My recent work documents my interest in mixed-media painting. The work originates from my experiences in Italy and Sicily that began in 2001 when I started teaching in the Mediterranean Studies Program at the University of Messina. Although I had visited my birthplace and Italy three times prior, the yearly trips that followed afforded me the opportunity to study and visit cities such as Giardini Naxos, Taormina, Piazza Amerina, Agrigento, Erice, Monreale, Palermo, and Cefalù. In these towns I saw 3,000 years of many conquering civilizations' influences on art, architecture, and artifacts leaving a permanent cultural and artistic imprint on my homeland. I was fascinated, and upon my return home, immediately threw myself into reading everything I could find in an effort to gain a more thorough understanding of Sicily, its people, their customs, art, and their literature. Simply stated, after some 46 years of living in America, I began to understand Sicily, my roots, my heritage, and myself.
The following year, I found myself in Messina during one of several Italian election cycles and was fascinated by the many political posters displayed on old-weathered walls and corrugated metal partitions. I was immediately drawn to them, their color, message, visual poetry, and the conflation of the past and present visual experience they offered. I began to peel sections of older posters and photographed ones I could not reach. I began using these pieces of torn posters along with acrylic paint to create collages on small wooden panels and experimented with decollage (a French term meaning to unglue, rip or tear) while intermixing fragments of the posters with thin-set mortar and acrylic paint on a larger scale. Gradually, the work began to take on the look and feel of the walls and architectural fragments I experienced during my stays in Sicily. This process of layering, both additive and subtractive, became a visual metaphor for the many civilizations that had occupied Sicily as well as for the passage of time.
In January of 2012, I was granted a Sabbatical Leave by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth to conduct historical research on the work and life of Antoni Tàpies, a Catalan painter, who died at the age of 88 on February 6, 2012. I began by reading about him and in the summer of 2012, I visited the Tàpies Foundation in Barcelona where I was able to continue my research and view many examples of his work. Upon my return to the states, I began a period of intense exploration and experimentation with materials such as collage, thin-set mortar, stove ash, masonry sand, marble dust, shellac, roofing tar, bandages, burlap, cardboard, and acrylic paint. I allowed myself the freedom to follow my gut and push the work in new directions, working more spontaneously than ever and mixing incompatible materials like acrylic and shellac or acrylic and roofing tar. I did many small studies and experiments while at the same time working on larger pieces. I researched ancient signs and symbols, mathematical calculations, and my native Sicilian dialect in an attempt to understand and find symbols, marks, and a formal language that would be meaningful to me. This search led me to revisit and read about the work of artists such as Brassaii, Aaron Siskin, Alberto Burri and EstebanVincente. In particular, the photographs of Parisian walls and graffiti taken by Brassaii in the 30’s had a notable impact on the early work of Tàpies as well as that of Miró and Picasso. Further, my continued interest in walls, political posters, decollage, and the theme of time is something several of these artists pursued themselves during their lifetimes.
About this time, I reread Ignazio Silone’s book Fontamara (1930), translated as Bitter Spring, a riveting book written by the author while in exile in Switzerland. The book details the life of the Cafone, or peasants, of a fictional town in the Marsia region of the Abruzzo in Italy at the onset of Fascist rule. The book tells the story of the hardships and immense daily struggles of a small group of honest, humble, and respectful people who work the land and who toil each day to draw a meager living while suffering great injustices and insults at the hands of greedy landlords, the government, and finally, violence at the hands of Fascist thugs. The Cafone rebel after one of them, Beraldo Viera, martyrs himself for their cause in a prison cell in Rome. The Cafone print a small newspaper entitled Che Fare? (What is to be done?) in which they draw attention to their condition and hardships. Silone’s book refocused my attention on the powerful theme of struggle, the pain that is so often a part of life and the many similarities between events of his time and ours. Through a process that is more intuitive, spontaneous, and experimental, this work is my attempt to respond to and record those experiences, be they visual, emotional or other, that continue to have a profound impact on me as a painter and man living in a world of contradictions, beauty, brutality, and violence.