I’m continuing to feature an ongoing series of interviews and studio visits with other makers/artisans/crafters. If you would like to introduce yourself and your work to a growing Deep Craft network, I invite you to visit the PARTICIPATE page of this site. Meanwhile, allow me to introduce you to Anthony Bevilacqua, painter/gilder.
DC: Describe what you do.
AB: Iâ€™m a painter and a gilder and a conservator of gilded objects.
DC: Was there a childhood experience that you believe influenced you later or led you in a particular direction regarding craft or making?
AB: My parents subscribed to a Time/Life series ofÂ books; Masters of Art– I donâ€™t remember the actual series titleâ€”I was about nine or ten—they would come once a month and I wasÂ amazed, and can remember the sense of anticipation of a new one comingâ€¦..I wasÂ particularly attached to Leonardo drawings, and Durer prints.
DC: What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to gain proficiency with a material or set of skills? Did you have a â€˜breakthroughâ€™ moment?
AB: It was not necessarily overcomingâ€”but sort of learning to ignoreâ€”a whole world of more or less well intentioned, but very sloppily reasoned theories , of What Art Is!
IÂ havenâ€™t had anything I would call a breakthrough moment regarding proficiencyâ€”and Iâ€™m still becoming aware that paintings and their framing is a profoundly counterintuitive art in itself.
DC: Do you have any superstitions connected with making?Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â AB: It may be a superstitious thing to procrastinate, but Iâ€™m not sure.
DC: What comes first when you are making â€“ formal constraints, functional parameters, a gesture, etc.?
AB: The first thing is probably what you call formal: the desire to realize in fact what you have only imagined. With painting, the start is often some ambiguous theme that I find meaningful, and the realization takes place in a sort of trance. In gilding and conservation work the goal is concrete and itâ€™s achieved relatively methodically.
DC: What attracts you to a certain handmade thing?
AB: I donâ€™t know!
DC: Do you have a favorite thing?
AB: After much consideration, I realize that I really donâ€™t: I have many.
DC: Do you have a favorite tool? Why?
AB: I have several very large old sable hair round watercolor brushes that perform beautifully for gilding, and I got them at a going out of business sale for a ridiculously low price. Some people get attached to things they spent a lot on, I love bargains Iâ€™ve found. But knowing now how important this type of brush is, I wouldnâ€™t hesitate to pay the real price if I lost these.
DC: What is the favorite thing youâ€™ve ever made? Why?
AB: I have some favorites nowâ€”but ask me next month and the answer will have changed.
DC: When making something where is your concentration- on the present activity or on its desired result, or something else altogether?
AB: When I was younger, I was what they call â€œin the momentâ€, when drawing from life, especially. As time went on, I noticed that I was sometimes almost daydreaming but that too sort of faded away, and now Iâ€™m often just vaguely impatient; kind of not unpleasantly irritible or aggitated; desiring to see the thing Iâ€™ve planned. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s always necessary to concentrate in a self conscious way on the work at handâ€”I donâ€™t mean to imply that Iâ€™m half asleepâ€”only that my focus doesnâ€™t accept being forced.
DC: Is there any material, tool or technique that really intrigues you that youâ€™ve never gotten around to learning? Whatâ€™s interesting to you about this?
AB: Iâ€™ve taken woodcarving workshops and find it terribly attractive but am aware of how overwhelmingly time consuming it would be to arrive at anything like proficiency. And expensive, with all the chiselsâ€¦.
My wife and I go to Rome as much as we can, and ever since first going ten years ago, I have been bowled over by the ancient marbles that areÂ all over the place, architectural fragments as well as figuresâ€”I have no real desire to be a sculptor, but I look upon those things as being the final word in many ways. What a shame we canâ€™t see what they were like when painted and gildedâ€¦people are fond of saying how gaudy they must have been, brightly painted etc; but itâ€™s obvious to me there must have been serious artistry in the coloring, just as there was in the carving. Why should we imagine a lack of subtlety?
DC: Where do you find inspiration? How does this come out in the work?
AB: As I said, ancient art is invariably inspiring to me, –unfortunately so, because I find that under that influence I often do terrible workâ€”what Iâ€™m capable of is so poor in comparison. Seeing American 19th C. landscapes that have retained their original frames, also gives me a deep desire to work; they have a slightly formulaic, but exceedingly skillful decorativenessâ€”and this is not something I turn my nose up at. The frames themselves are often a revelation.
DC: Where do you see yourself in relation to the current trends towards sustainability, DIY, craft, etc.? How has your relationship to these things changed over time?
AB: The availability ofÂ lots of very obscure and esoteric materials related to my art and craft is aÂ marvelâ€”vendors both old and new go to a great deal of trouble bringing these things to a rather miniscule marketplace. At the same time, I often want or need to make things from the ground up, or at least as much as possible. In consumer culture, being a craftsman can sometimes feel like just a complicated way of saying â€œ I know where to buy the right things!â€ Thatâ€™s a shame, sort of, if it means that the depth of your knowledge is limited to your supply sources.
DC: Where do you place yourself in relation to a craft tradition or heritage? Could you talk a bit about your primary influences related to craft?
AB: I have what IÂ like to describe as an unconditional love for The Italian Baroque. Not just the over-the topness of it, not the shockingness of it; not the Glam Baroqueâ€”I love the germ of the neoclassical in itâ€”the enormous fund of skill brought to bear on giving form to artâ€”
Hawthorne has a chapter in The Marble Faun called, I think â€œ on the emptiness of picture galleriesâ€ in which he criticizes the apparent emptiness, the lack of truly deep or earnest religious or ethical feeling in The Baroque. The modern viewer tends to simply disparage the politics: Aristocrats and Cardinals arenâ€™t our ideal of patrons, and we feel certain we donâ€™t share their Ideals of culture. If contemporary artists take it at all as a steppingstone for new work, itâ€™s inevitably for the apparent perversenessâ€¦.
And thereâ€™s a type of painter now,whose earnest desire to embody authoritative skill under the heading of Classical, yields the driest, most wooden absence of skillâ€¦.the antithesis of The Baroque.
And yet to my mind, the marriage of the arts and crafts in which each is a fully participating partner occurs there.
DC: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in craft/making?
AB: Iâ€™d be glad to give specific input to any questions or problems someone might be having, but in general, actually, Iâ€™ve been so bad at taking good advice Iâ€™ve gotten, that Iâ€™m embarassed to offer any of my own.