By Annette Hinkle
India, Burma, Kenya, Italy — those are just a few of the many places where artist Marc Dalessio has painted on location. Mr. Dalessio, a plein air painter and portraitist who lives in Croatia with his wife, Tina, brings an international flavor of the world to his work.
And often when he’s on location these days, he finds he’s not alone.
“There is a plein air movement and a lot of painters working in plein air,” he says. “Now when I travel to places, I can find people online and go painting with them and find where to get a good sandwich.”
Mr. Dalessio and his wife are currently in Sag Harbor where a solo show of his work goes on view this weekend at the Grenning Gallery. Mr. Dalessio has a long history with the gallery and has been to the East End many times before, which of course means that he has also struck out with his canvas and easel to paint the surrounding area.
“The light here is very different from what I’m used to,” says Mr. Dalessio. “It’s salmon sunsets and a lot more humidity in the air that changes the way the light works, which is always interesting to see and is something new.”
The East End is also much more lush and green than the drier European landscapes he’s been painting as of late and it’s filled with marshes, inlets and hidden waterways which Mr. Dalessio has discovered over the years.
“I’ve been coming here for 15 years and I have favorite spots,” he admits. “I painted only on the bay side for first six years and didn’t know the ocean side existed. I find the bay side is more interesting for subject matter. It’s different from anything I’ve seen.”
That’s quite a statement from an artist who has seen quite a lot of the world. A native of California, Mr. Dalessio spent much of his childhood in the Fiji Islands and returned to the West Coast to study art and biology at the University of California at Santa Cruz. It was there that he first fell in love with painting.
“California has a big plein air painting scene. I began following the California impressionist track,” he explains. “I also studied biology in university because I didn’t think art was viable a career. Then I realized biology wasn’t either.”
Fortunately, the art track has panned out nicely for Mr. Dalessio and it seems that the biology has come in handy as well, philosophically, if not literally.
“The biologist is nature studying itself — we study ourselves,” he explains. “I realized it’s a much older movement and goes back to the Renaissance in which man revering the natural world was God revering himself.”
“I think the artist is nature worshipping itself,” he adds. “I think it’s a wonderful way to be creative and celebrate nature. We’re facing climate change and learning we’re not really the masters of nature we thought we were. This observation and humility is a reflection of our understanding and need to preserve and respect what’s around us.”
Much of Mr. Dalessio’s artistic philosophy and style comes from the training he received after college when he moved to Florence, Italy in the early ‘90s and studied at Charles H. Cecil Studios, a traditional painting atelier with a direct lineage to the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and painter Jean-Léon Gérôme. The focus at the atelier is on realism and the training embraces a rigorous drawing and painting curriculum similar to that of 19th-century European academies.
Ironically, though this type of realism was developed in Europe, it was Americans, like Charles H. Cecil, who brought the form back to Europe in the late 20th century. It’s also been primarily American artists who have embraced the style — though Mr. Dalessio, who teaches the technique himself, finds that’s changing.
“This is basically a European training kept alive in America for last 100 years. The new generation is wondering why it’s so hard to learn to paint, so more are now looking for this education,” he notes. “My classes are filling up quickly with both Europeans and Americans.”
The basis of the technique is learning to draw well and the philosophy is that anyone can be taught to do so once they understand the fundamentals and the methodology (and put in the time, of course). Mr. Dalessio notes that even modern artistes are finding this foundation valuable for their contemporary style.
While the training largely takes place in a studio setting where the conditions and lighting can be controlled, as an artist, Mr. Dalessio still has the soul of a plein air impressionist and he much prefers subjecting himself and his compositions to the whims and vagaries of the natural world while painting.
“Outside the light is changing the whole time, things are moving, cars come and go,” he says. “To me it’s really helpful. A lot of times studio painters become frustrated working outside. But if you’re used to it, there’s a joy in having things change. If you get better, you change with them.”
Sometimes Mr. Dalessio will even work the changing conditions into his art. If he’s painting a clock tower in which two sides are visible, for example, he’ll put a different time on each side — one indicating when he started the painting, the other when he finished. Because Mr. Dalessio paints all over the world, sometimes the views he chooses are intimately familiar ones, landscapes close to home which he has seen countless times, while other times he’s working in a totally new environment where nothing is familiar, from the weather and the light to the vegetation and the topography.
For him, both types of locations are equally inspiring.
“On one hand, going somewhere new with a fresh eye is amazing and wonderful if you’ve never seen it before,” he explains. “On the other hand, there’s something really nice in looking for beauty where you didn’t notice it before. Just like a poet, a painter can show people beauty where they didn’t see it before.”
“I think the best art is very local in the sense that you’re painting things you know very well and no one notices the beauty until you show it to them,” he adds. “My job is to be sensitive to that and find beauty there.”
“I try not to have a style,” he says. “I try to let nature express itself through me without imposing my own ego or personality. It’s not imposing myself on nature, but trying to understand it and respect it.”
Marc Dalessio’s Solo Show runs July 16 to August 2, 2015 at the Grenning Gallery, 17 Washington Street, Sag Harbor. The opening reception for the show is this Saturday, July 18 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. For more information, visit grenninggallery.com.