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Anthony Palumbo and Michael Pellettieri Retrospectives at The Art Students League of New York


The Art Students League of New York is celebrating the talents and dedication of two of its teachers with concurrent retrospectives during November 2002. Anthony Palumbo and Michael Pellettieri, who have taught generations of burgeoning painters and printmakers at the school, have their work displayed in the second-floor gallery of the League's historic building at 215 West 57th Street. A reception for the artists, their friends and students will be held in the gallery on November 12 from 6 to 8 PM. (left: Anthony Palumbo, Fisherman Under Attack, 2002, acrylic on canvas, 50 x 40 inches)

The exhibitions survey two very different bodies of work. Palumbo, who spent his early childhood in Italy, recalls vividly the experiences that stayed with him and influenced his paintings. The mystery and power of the Church, conveyed both through art and dramatic, colorful processions, inspired his own impulse to tell stories visually. Palumbo also cites the shocking posters advertising pulp fiction from horse-drawn wagons, commonplace in southern Italy of the 1920s. Finally, he acknowledges the impact of his grandfather's cavernous workshop where workers appeared dwarf-like as they assembled wine barrels that seemed like "giant rib cages."

The artist's family arrived in the United States in 1929. Palumbo was nine, old enough to sense the emotion in Depression-era headlines proclaiming uncertainty, panic and despair. Artists such as Thomas Hart Benton and Reginald Marsh, whose work reflected the heroic struggles of the common man, impressed him. He took art classes and served as an apprentice on mural projects with W.P.A. artists, many of them affiliated with the League, where he met many well-known artists. During World War II he served as a radio technician and also produced numerous cartoons of GI life for Army-based publications.

After the war, Palumbo enrolled both at the League and the New School for Social Research, studying with Reginald Marsh, Julian Levi, Gregorio Prestopino, Stuart Davis, Antonio Frasconi and others. Separately, he worked with Hans Hofmann and Burne Hogarth. Freelance illustration and cartooning for The Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Collier's magazine sustained him as he developed his art. During the 1950s he traveled to Mexico, working with Rico LeBrun and assisting Rufino Tamayo on a mural there. Back in New York, he established a studio on Fourteenth Street and began a productive period of teaching and painting. His paintings were included in exhibitions, including the Whitney Museum's annual presentation of contemporary work in 1960.

Soon after, a catastrophic studio fire brought Palumbo's momentum to a halt. He describes the ensuing years as filled with struggle and renewal. Recovery allowed for experimentation and growth, and the figure began to dominate his work. His paintings were exhibited and acquired by collectors, and he continued to find inspiration in his teaching activities at the League. The retrospective offers a window not only on Palumbo's artistic development but on the resilience of the creative spirit.


Anthony Palumbo's Artist Statement from the exhibition brochure reads:


