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July 19 - Nov 17, 2006

Painting Up The Town

The Art of Armondo Dellasanta and John Gambino

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Memory Impressions
The Armondo Dellasanta Way
By Maria Cocchiarelli

Armondo Dellasanta records memories of places that have meaning to him. Relentlessly searching for his truth as a painter, he began by taking snap shots of places he found visually appealing. Dellasanta is not a plein air painter who usually observes a subject be it a cityscape or landscape in its natural setting. While the plein air artist’s purpose is to record changing light and atmospheric perspective, Dellasanta’s interests are internal. Using his photographs as a starting point, he begins to recreate the scene as he remembers it. Layering with a palette knife an impasto of expressionistic color, Dellasanta revives the philosophy of Robert Henri (1865-1929) a great painter and theoretician who influenced generations of artists. Inspired by European master realists: Manet, Hals, and Goya, he helped to define a truly American Art. Henri celebrated the everyday world in his paintings and writings due to his dissatisfaction with the prevailing Academic art system that codified what was acceptable subject matter. Alleys and street scenes were not even close to what would be permitted in one’s paintings during that time. A group of artists who were extremely moved by Henri is known as the Ashcan School or the Eight. These American artists besides Henri include John Sloan, George Luks, William Glackens, Everett Shinn, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast and Arthur B. Davies. They shared Henri’s interest in “memory impressions” of the world.

Dellasanta’s memory impressions are unique in that the Ashcan School and followers of Henri were intent on limiting their palette as a change from the highly modulated one of the French Impressionists. As an original, Dellasanta has embraced the use of a rich palette that accentuates his expressionistic tendencies.

In the paintings on view at the Italian American Museum from July 19th through September 22, 2006, views of neighborhoods, tourists’ attractions and everyday scenes may be familiar to our audience. Perhaps not recognizable directly, but the scene may express a feeling for a time gone by. Dellasanta, who is about to turn 90 this year, may be painting at this very moment in his studio in Binghamton. His production of paintings and dry point etchings disclose a glimpse into Dellasanta’s memories of places perhaps now forgotten. Buses, street signs, and in some cases buildings have changed, and so has that moment in time in New York City that signified a simpler life, innocence and the possibility of communication between total strangers.

My first encounter with Dellasanta’s paintings inspired a visceral reaction. At once, I felt this was the work of an original humanist painter who possessed a unique color sense and admiration for the past. Utrillo came to mind when encountering “The Upper East Side,” due to his similar portrayal of perspective that moves the viewer quickly into the picture plane and may be considered not exactly precise. But it was “The Third Avenue El” which evoked the memory of the graphic work of John Sloan. The depth of emotion that the AMrmemoonrdyo I mDperlelasssiaonntas Way by Maria Cocchiarelli 4 Dellasanta is able to suggest within the viewer may have something to do with a lament for an “El” train replaced by the subway or the simply written signage advertising a shave.

Much has been written about Armondo Dellasanta and many art exhibitions devoted to his work. The public’s reaction has been positive. As a self-trained artist his understanding of what makes a challenging composition is outstanding. His use of color is imaginative. However, his paintings’ meaning extends beyond art for art’s sake or a studied formalism. What Dellasanta facilitates is a response in the viewer that cuts through thought. Our feelings are touched, our memories revealed, and a sense that life can be worth recording no matter the circumstance is upheld. In a way, illustrating what John Sloan said many years ago, “I believe in humanism—the artist as a spectator of life.”

“Times Square, circa 1960,” attracted my interest immensely. As I grew up in Brooklyn during that era, Sunday was family day in Manhattan. My memories of: visual chaos, and beauty, the contents of vignettes of billboards, architecture, kinesthetic glimpses of driving over the Brooklyn Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge are etched within my memory. From the moment my family left our stoop in Brooklyn, the sense of adventure and creative possibilities began to unfold. The “Penny Arcade,” Radio City Music Hall, the “Automat” (now defunct), are all memories of a time forgotten by most. Today these memories are made concrete by a great Italian American through the legacy of his work.

In “The Third Avenue El, circa 1941,” Dellasanta’s palette turns dark, perhaps expressing a more serious side of the artist. The barber shop sign with a clumsily written 25 (cent) price tag again allows us to reminisce and possibly crave for a time when New York City was affordable for the working class. Armondo Dellesanta’s work pulls at our emotional center while flexing our thought processes. Presently, his work is being revisited through the efforts of Louise K. Burke who has had the opportunity to help exhibit his work to a wider audience. For this the Italian American Museum is very grateful. We would also like to thank Jane St. Lifer for bringing this artist to our attention, and Carol Gordon Wood for her research and art historical insight into this important artist. Maria Cocchiarelli is the Curator of Collections at the Italian American Museum in New York City.

Maria Cocchiarelli is the Curator of Collections at the Italian American Museum in New York City. Most recently, she curated Antonio Petracca: Identity Theft (IAM 2006).

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