He paints, he draws, and he tells a great story. Agave Magazine's Artist-in-Residence Tony Luciani's Castel di Capestrano graces the front cover of the latest issue of Agave Magazine, so this week we've asked him to give us the inside scoop on the cover image and some more of his favourite works.
The Italian series
I spent three years in Italy. That is to say, one year, three separate times. Although I was born in Toronto to a family of Italian immigrants, I didn't go to Europe until my Ontario College of Art post-graduate year, in 1977-78. That year was spent mostly in Florence, studying the Renaissance masters. Needless to say, I was awestruck. I went back on my own in 1980-81, and again in 1984-84. Those two times, however, I lived in and painted the tiny village of Carrufo, high up the mountains of Abruzzo, where my family came from. It was during those extended visits that I came to maturity as an artist.
The study for Castel di Capestrano was done on a very narrow bridge in the village of Capestrano. I had to move my easel every time someone in a car wanted to cross over. It was this view I desired, and no car or wide mule-pulled cart full of kindling was going to dissuade me.
To me, Campo Santo di Carrufo is a spiritual painting. The mounds of earth on the graves roll like swells in the ocean, and the cypress trees remind me of souls reaching up to the heavens from their peaceful resting places. I kept the imagery in this work rather vague and purposefully flat, not wanting to lend this experience any sense of reality. My grandfather is buried there.
This series of charcoal drawings began as an observation over a period of two years. My excursions to the local township dump while I was living in the country were always interesting for me, and on every occasion, I would eye the mounds of scrap rubber piled high up against the expansive sky. This is where tires came to die.
One day I showed up with no waste to deposit; instead I had a sketchbook and camera. I asked the site attendant if it was okay with him if I spent some serious time with the mountain of rubber across the way. I explained that I was an artist and I thought the tires were beautiful. He took a step back and said, under his breath, "ahhhh... okay... sure."
All day long as I sketched, photographed and touched the tires, I could see the attendant, a hundred feet away at his booth, talkng to everyone who showed up to discard their garbage, pointing to me and bringing his other hand up to the side of his head, rotating an extended finger.
I heard the laughing... but I got four great drawings.
I had driven many times past a myriad of huge, grey-white turbines strewn across the open farmland outside Shelburne, Ontario. And then one day, taking a road less traveled, I came upon a small, steepled country church and saw the turbines from a new perspective. The scene, it seemed to me, was about the juxtaposition of modernity and antiquity; of furious, curious technological 'progress' and the resulting demise of acres of fertile farmland. In the century-old graveyard beside the church, the crosses on the tombstones echoed the shapes of the turbine blades, reminding me, ridiculously, of the tune from the last scene of the Monty Python film Life of Brian: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.
A few years ago a major tornado came through the town where I live. The twister destroyed buildings, uprooted large trees, toppled hydro poles, and devastated parts of the surrounding countryside. Although its path was immense, there was only one casualty; sadly, it was a young boy from this area.
I began a painting with thoughts of capturing the tornado's aftermath. I was helping a friend clean up the debris on her farm the day after the storm and witnessed a scene of tranquility as well as destruction. The sky was the most beautiful blue, yet catastrophe was all around us. And so I painted with that thought in mind. I titled it Aftermath.
With the completed work now on my easel, I was entirely unsatisfied. I took one step back, and a deep breath in, and I knew I had to change it. It just looked like a fallen-down barn, a victim of abandonment.
My painted sky changed. The peaceful blue that had so captivated me became a dark, swirling array of greyish-black clouds. I inserted the twister in the distance. I brushed in sticks and lumber flying in every direction, and made the barn explode with power.
Now I had a painting I was happy with. I called it Twister.
I was in Halifax, Nova Scotia a few years ago and was overwhelmed by the depth of emotion I felt while standing at Pier 21, overlooking the water. This, I thought, is where my father, traveling on his own from Italy at the age of 40, first set foot on Canadian soil in 1950. I imagined the magnitude of his journey. He arrived at one end of this vast country, unable to speak English, and from there made his way to Alberta to work in the coal mines so that he could make enough money to get settled and bring over his wife and children. It took four long years.
My mother and my two brothers, Domenico and Terenzio, arrived at the same Pier 21 in November 1954. I wanted to document this achievement and used an old photo of the actual ship my family sailed on, the Saturnia, as my model. I also used typical Halifax homes of the time to represent what the city must have looked like back then.
When they arrived, my mom and brothers boarded a train from Halifax to Toronto, where they met up with my dad and settled in the city. I was born 17 months later.
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