Carlo Amantea

“My art does not hold back, contain, appease or soothe. My extensive journey is all about flow, joy, deep rooted curiosity and simply put, awe of raw emotion. Challenging the status quo is important to me.” ~ Carlo Amantea

Carlo Amantea Artwork Currently for Sale

Carlo Amantea

Biography and art review by Ken Carpenter, former art historian and art professor, York University

Carlo Amantea was born in Italy in 1954 and emigrated with his family to Canada at the age of ten. His parents were not steeped in art, but his father was an expert welder who had worked on construction in Germany before assisting Sir Anthony Caro in the production of 35 major sculptures at York University in 1974.

Amantea’s professional development has been quite unlike that of most artists today. He studied at Central Technical School in Toronto from 1971-1975, where he was a student of Doris McCarthy, whom he respected as “an excellent technician.” In 1973 he was awarded a place in the Local Initiative Project to work hands-on in an artist’s studio. The Project gave him three years in the studio of the distinguished abstractionist Joseph Drapell, where he served something like an apprenticeship, but he decided to stay longer rather than going to university for a Fine Arts programme. In Drapell’s studio he did copies of the old masters, such as Caravaggio, a good deal of drawing, and he assisted in the studio, stretching canvases, mixing colours, priming the canvas and so on. The two artists took road trips to the Barnes Foundation outside Philadelphia, the Kenneth Noland retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the 1976 Hans Hofmann retrospective at the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. Hofmann’s work had considerable impact on Amantea. As he remembers it, “The notion of creating a tension between all the elements: form, drawing, colour and texture, [greatly stimulated] my creativity”

Amantea is first and foremost a “paint man.” As he says, “I’ve been in paint all my life.” To support his family he worked as a professional painter of multi-million-dollar houses, offices and hotels across the country. That required him to be very careful, restraining his natural exuberance, and that discipline seems to have stimulated the heightened freedom that is so characteristic of his current work.

From 1984-1992 Amantea worked as a colourist for Glidden Paints, matching colours by eye, which he could do accurately because he had an excellent sense of colour and he knew how to tint. Amantea suggests that this experience helped to further develop his colour sense. In 1992 he was hired away by Sherwin-Williams to mix colours for them, and stayed with that company until 2006.

I admired a number of paintings in Amantea’s show at the Thirteenth Street Gallery in St. Catherines, Ontario, in 2021, and I take his new work to be a further and considerable advance.

Just as Jack Bush did, Amantea tests his layouts on tiny pieces of paper before approaching the canvas. He wants to see how the elements “work together,” but then he ignores the studies, because the paintings “need to be spontaneous,” as indeed they are.

Just as Bush often listened to music while painting – Beethoven, jazz, etc. – Amantea often does too. His favorite musicians include John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Luciano Pavarotti. The music “triggers a dance in my mind with colour” and encourages him to mix his colours directly on the canvas. Occasionally he himself dances.

Amantea’s paintings may have a playful mood and he is clearly drawn to spontaneity, freedom, and exuberance, but they can be the result of a long “cooking time.” It took a couple of weeks to decide that a grey area needed to be added to Face of the Earth to slow it down. The background of Clarity above the Chaos was done first, and then it took months to figure out what to do with it, culminating in the strikingly strong diagonal that runs from bottom left to top right. The artist says, “I let them live.’ and “go back with a fresh eye”

One especially strong painting, Taking Flight (2021), has a complexity that might not reveal itself at first viewing. As the artist frequently says, “Time is the essence of vision.” Taking Flight has what the artist describes as a rich array of different “layers interacting with each other.” There’s also a wide range of shapes: circles, triangles, ovals, loops, and the occasional hint of a rectangle, all dwelling harmoniously together. There are markedly different degrees of materiality of the paint, from thick impasto to gossamer thin. And there are great differences in chromatic intensity ranging from insistent warm hues straight out of the tube to sullied, cooler hues that scarcely declare themselves at all.

Variations in both handling and the nature of the paint are a hallmark of Amantea’s art. Some paint comes straight out of Tetra Pack pouches, and he can vary the line it produces by cutting the end of the pouch. For him, “it’s a great way to draw,” and “there is so much freedom” in the Tretra Packs. Sometimes he uses his fingers. He has “a preference for any tool that will add difference,” but he mostly avoids any spreading device so as to maintain his distance from Joseph Drapell’s paintings. Amantea likes the way Kroma Artists’ Acrylics’ paint, Pearlescent White, becomes radiant and sets off darker and purer hues. In the excellent painting My Oasis, the squares are Triart’s high-gloss liquid glass, which he has poured rather than brushed. Graffiti Freedom has a good deal of texture afforded by its applied “skins” – dried paint that was poured on to wax paper and then peeled off when dry. Numerous photographs Amantea took in the Alberta Badlands when he was working in Red Deer in 2014 confirm his fecund interest in textures.

