Artist Ron Di Scenza has a fitting last name. In Italian, conoscenza means knowledge or awareness, and a knowing sense of familiarity comes through Di Scenza’s canvases, giving his images special meaning and significance.
Di Scenza’s deep understanding of human nature is expressed in the faces and body language of his figures, much like Spanish painter Diego Velasquez, and his ability to report life as it is recalls American painter John Singer Sergeant. Especially exciting, Di Scenza’s detailed realism is on par with Flemish painter Johannes Vermeer’s, while the soulfulness of his subjects brings to mind Italian artist Michelangelo Caravaggio.
Carrying on these powerful painting traditions in the 21st century is Di Scenza’s way of connecting the classics that shaped him at an early age with today’s modern, fast paced world. He is intrigued by the universal traits of humanity that span the centuries and are always relevant.
“When I paint, I try to continue the great painting methods that came before me,” explains Di Scenza. “At the same time, I seek to create the immediacy of the here and now through the unique spirit of the person I’m painting. From a larger perspective, I think people of today need something to believe in, to recognize. They respect skill and want quality.”
Born in 1954 in Ohio, Di Scenza began to draw and sketch at the age of three. By age seven, his mother and father started taking him to their native Italy for summer vacations. “When I first saw the Port of Naples, I felt like I had arrived there in a time machine instead of a ship. I felt so stimulated by the ancient spirit of the place,” says Di Scenza.
Encouraging her son’s talent, Di Scenza’s mother took him to Rome where Michelangelo Buonarroti’s Sistine Ceiling convinced him then and there to become a painter. He recalls many idyllic summers spent in Italy surrounded by his sisters, cousins, and a vibrant natural landscape. Back home in America, he moved with his family to Long Island in 1970 and soon Di Scenza became exposed to the exciting art scene of New York City.
His formal training includes the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, where he was awarded a scholarship and earned his Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree. After graduating, Di Scenza became the school’s youngest instructor at age twenty while he simultaneously embarked on a career in illustration that would last twenty years.
A 1978 poster commission by Italian neorealist film director Ermanno Olmi gave Di Scenza his big break. For inspiration, the director, whom the young illustrator didn’t recognize at first, gave Di Scenza a private showing of his masterpiece, The Tree of the Wooden Clogs, in a New York theater he had closed to the public for an afternoon. Di Scenza’s brilliant interpretation of the film, which was that year’s Cannes Film Festival grand prize winner, became a wildly popular poster shown all over New York City and seen by everyone.
Soon Di Scenza was enjoying a bohemian lifestyle in a Chelsea loft and thriving on New York’s energy. For many years following, the city fueled his commercial work as an illustrator. Di Scenza’s real calling didn’t come until 1995, however, when he was 41 years old and on vacation in his parent’s home town in Italy, the place of his original inspiration. One day he looked out at the breathtaking scenery and into the expressive faces of his Italian neighbors and realized he always wanted to be a fine artist, particularly an oil painter. “I had no doubt. I knew I had found my destiny, and I decided to stay,” recalls Di Scenza.
“The golden light and warm colors of Italy cannot be found anywhere else in the world,” he continues. “The country is a natural palette of sienna, umber, ochre, and warm greens and blues. From the earth to the skin tones of its people, from the old stone buildings to the air itself; everything in Italy is bathed in a warm glow.”
Today Di Scenza lives with his wife, Maria, whom he met in Italy and their young son in the Italian region of Molise. He works in his studio twelve hours a day. His process begins with preliminary drawings transferred to the canvas, and he works “from dark to light.” Once Di Scenza establishes his monochromatic design, he adds color.
“Some of my color is opaque; some is comprised of several layers of glazes,” he asserts. “Light bounces off the glazes, adding life and luminescence.” Di Scenza often works from models and his own photographs to position his figures and uses his imagination for the landscapes in the background. His skies and buildings are done in great detail from memory, a skill he developed as a young boy.
Di Scenza’s work is bold and precise, and he uses linen canvas with an ultra fine grain to produce an extremely smooth surface. Dramatic lighting is a key attribute of his work, and he either creates the light effects he wants or finds them in nature. “One of my early influences, Rembrandt, used candles for his moody images, and Vermeer often painted woman seated in a dark room next to a bright window. You can’t go wrong with a window,” he laughs.
