I was born in New York City in 1952. My family moved to Washington, D.C. about a year later and I grew up there, the second of four boys. My father, Peter DeAnna, was a painter, and naturally my brothers and I all drew and painted as kids. My mother, Grace is a talented watercolorist. In high school I began to think of art as a possible career.
I attended art school in Philadelphia, first at Philadelphia College of Art, then at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. There I studied with Ben Kamahira and Arthur DaCosta, among others. The school was split along stylistic lines, abstract and realistic, and I was in the realist camp. We read Henri’s “The Art Spirit” and looked at the Eakins in the Philadelphia Museum.
After graduating in 1974, I worked for several months at the Academy helping to store the collection for the renovation of the museum for the Bicentennial. It was a wonderful experience to see masterpieces of American art and be able to examine them very closely. At this time, Edward Hopper and George Bellows were my favorite artists.
After returning to D.C. in 1975, I got a job in the Motion Picture section of The Library of Congress. There I discovered that films and movie making were credible art forms with their own history. I worked with people who, like my family were engaged in culture: books, movies, music were all part of that mix. It was an article of faith that painting should express an artist’s vision and was not just visual “ furniture”. I took drawing classes at night at the Corcoran and went to Joe Shannon’s landscape seminars, painting along the C&O canal.
When my father died in 1980, life got a lot more serious. Painting began to be more important and more personal, and gradually I began to develop my own voice. This was a really difficult time; but difficult times are also times of growth.
In 1988, I moved to Brattleboro, Vermont, and began painting full time. There was a thriving and accessible art scene here when I arrived. In 1989, along with other local artists, I helped found The Windham Art Gallery. Organizing and participating in a figure drawing group, as well as exhibiting in a variety of shows, facilitated my growth as an artist. The gallery provided a place to exhibit my work without the pressure of making salable paintings, and the feedback I got from showing my work was invaluable.
During the nineties, I worked in all the usual realist genres - still life, figures, portraits, and landscapes. Vermont is for me a place where natural and man-made worlds meet, and that concept was the basis for much of my work. I began to exhibit my work in regional juried shows like the Stratton Arts Festival, and the Haystack Art on the Mountain Show. Prizes and sales were a great confidence builder, but I was never really comfortable with the atmosphere of these kinds of venues. In 1994, I had an opportunity to return to D.C. and be part of a three person show of figures and still lifes at the Georgetown Studio Gallery. It was a chance to show my teachers, and mentors how far my work had progressed, and their positive reactions were more important than any “prize” could be.
In 1995, I took a leave of absence from the Windham Art Gallery, which ended up lasting five years. I continued to run the weekly figure drawing group at the gallery. During this time I painted a series of windows, seen frontally, with the molding or wall as a border; often, a yellow shade is completely drawn down, rectangular shapes of lime green, yellow, orange and violet dominate the images. Though I exhibited many of these pieces at the Southern Vermont Art Center, in 1997 and the reception was positive, I became restless to return to more realistic idioms. My interest in representation never flagged; for me, it was always a question of finding subject matter that engaged my imagination, and that I could present in an original way.
I returned to the Windham Art Gallery in 2000. I exhibited paintings of my family vacationing in Maine. These studies of figures in landscape, with their emphasis on light and time of day were perhaps my first “time” paintings; though I was still trying to express a comfortable interaction between the figure and the environment- the impressionist dream of the marriage of time and place.
Several years ago I read Proust’s classic, In Search of Lost Time, and I was deeply struck by his insights into memory and temporal perception, that is, his attempt to “see” time. I felt a radical affinity with these ideas, and in 2006 I began experimenting with making time, not place, the basis of my painting. I exhibited these new paintings at W.A.G. and in Wash. D.C. at the Parker Gallery. The new works mostly involve figures seen at night, in cars or reflected in windows. The mood is anything but comfortable- the figures seem engaged with something they don’t quite understand. The diptych or montage formats emphasize a feeling of change and motion. In 2007 I showed a series of night cityscapes in a similar vein at Vermont Artisan Designs in Brattleboro. I exhibited new work at the Thorne- Sagendorph Regional Selections show in 2006 and again in 2008.
Experimenting with how to make images that express serial time, motion and change has been the breakthrough experience of my career. It’s the culmination of many years of work, in many styles and genres. In these pictures I feel that I am making an original contribution to the art of painting.
Every artist owes a debt of gratitude to those who came before and to his teachers, friends, and supporters. In this, I feel especially blessed; so much has been given to me. And while every artist is essentially self-taught, and the most difficult struggles are faced alone, I think the gift is returned in one’s work – giving it back completes the circle.