Painting a way of life for local artist

By Page H. Gifford

When walking into Cuppa Joe’s, people are immediately struck by the art adorning the walls. They are the work of local artist Tom Tartaglino. He has been painting professionally for 25 years.

“As a child, I was always drawing things,” said Tartaglino. “I liked drawing a different view of common things that kids would depict. My uncle Bernard had a picture I did when I was five of a firetruck, but looking down from above. I would ask my mom to draw a bird in flight when I wasn’t sure how it should look. At school I drew instead of listening to the teacher. I sometime got behind because of that, but I had some pretty good pictures.”

Later he studied art in a community college in Maryland where he learned oil painting and etching.

“I loved them both, but I listened to all the voices that said that I didn’t want to be an artist because they didn’t make any money,” he said. “Later, when I was 40, I had an epiphany and decided that being an artist was feasible and what I wanted to do.” By then Tartaglino was married with children and worked as a graphic artist for the University of Virginia. But his calling to become a painter was strong, so he enrolled in Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) where he got a degree in painting and printmaking. This led to where he is today.

Tartaglino graduated from VCU in 1994 and started painting immediately. That first year he created 22 paintings and sold half of them, not for an exorbitant amount, but it was positive start to his career. He once learned from reading an art book that the first 200 paintings are the learning paintings.

“I think that’s accurate,” he said. “At the present I have painted around 500.” Currently he paints 30 paintings a year.

Tartaglino is diverse in his work, unlike some of his fellow artists who stay fixated on one subject. Recently he showed a variety of paintings at Cuppa Joe’s, featuring a self-portrait, a painting of his father gazing out a window while smoking, and an offbeat view of Sam’s Club

“I am inspired by a lot of things. I have always liked water. Woods, mountains, gardens, anywhere there is greenery, as I am a nature lover,” he said.

Tartaglino also paints traffic scenes, though he notes that making a car look realistic is similar to getting the proportion and angles of a person correct. His fascination with painting traffic grew out of an experience he had as a college student stuck in traffic and late for class. He began to see a composition emerge out of the gridlock on I-95. He took out his camera and snapped a picture or two which became a 7-foot by 2-foot painting of gridlock.

“I sometimes paint something that annoys me just to give my irritation a voice,” he said. He did a similar painting of Lowe’s on what he called a bad day and it won an award in a national juried show.

“I suppose I will pick a subject based on how the message in my head needs to be said to the public. Art is a non-verbal form of communication and works well with emotions. As something is triggered in me, I will think about what sort of painting will best describe it,” he said. “I am often attracted to a subject and unaware of how I feel about it. Not until I paint it do I understand what I am trying to say. Painting and art in general has a lot of surprises. Sometime I don’t know where it comes from.”

At the present he is taking a break from painting, and believes that these breaks make his next painting more powerful. He is thinking about doing more etchings with wildlife, like birds and reptiles, going along with the nature paintings he already does.

National Pastime

“I would like to explore some familiar sounds of the unusual birds. A whippoorwill for instance. That would go along with a painting of a twilight mountain or woods painting. When have you seen a whippoorwill? We only hear them,” he said. Tartaglino will research his subject from the inside out before laying it out on canvas, whether it is a car or a bird.

Tartaglino’s panoramic landscape paintings leave onlookers in awe of his realism and flawless attention to detail.

“The most popular subjects are things that we could see every day and not tire of. For me it is nature but for some it is a city. For some it is cows or horses. I am in a few galleries and one wants touristy things,” he said. “I try to provide something that is more universal and I would say for me that is nature. When I have tried to do touristy, when my heart is not in it, I flop. Best to do what you want to do and what you are inspired to do. I am fortunate that others like what I’m inspired to do. Do it for love and money will follow.”

Tartaglino summed up his feelings by saying, “I am pleased with where I am as an artist, but I will always explore new things and I look forward to becoming much better. If art becomes stagnant then it is not worth doing. Art needs to be in the forefront of culture and thought. This is an exciting time to do art.”

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