“I think in terms of beauty that the human figure is one of the most complex and beautiful things that exists in the natural world,” said Sulfur Studio’s newest artist-in-residency Marisa Lilje, phoning from the kitchen of her busy Savannah home.

“I’m cooking dinner so I apologize for what you might hear,” she reported laughing, “but I think humans are just so beautiful, and portraiture elevates the sitter in a way that nothing else does. You can take anyone from anywhere and put them in a portrait and suddenly you’re looking at them in a different way, or a different light and seeing them in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise. Live models bring so much to a sitting or a portrait or figure drawing just by the fact that they’re human, and there is a long history before their existence.”

Get Savannah arts and culture news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and Dine newsletters

Lilje, an Ohio native and Savannah local for over a decade now obtained a drawing and printmaking degree from Bowling Green University as well as an MFA in drawing from the New York Academy of Art before settling in Savannah. After finishing an intensive three-week oil painting course at Studio Escalier in France, Lilje returned home with a new medium to explore her favorite form.

“I’ve always been interested in figurative art especially representational art from observation instead of conceptual art if that makes sense," she said. "Within the residency and throughout my work in general, I like to work from real life and live models, but that’s not always possible, so I work from photo if necessary, but always from observation, so the pieces are based on what I’m seeing rather than something conceptual, or expressionistic, or minimal, or abstract, not to say that that there’s no concept at all, but it starts with observed reality and nature and then moves from there.”

“Grad school was great because it focused on the figure in all aspects, anatomy, value, and composition, so I’ve always been working with that in mind whether I’m drawing in graphite or charcoal. I feel like I learned a lot at Studio Escalier, so now I’ve sort of been exploring the figure in oil paint, and that’s what led me to the residency. So, for the residency, I’ll have some drawings just because I can’t help myself, but it will mostly be oil paints.”

While Lilje’s paintings present an amazingly lifelike image, it’s the artists' deep appreciation for her subjects as individuals that shines through her work.

“One of the things I want to do in this residency is strictly use models from Savannah which isn’t difficult because I live here in Savannah, but the notion that by putting people in a portrait, or even just their nose or something, that you’re creating a different sort of dialogue with that person that you don’t normally," she added. "So it’s sort of about revering the beauty of the people in town for one, and then people in general as well, taking a moment to understand that there’s beauty in all forms of humans, whether they’re from Savannah or elsewhere.”

Lilje will be working in the studio every Saturday from 12 – 5 p.m. throughout the residency for those who are interested in catching the process, and will also host a paired up portrait drawing workshop on Nov 30, where community members can try their own hand at making some portrait-based art.