A few works are in a different mood. Cotton Candy is more constrained, with fewer colours, fewer shapes, fewer tensions, and – relatively – a concomitant calm. As with Cotton Candy, the titles sometimes come from what his grandchildren like for treats.

Graffiti Freedom, like some of Miro’s later paintings, verges on the cartoon. I take its heightened graphic quality to reflect the graffiti on walls in Spain that Amantea enjoyed on his trip there in 2017. Graffiti Freedom also has a certain child-like quality that surprisingly reminds the artist of Matisse. One of his favorite books is Jack Flam’s Matisse on Art. He’s struck by the way Matisse’s physical weakness in his later years made him feel like a child

The choice of orientation of Amantea’s painting is crucial. Selecting the best top for the paintings can have considerable impact on the quality of the work. A change in orientation was vital to Face of the Earth. At first the painting seemed to be almost deliriously fast, but a better orientation slowed it down. Getting the orientation right for Angle to the Sun prevented one part of the picture from being uncomfortably subordinate to the rest.

Amantea’s paintings are a challenge to an audience that has become accustomed to art with a political or sociological bent. He’s far removed from issues of identity. He eschews that fashionable but boring strain of current work that flaunts its limited drawing and texture. There’s considerable visual intelligence in Amantea’s art, but he doesn’t have any intellectual pretension. His artist’s statements are thankfully devoid of quotations from semiotics, phenomenology and the like. There’s even an affinity with the Rococo, as a painting like his ebullient Rhythm of the Wind has the pastel colours, asymmetry, suggestion of motion, playfulness and serpentine lines that we associate with that eighteenth-century movement. All it lacks from that period is exaggerated refinement. Hans Hofmann is recorded as saying in Search for the Real and Other Essays that art is ultimately joyous. Amantea has a happy, loving family life, and his art does not come from any painful experience. There’s no piteous angst. What he does provide to a receptive viewer is a highly developed sensitivity to paint and colour in works with a joyous, exuberant sense of freedom. In short, there’s nobody like him.

Ken Carpenter
York University
Jan., 2022

Carlo Amantea
Born in Cosenza, Italy in 1954
Immigrated to Toronto, Ontario in 1964

Education:
Art studies at Central Technical School
Local Initiative Project, 1973, 1975
Studied painting and art history under the direction of Joseph Drapell
Painting Assistant to Joseph Drapell

Solo Shows:
1982 Don Stewart Gallery, Toronto
1983 Galerie Anne Doran, Ottawa
1984 Evelyn Aimis Fine Art, Toronto
1984 The Shayne Gallery, Montreal
1986 Evelyn Aimis fine Art, Toronto
2001 Artist’s Studio Exhibition
2008 Artist’s Studio Exhibition
2010 Artist’s Studio Exhibition
2013 Kent Farndale Gallery, Port Perry
2018 Museum of New, Toronto
2021 13th Street Gallery, St. Catherine’s
2022 13th Street Gallery, St. Catherine’s
2022 Bakery Exhibit, 13th Street Gallery, St. Catherine’s
2023 13th Street Gallery, St. Catherine’s
2023 Bakery Exhibit, John Mann Gallery, St. Catherine’s

Group Shows:
1978 Local Initiative Project, Toronto
1980 New Faces curated by Tonie Leshyk, Glendon Gallery, Toronto
1982 Gallery Don Stewart, Toronto
1983 Shelly Lambe Fine Art, Toronto
1984 Evelyn Aimis Fine Art, Toronto
1987 Shelly Lambe Fine Art, Toronto
1990 Evelyn Aimis fine Art, Toronto
2021 Las Luguna Art Gallery, California
2021 Margin Alexander Collaboration, New York
2021 13th Street Gallery, St. Catherine’s
2022 Summer & Grace Gallery, Oakville
2022 13th Street Gallery, St. Catherine’s
2022 New New in Canada Museum of New, Toronto
2022 Winter Group 13th Street Gallery, St. Catherine’s
2024 Winter Group Show John Mann Gallery, St. Catherine’s
2024 Square Foot Show john Mann Gallery, St. Catherine’s

Public Collections (selected):
Toronto – Dominion Bank, Nova Scotia
Guaranty Trust Company, Toronto
University of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan
Roxborough Hotel, Ottawa
Domicile Company, Ottawa
Johnston & Buchan, Ottawa
Campeau Corporation, Florida
Ram Digital, Toronto
Quorum Strategic, Markham
CIBC, Toronto
Brock Easter Chiropractic, Toronto
A & T Homes, Keswick

Publications:
Carpenter, Ken, Carlo Amantea’s New Paintings, 2022.
Artists Network Magazine, The Best of Acrylic, August 2022.
Drapell, Joseph, E- Newsletter: The Nude Continued, 2008.
Carpenter, Ken, “Re-inventing Abstraction,” Art International, December 1978.

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