How They See

By Piotr Jastrzębski

How They See - Issue #43 with Marco Domeniconi: "I have studied a lot at times when I should have acted"

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How They See

May 22 · Issue #43 · View online

How They See will help you to meet artists from all over the globe and understand their perception of art.

ON VACATION

Published weekly on Saturday.


Marco Domeniconi is frequently asked how he become artists. For me it is really hard to avoid this type of conversation, no matter how cliché it sounds. The path of every individual artist I have talked with gives a lot of insights and lessons, which otherwise can’t be learnt. I think I did my best trying to refrain from this question but inevitably my mind was drifting around it.
And indeed at the end I realised that our conversation is not about art itself but any other topics connected with becoming and being the artist.
You can find more about Marco Domeniconi on Instagram or his website.

When I was doing the research for our conversation, I discovered that you are sharing a name with a football player from San Marino. I don’t think it is an accident, as football, by many, is considered as a form of art.
I did not know him. I admit I am not much of a football fan, but I don’t think it is art. Let me compare football and ballet. They both require remarkable athleticism and a very high degree of skill, but why do artists set out to create their work? A dancer’s intent is to create an arrangement of sounds, colors, and movements in a manner that will affect the senses and emotions of viewers. The same is true of a musician or a painter. It differs for every artist, but artists aim to affect people or a culture. On the other hand, when Messi opens a hole in a defense his sole intent is to score a goal and to win a match. His focus is victory. If I take this idea to an extreme, I can argue that a football fixture is a mostly peaceful metaphor for war and its only objective is victory over the other tribe. Then, it follows that Julius Caesar and Napoleon were artists. I am not saying one intent is nobler than the other. It is just that intent define art. I think Messi and the dancer are gifted athletes and skilled entertainers, but only the dancer is also an artist.
On your website I have discovered both: painting and photographs. Are you a painter or photographer? How would you describe yourself?
Whether I have taken an actual photograph or quickly sketched blocks of light, all of my work began with a clear image and morphed into the art you see. I started out as a photographer and, at first, it was all about recording my experiences. Reality was fleeting and I longed to preserve it so that I could experience it again. This was for just me not others to see. The desire to share it came much later. At the same time, I also discovered how liberating the flow of paint could be. So, I too morphed into something different. I would describe myself as a wanderer and visual artist.
Marco Domeniconi, Christopher Street Pier, Acrylic on canvas - 60 x 24 in. triptych
Marco Domeniconi, Christopher Street Pier, Acrylic on canvas - 60 x 24 in. triptych
At first, I thought this question was balancing on a thin line between being trivial or a cliche. However, when I was looking at your paintings, I couldn’t help but notice they have something in common with photos. Especially the landscapes.
I am quite familiar with the line. When I take a moment in time and labor to erase most reality while preserving its most basic reality, my inner dialogue is debating how to balance on that very line between emotive and meh. 
I think the allure of abstractions is that they speak to each viewer in a different way, forming faces or landscapes in the brushstrokes or colors. We know this is more due to evolution than anything else. Our survival depends on detecting patterns and recognizing familiar objects; thus, our brain has been conditioned to anticipate specific designs. We instinctively search for and see patterns in random data; usually faces, such as Jesus on a Cheeto, or a man on the moon. Within my work, and especially with Cityscapes, this is a common occurrence. Once viewers are aware that a painting relates to the city, they easily find buildings within the color blocks. Yet, for example, “72nd Street” did not originate from a building while “Terra Ferma” did.
“Often, I would look at the class catalogue and dream about joining an art course. Maybe even get an art degree. Every time lunch ended, I found myself back in the usual classroom. Dreams forgotten.” I will risk a general statement. Why, in your opinion, for most of our lives we are trying to become someone that doesn’t fit us (including myself). I mean, very rarely I meet or learn about people who are deeply connected with their inner selves and know from the beginning who they would like to become. What is important: they are relentless in making this dream happen.
You touch on thoughts I visit often. One is ambition. I have a childhood friend who knew he was a musician very early on, he worked relentlessly at it, and he succeeded. He is still deeply connected to that self and quite happy with the outcome. Then there is self-awareness. In my view, this is a long-term lesson as we are bound to grow and change. You say people knowing “who” they’d like to become, but I suggest you mean “what”. Our society tends to focus more on the what (doctor, electrician, artist) than the who (ethics and morals). I think this is backward. It is like building a home without knowing where the foundations are. Maybe this is why we end up in a place that does not fit us. Maybe my musician friend and some of the people you mention were just lucky and built their homes in the right place by accident.
Having a dream, being self-aware, having ambition… these are all things that will likely change during a lifetime. I believe one answer to your question is because of confidence and plan continuation bias. The latter is the tendency of people to continue with an original plan that is no longer viable due to changing conditions. It is most frequently discussed in relation to accidents and failures. I believe we show the same bias with careers, relationships, and life in general. We form a plan (often this plan is actually given to us by our parents or our culture) and, with or without ambition, move forward. The longer we work on the plan, the more we invest, the more we ignore signals about the changing conditions. Few of us will stop and consider the need for a change of plan. This is when confidence comes in. If few were to pause and determine we should change course, even fewer will have the confidence to embrace change. When we lack confidence, we fear and freeze in place.
