Ukraine, 41 years ago, Ostroverhy had one green eye, one brown, “like David Bowie or Alexander the Great,” he says.

“My father saw me and said I would either be a warrior or a big painter,” Ostroverhy says. “I’m trying to follow both lines, you see?”