It’s important to remember that nature is as beautiful as it is rough, and it is usually within that roughness that nature’s beauty is accented. Capturing the truth of that beauty requires attention to detail, allowing overlooked or uncomfortable traits to shine and influence. In many ways, Matthew Alfonso Durante uses this truth to create spectacular works of landscapes and human expression.
Matthew Alfonso Durante grew up in rural Wisconsin, before moving to Minneapolis to learn computer science and computer animation. However, art was always a driving passion for him, pushing him west to the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art, where he graduated in 2011. He was then later moved to the east coast, to attend the New York Academy of Art, where he earned his MFA in 2017.
Nature is an important theme for Durante and is very visible from his landscapes to his figurative pieces. While his landscapes are dark, misty, almost ethereal realms, many of his figurative pieces explore contorted, uncomfortable poses, bringing attention to the rib cage and folds of skin of pulsating veins. Bright pink is the most common color among these works, which accents the marble white of his figures to show a raw beauty in the human form that often goes unrecognized. The body is muscles and blood as much as it is skin and hair, and Durante shows love to both sides of the human anatomy. Here, Durante reflects on his career and the opportunities afforded to him as an NYAA grad.
In Conversation with Matthew Alfonso Durante
CS: Tell me about your childhood. Where did you grow up? What do you remember most about your early love of art? How has it inspired you?
Matthew Alfonso Durante: I grew up in rural and suburban Wisconsin during the 1980’s. My joy was exploring our backyard and the woods and the town on long summer vacation days.
I was never exposed to “fine” art in those days. It was all comics books, toy art, animation on Saturday mornings and VHS, early video-game art (Intellivision!), fantasy book covers and the music videos of early MTV which I could watch when my grandpa wasn’t around. I doodled a lot then, made raster graphic art on the computer, watched Bob Ross, and painted with my dad who dabbled with art sometimes.
Much of what I was seeing was figurative, from super-heroes to rock and pop stars. The outlines in comic books really stuck with me, and the graphic esthetic and weirdness of those videos. Also, the paintings of Eyvind Earle in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty were like a celebration of nature I loved exploring so much and I’ve always appreciated them.
CS: What made you want to become an artist?
Matthew Alfonso Durante: I think I originally wanted to make comics and video-games. I tried my hand at both, but the results were so poor and my attitude equally so that art always remained a dream. I believed then that drawing and painting were talents you either had or you didn’t, not as skills to be grown through practice. I’m not sure where that came from — probably indirectly via sports, which I was never good at — but it took me a long time to overcome.
I studied computer science in college following a “practical” path, but this was enervating. In my junior year, I took a night class in computer animation and that led to a career in Minneapolis applying my technical skills to support a team of artists making television commercials. This was fun and challenging, but eventually, I wanted to pursue something more artistically creative and learn new skills, and get away from the screen I was staring at ten hours a day. And I envied those who could draw.
All through my adulthood I had been drawing and painting sporadically, but in the mid-2000’s I decided to go for it. I started painting seriously, watching instructional DVD’s, attending life drawing and in 2007 I headed west to the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art and this art adventure really began.
CS: Why did you come to New York to fulfill that dream?
Matthew Alfonso Durante: I knew that to really grow and mature as an artist would take time — years of time. But with graduate school, with focused study in a high-pressure environment, I hoped that my growth could be accelerated so that 2 years pursuing an M.F.A. would become 4, 5 or more years of normal study; that was my calculation. I was able to get the loans (thanks Mom!) and so I went for it.
I came to New York to attend NYAA. I knew former and then-current students who highly recommended the school, and there weren’t many graduate schools with a figurative emphasis; so it seemed like the right fit. All the extra benefits of New York City were important — the galleries, the connections, the museums, the ramen, the amazing contagious energy of the city — but NYAA was the reason I came to New York.
CS: What are some of the inspirations or themes driving your work?
Matthew Alfonso Durante: I’ve been drawing the figure for many years now, and the biggest challenge to me is to somehow capture the presence of the model — to steal a bit of their vitality and get it on paper. The study of anatomy, even drawing from cadavers which I did while at the Academy, all feeds back into a quest for this vital expression. The natural landscape that I loved in Wisconsin, and that I painted and drew in California, has a similar vitality; not just because it’s alive with vegetation, but, similar to the human model with muscles tensed to maintain the pose, the landscape is the motion of growth seemingly frozen in time. Finding some compelling fusion of figure and landscape is one of my long-term goals.
In the past few years, I’ve been using reds and pinks as a sign of life. These colors remind me of fingernails as if I was seeing inside someone through the tiny windows on their fingertips. It’s another way by which I’m trying to get at that vital expression.
CS: How has graduate school helped you evolve your practice?
Matthew Alfonso Durante: Graduate school really kick-started my artistic practice. It gave me an insight into what being a professional artists looks like — the need to make, to be consistent, but also to experiment and to seek out criticism as a tool of growth. Most importantly though, I think it taught me to believe in my work even when it feels like no one else does, to really trust my instincts and the idea that who I am will eventually come out in the work.
CS: Where do you see yourself and your art in five years?
Matthew Alfonso Durante: By then I’d like my work to have coalesced into a more compelling statement of vitality. I’d like to be painting with the same confidence I have with drawing, or at least be able to fake it. Maybe I’ll have had a solo show or two by then; that would be excellent. As to where I’ll be who knows; I love Los Angeles and New York City but with the internet and cheap flights it’s really not that hard to stay involved and exhibiting wherever I am. That said, the benefits of the large art communities in these cities are hard to deny. Regardless I hope I have a big studio somewhere fairly quiet with room to organize all my stuff, good light, rain now and then and birdsong outside my windows.
CS: What is your ultimate goal with your work? How do you plan to achieve that?
Matthew Alfonso Durante: That’s tricky and nebulous. In a sense, if I knew the destination I might not be that eager to make the journey. I feel that the destination probably evolves as the work does. But I think that somehow everything comes back to that feeling of freedom as a boy exploring my landscape, finding the life all around me … peering through the leaves. Maybe my end will be my beginning.
CS: How are you using Orangenius? What do you like about the platform?
Matthew Alfonso Durante: I’m still fairly new to Orangenius, but I think it has great potential. Anything that makes it simpler for people to find and learn about artists is awesome. I really enjoy how the artist Bio’s are nicely-formatted like resumes or cv’s, which gives potential collectors and fans a thorough look at an artist’s story without having to know individual artist web pages. The Marketplace could be really exciting I think. I just wish there was a “Drawing” category for work, but hopefully, they’ll fix that.
See more of Matthew Alfonso Durante’s work on Orangenius.