In my case, life in research did fit me until it no longer did. I really loved (still do) that phase of my life, but conditions changed and I had to change course to continue to improve who I am. I was fortunate to have an opportunity and to find the confidence to take the step.
Marco Domeniconi, Balcony Seats to the City Acrylic on canvas - 20 x 24 in.
Marco Domeniconi, Balcony Seats to the City Acrylic on canvas - 20 x 24 in.
Do you think your PhD in neuroscience or experience in teaching at college plays a role in your art?
If you mean does some skill from my research days transfer into my artwork, the answer is not really. The chemistry may help a little in the darkroom. The experience however plays a role, and the mindset is similar. A PhD, whether in neuro or any other discipline, is advanced training in problem solving. In the lab, one moves forward from a question and experiments to find an answer. In the studio, one moves from an idea and experiments to communicate it. In both cases, what sits between the beginning and the end is basically a blank canvas and a set of problems. The details of the work are clearly very different, but the approach for me is the same: deconstruct the system, find its basic principle, and use it to define an answer.
When you were sitting among students with their projects and bright colored canvases, do you remember what attracted you the most?
It was their freedom to express emotions in a language I could understand. In research, I felt accomplished, I spoke the language, and I fulfilled a large set of my needs. I also had something that is difficult to obtain: the freedom to fail. The emotional experience was however missing. Of course, there was joy and sorrow, but it was a function of the project not the project itself. Those students showed me a different experience and I found it irresistible.
Have you finally signed up for art classes or art school?
No. I have studied a lot at times when I should have acted. If you are good in class, there is a tendency to hide there and delay action. Nothing wrong with it but I realized I did not need to become a professional student. It simply was not what I needed at this point.
During your journey to art, what did you find the most challenging and what helped you to overcome those obstacle(s)?
The lack of a network was definitely a hurdle. Going to school would have helped me find one. I discovered that having a trusted outlet to discuss our ideas, get advice, and receive an unbiased critique is key. This is true in any field and it is really not an easy thing to develop if you spend time locked up alone in a studio. Not sure if I did overcome it yet but engaging the art community via shows and fairs has been helpful.
Marco Domeniconi, Marina di Carrara Acrylic on cotton canvas - 46 x 60 in
Marco Domeniconi, Marina di Carrara Acrylic on cotton canvas - 46 x 60 in
Being a full-time artist sounds very enticing and romantic, but at the end of the day it turns into daily work. Can you tell me about your professional everyday life as an artist and what are its pros and cons?
It is daily work for sure. I rather like that. While I tend to have a clear schedule separating studio and family lives, what happens in the studio is quite fluid. I spend a lot of time absorbing information – reading, walking, experiencing – and jotting down thoughts. I start every day in the same way: I walk in the studio, I prepare tea, and I look around. It is a routine for me to slow down, become mindful. I may go a long while without touching a brush or a camera. The actual painting or shooting happens suddenly in a burst. I do not have a timetable. I see it a bit like a kettle left on simmer that suddenly whistles.
The biggest pro is a singular focus. I straddled two professions for a while when still doing research. The jumping between two worlds was very rough on me and I believe my performance was affected. Rather, I know my performance was affected. A split mind is not very efficient. Once I fully committed to art, I found less distraction and less pressure to work within allotted timeframes. I could also justify getting a studio. However, it is not all roses. A different pressure rises from uncertainty and it is a big con. I am producing work and creating inventory without really knowing when or if it will sell. Much easier having a steady income.
I haven’t asked this question for a long time: how are you dealing with burnout or creative block?
My process looks like a constant moving in and out of the creative block; although, once the burst happen, it is unusual for it to fizzle. While answering your question about my research days, I recalled the thought-blocks I experienced in the lab. I learned then to walk away from the question and approach it from a different point of view. Same applies today. If I am stuck, I walk away and devote myself to different tasks. I find that manual tasks – like stretching canvas or loading film cassettes – work best for clearing my mind. Eventually, I go back to the original idea and look for a different approach. If anything, I feel like I have too many ideas and too little time.
Among your works, apart from abstract paintings, there are plenty of architecture or landscape sketches. What in your opinion is easier: portrait the reality as it is or distort it?
When you say capturing reality, I think photography. The moment already exists in its final form, and the task is to record it faithfully. In my view, this requires perfect timing; anything even slightly off will alter the moment. Conversely, abstraction looks at something that is not there. At least not in its final form. It allows more freedom and can be a lot more forgiving. Errors can bring out unexpected yet welcome turns. I do not find this easy, but abstracting is less difficult.
Marco Domeniconi, Yellow, Acrylic, gouache and Flashe on cotton canvas - 12 x 12 in.
Marco Domeniconi, Yellow, Acrylic, gouache and Flashe on cotton canvas - 12 x 12 in.
Can you give some advice to any self-taught artist or designer?
Talk about balancing on a thin line between being trivial or a cliché. The usual suspects work quite well. You know… be yourself, copy the masters, be your worst critic, be consistent, etc. I also find helpful to keep very complete, detailed records of everything I do. Images work, but it is hard to replicate certain things without written records - color mixing is a good example. I think the greatest disadvantage of being self-taught is the lack of a network. Best advice I would offer is to get actively involved in the art community.
What is your favorite color?
Rosso corsa (RGB 212,0,0) and then anything else close to pure red.
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Have a great week!
Piotr
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