“I see my work going in the direction of bringing out ever more sensitivity in my subjects, creating the sensation you get when you meet someone for the first time yet feel you’ve known for years,” Di Scenza concludes. “I’m trying to connect to that idea. Create a familiar spirit. Whether they are young or old, woman, men, or children, I am attracted to the unique beauty of individual faces. I’m excited about featuring my son in several themed paintings now that he’s old enough.” Overflowing with ideas, the artist also plans to incorporate the historical sites of Italy into his upcoming compositions.
Di Scenza’s impressive portfolio as an illustrator includes work for Ballantine Books, Bantam Books, Doubleday, RCA Records, Field & Stream, Sports Illustrated, Time Magazine, and actor Peter Sellers, for whom he created a book cover. Di Scenza also designed jewelry and objects of art for Tiffany & Co. Other clients include Sony, IBM, and Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.
Prestige Fine Art represents Di Scenza’s fine art collection, marketing both the artist’s original paintings and fine art reproductions. Top Art, a fine art publisher based in Milan, is the sole representative of the artist’s commercial posters.
Di Scenza’s paintings can be seen in galleries in the United States and Italy and in the permanent collections of many Long Island and New York City corporations. His individual collectors hail from around the globe.
In fact, when Di Scenza was interviewed for this biography, he was riding out the aftershocks of a recent earthquake in Italy and packing for a working trip to Kazakhstan for an important commission in a private home slated to appear in Architectural Digest in 2010.
As an painter,my choice of what to paint- and how I put it down on canvas comes from a variety of creative needs. One of my needs is autobiographical to tell the story of how I feel and my reaction to the world I live in. And so I paint people: I also like painting people in groups, alone,people interacting with each other, active and passive.
My subjects are usually the people I encounter or observe in my everyday life. In this small town where I live in the south of ITALY called "Carpinone"- there are a great variety of people here, young and old also beautiful children, they all have alot of character, living here is like being part of a Fellini film, where ever you turn there's a moive. Life is very difficult here in these small towns in Italy,There's very little work, so everyone is stuggleing,this keeps people very close to each other,one helps another. I use alot of these people as models. I've always been particularly interested in drawing or painting a single figure- and these people make up a large proportion of my work. I think I'm especially drawn to people as subject matter because of the psychological and symbolic possibilities.
I try to depict the observable world the way it is, I'm really not that "objective". Although my models are real people who have their own lives, I know that my paintings transform them into actors on a stage of my private feelings. I'am painting myself and them at the same time. In the shades of color between the objective and the subjective,I find the perfect room for self-expression and discovery.
For me there's a feeling one must convey when painting. You can't render a feeling. It's in an expression, a gesture, a relationship, its real life. When I look at a painting in a museum, I respond to the way the painter puts it down on canvas, I'm responding to his or hers energy. If I like the quality of the painting, than I look at what the picture is about. Painting for me is very physical experience, at the same time it's spirtual. When painting I start off with an idea and a gut feeling. Painting is a sort of thought process, but there are things i have no control over. One thing for sure I have learned over the years,is that the ability to draw and to conceive technically, and perception dont make great painting,the combination makes great painting. I have done beautifully painted pictures that were just awful. You spend three months on a picture, than relize that it's a nice painting. to bad the idea is no good. You're suppose to make mistakes when you paint, cause if it was that easy you wouldn't even start the painting. If I don't learn somehthing when I'am painting,I become very frustrated. As time goes on my works become more personal and more romantic, I can't help being a romantic its part of my make-up. Alot of times I put things in my painting just because it feels right, no profound reason. If it works for me, than it belongs there, its instinct.
I also paint landscapes, still lifes. Landscapes have always interested me even as a young painter, I have the ability to paint them from memory this also happens when I do figure painting, or recalling a certain expression on persons face. I used to think this was an artistic defect when I was younger, feeling that I was relying to much on my memory of people,places and things to make a painting, and not being true to real life. Later I discovered that "THE OLD MASTERS" used this method all the time. I dont like to be called an artist, thats a word that has been to abused, "today everyone is an artist" the only ones left that aren't artist are painters.........