John DeVlieger transforms the plain walls of area homes and businesses into extraordinary masterpieces.
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As John DeVlieger approaches the hostess stand at Primavera Pizza Kitchen—a bank-turned-Italian-eatery in Bryn Mawr—owner and staff greet him as if he were a beloved cousin. Upstairs, he’s seated beneath what looks like a solid marble lion’s-head fountain that, through some oversight of bankerly restraint, had been installed in the original building. In fact, it’s a two-dimensional image applied to the wall through a process known as trompe l’œil, which uses shading, perspective and color to give viewers the impression that what they’re seeing has depth.
DeVlieger’s work covers nearly every inch of Primavera’s main dining room. Painted nearly 15 years ago, it would be the first of many mural commissions for a guy whose odds of becoming a professional artist were once pretty small.
“I was actually a business major at St. Joe’s,” says DeVlieger. “My father wouldn’t pay for art school—he wouldn’t even consider it.”
As such, DeVlieger allowed himself only one art class as an undergraduate. “The guys said, ‘You’ve really got talent,’ so I wound up putting together a portfolio,” he recalls.
DeVlieger took night classes at what is now University of the Arts, landing a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Even then, he favored larger formats—and as his popularity increased, so did his prices. “It’s this scale at which your whole periphery is encompassed,” says DeVlieger. “I remember saying, ‘This is for me. I’m having my cake and eating it, too.’”
Eventually, a designer approached him with the opportunity to tailor his uncanny grasp of depth-of-field and perspective to a client’s vision and the shape of specific rooms. “It became very fashionable,” says DeVlieger. “I’ve been really fortunate that the tide of fashion has been in my favor.”
And among the fashionable, word travels. That has resulted in a growing number of Main Line commissions—both commercial and residential. Primavera in Bryn Mawr begat work for a second location in Downingtown, this time featuring his own rendering of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” from the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel.
Homeowners, meanwhile, came to look upon DeVlieger’s work as a way to bring into their homes original pieces of art that could be personalized in a variety of ways. Many murals are actually painted on canvas in a studio, then applied to their designated spots upon completion, allowing clients to take them along if they move later.