I believe the essence of all visual expression begins its life through struggle of the sketch. Thoughts on my art melt into reflections on my life. They are inseparable. Without a connection to these supports, life is impossible. Painting is an obsession. Drawing is my anchor. I discovered early the power of visual imagery in reaching out to others. I am a private, stubborn man.
Three powerful influences as a child shaped my destiny as an artist. The Church, mysterious and threatening, fed my imagination to draw and act out expressive stories through early scribbles. Church art (not the great art one ties to the Renaissance but provincial, more primitive art) fired me up. Goya and the early German painter Grünewald intrigued me. These painters were spiritually inspiring with their magnetic, mystic convictions, raw storytelling emotions and techniques.
In addition, shocking pulp fiction of the late 1920s in southern Italy had great impact. Large garish posters on horse-drawn wagons loudly hawked books of scandals, love triangles, psychological aberrations: a gory mess not too different from flagellation and torturous effigies exhibited in our religious processions. I did not realize their lasting effect until I later faced the experiments of Surrealists like Magritte, de Chirico, Ernst. The drama of déjà vu hovers still. My grandfather's surreal workshop dwarfed me as I entered his world of building mammoth wine barrels resembling gigantic rib cages, with Lilliputian workers constructing or dismantling scattered ribs of wood waiting their turn for assembly. I found kinship with Piranesi's monumental vision. These unlocked floodgates to my imagination.
My family arrived in America in 1929 upon the heels of the Great Depression. I was nine. Though the situations were different, I related to emotions expressed in 1930s newspaper photographs, art and headlines shouting "bread lines," "uncertainty," "homelessness," "pending wars." These feelings spelled human struggle. If there ever was a time when life and art meshed, this was it. Reginald Marsh, Rico LeBrun, Thomas Hart Benton were heroes of power and social conscience. I, too, thought I could change the world with my art.
A devastating studio fire in the 1960s changed everything. I lost most of my drawings, paintings and sculpture. It was gut-wrenching. A new era opened up in 1968 when I began teaching at the League.
I am in constant flux. Each moment, thoughts change feelings, feelings change actions. Searching for one's identity never ends. How do you know yourself when daily bombardments of visual, verbal and tactical stimuli fill you, and it is the brush or charcoal which points the way to the creative process? Here, in experimenting -- the thrilling part of art -- is where discovery of one's self is possible.
I have struggled to develop my art, and it is most important to me that I share as mentor the awareness that "uniqueness lies in that area where the proverbial carrot dangles. Be aware of 'catching the carrot.' There the rut lies ready to trap the unaware."
An artist with a fermenting soul stands on fertile ground constantly vibrating with perpetual life at times bearing unpredictable fruit amongst weeds.


Painter and printmaker Michael Pellettieri grew up in New York, which emerges regularly in his artistic output, from apartment buildings under snow to elevated roadways arcing into space. As the senior member of the League's graphics studios, Peliettieri represents a lineage of printmakers including his instructor Harry Sternberg, who educated generations of graphic artists beginning in the 1930s. Peliettieri also studied with Edwin Dickinson, Robert Beverly Hale, Joseph Hirsch and Thomas Fogarty at the League in the 1960s. At the same time, he earned a BA in fine art at the College of the City of New York and later an MA from Hunter College. (left: Michael Pellettieri, Stranded Vessels #V, 1989, oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches)

In 1969, Pellettieri became the Master Printer at the League, printing work for students of Sternberg and other noted artist instructors such as Seong Moy. In the same year, a State Department grant allowed him to travel and study in India. Eventually he became a full-fledged instructor, teaching drawing and painting as well as printmaking, a position he has held since 1977. He also teaches at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Pellettieri's work has been acquired for the collections at the New York Public Library, Newark Art Library, the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina, the De Cordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts and other institutions. It has been featured in exhibitions at the Museum of the City of New York, the National Institute and Academy of Arts and Letters, Seaton Hall University, the New York Historical Society and other venues. Among his recent honors are the Burr Miller Award and the Robert Conover Award. Paintings as well as prints will make up his retrospective in the League gallery.


Michael Pellettieri's Artist Statement from the exhibition brochure reads:


The structural organization of a visual image is an intimate extension of the genesis of the idea. These ideas emanate from a blend of perceptual stimuli tempered by a search to develop and transform them through a variety of media. They include paper, canvas and printmaking processes. Thus, the viability of the concept is tested through an evolving visual experience.
In general, I find changes in media and subject matter refreshing and have eschewed the conventional wisdom of repeating the same kinds of image or theme. However, I have included two different series of works in the selection of prints and paintings for this exhibition. One of them, "Five Positions for an Open Heart," was chosen for its simplicity. It began with an Indian box. The various shapes and "poses" of the brass container suggested metaphors for a journey of the heart. The second series began with a reading of Thoreau's Walden in the idyllic setting of the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Quotations from the first chapter, "Economy," propelled the development of drawings that ultimately resulted in Stranded Vessels, Prisoner, Nations and Messages from Heaven.
The presentation of the artist's work before the public becomes a part of the creative cycle. Descriptive explanations of what I have done or intended are mingled with the viewer's experience and the image becomes transformed once again. It is now the imagination of the observer that breathes life into the art form.

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