Monday, March 16, 2015

Donelli J. (Dan) DiMaria, Contemporary Realist

Donelli J. (Dan) DiMaria, Contemporary Realist

Look closely and smile.

Reflections of Infinity
Donelli J. (Dan) DiMaria was interested in art from an early age. A sickly child, he liked The Book of Knowledge and copied the art in it.  He took art lessons and worked in casein, acrylics and watercolor. When his mother took him to a Jackson Pollock exhibit, his aversion to contemporary abstract art was immediate. He hated abstract art so thoroughly that he refused to go through the exhibit.

The 1960s were the heyday of abstract, pop, and conceptual art. Good in math and science, DiMaria pursued a PhD in physics at Lehigh College and took a minor in art. Partially, it was about being able to earn a living, but also he says, "I wasn't going to learn what I wanted to learn if I went to art college."  

With the physics degree, DiMaria enjoyed a successful career at IBM Research working on non-volatile computer memory (storage that retains its data when power is removed). DiMaria worked for IBM Research for 28 years.  His research created a major field in the area of solid-state physics making significant worldwide contributions to science and technology. All the while, he studied drawing and painting with the ultimate goal of a second career as an artist.

In 1988, Dan DiMaria met his wife, Diane, who was also an artist. Although Diane was concentrating mostly in fabric art, she wanted to study drawing. Diane he found a private drawing class in White Plains, and Dan encouraged her to try it. When she came back from the first session, she told him that the teacher was a man, there were three men in the class and a male nude model. If Dan wanted her to go again he'd have to come, too.

We are talking on the phone. I am in New York and Dan is in New Mexico. Dan tells me that he was working at IBM at the time. The unspoken sub-text is that he was reluctant to go to the class and his expectations were low. Nevertheless, he agreed to try one class. 

Miriam # 2

Sarah Seated
The class was taught by an artist named Cesare Borgia, a 5 ft. dynamo of a man who had been a gunner in WWII. Borgia was teaching the Riley Method.[i] Fascinated, DiMaria stayed in the class studying the Riley Method for 12 years.  Dan acquired his knowledge of painting in a similar unconventional way: he learned from watching Helen Van Wyk, the host of a popular PBS television show.[ii]

After 28 years, Dan retired from IBM Research in 2001, and the couple moved to Santa Fe, NM where they have a 3,000 square foot studio on their property. He launched into painting full time and participated in many shows. In his paintings, Dan produces beautifully conceived and executed art with clear, brilliant colors and modern themes. 

His work has won many prestigious awards and appeared in many magazines.  About 6 years ago, he began offering videos and courses in the Riley Method and his method of painting that he calls Contemporary Realism. Dan has uploaded over 70 videos on YouTube. To date, the total views are more than 30,000. Dan also offers 5 online courses and has over 36,000 students. Together, Dan and Diane published a book, Figure Drawing from Life: Tools, Techniques and Tricks, available from Lulu. [iii]

Dan has a wickedly subtle sense of humor, and often you have to be paying attention to get the joke. Some of Dan's paintings have raised eyebrows, but one series has raised hackles.

Persian Rug # 2

Persian Rug # 1

Persian Rug # 3

Persian Rug # 4

Over the phone, Dan tells me about his nude on a rug series. He says, "How could I piss off the religious extremists in the Middle East?"  His answer became his nude on a Persian Rug series. The result: loads of angry emails from pissed off Muslim fundamentalists in Syria, Egypt and elsewhere, proving his answer was exactly on target.

Pinocchio is the star of a delightful series. "You know," he says, almost musing, "Pinocchio wanted to be a real boy…."  His voice trails off. "I like the one with Pinocchio teaching Stimpy," I contribute. He answers, "And then I had the newspaper clipping…."  We move on to other topics.


Friends #2
(Pinocchio Teaches
Stimpy to Paint)

Pinocchio Wins an Award
Later I come back to look more closely at the paintings. In the painting Pinocchio, I find three book titles, perhaps as books of interest to a real boy: How to Train Your Dog, How Dogs Think, and The Life of Birds.  Two other paintings in the series, Friends #2 (Pinocchio Teaches Stimpy to Paint) and Pinocchio Wins an Award, show Pinocchio achieving the trappings of success important to a real boy. In the first, Pinocchio gains a friend by becoming a teacher and in the second, he gains acclaim.  As a further twist, friends Pinocchio and Stimpy appear together in the newspaper clipping that announces the award in that trompe l'oeil painting.

Another subject in DiMaria's paintings took me entirely by surprise.  DiMaria has nine paintings on that include a red fedora. Collectively, these paintings have appeared in 21 Nudes-of-the-Month calendars.  During our talk I asked, "What's with the red hats?"

"That's a joke on the Red Hat Society," came the answer.

Red Hat #2

Red Hat #3

Red Hat #4

Red Hat #5

Red Hat #7

Red Hat #6

Mirror, mirror... #5

Mirror, mirror... #6

Red Hat #9
"Red Hat Society?" I echoed.

"A society of older women," he answered.

Gun #1
This was news to me, so I Googled it, and found that the Red Hat Society was founded in 1998 for women over 50 (now open to all women) and now has 40,000 chapters in the US and other countries. Who knew?[iv]

In another case, I asked about this Dick Tracy painting of a snub nose revolver in trompe l'oeil format. I thought it was a pro-gun statement, but not so. Dan DiMaria is definitely negative on private gun ownership.

Speaking of one of my favorites, Mannequins, Dan's story meshed perfectly with my impression. Dan saw mannequins in a store window and one had a hat.  It seemed to him that the other mannequins could be jealous of the one with the hat. So he painted them as a group of women envious of the hat-wearer. They are alive, and yet they are still mannequins.


Reflections of Infinity
The mirror piece, Reflection of Infinity is a self-portrait.  It, too, has a joke many miss – including an artist who plagiarized it!  Look carefully at the painting. The artist's hand is raised above his head. If that is all you notice, you think it is the right hand. However, when you see that the letters of his tee shirt are backwards, you realize that it is his left hand that is raised and you are looking at the subject through a mirror. Hence, from the title, Reflections of Infinity, it is clear that DiMaria is giving the reflections only, and not the direct view of himself.

One nude that I find particularly intriguing is Nude Looking Up. "It was done years ago," he says, "And I did it because you rarely see nudes looking up." Even without any joke at all, I cannot help smiling when I look at it.

Nude Looking Up

See more about Donelli J. (Dan) DiMaria.

[i] For information on Frank J. Riley as an artist and teacher, see

[ii] For information on Helen Van Wyk, "Welcome to My Studio" videos, see

©All images copyright Donelli J. DiMaria

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Dan McCormack, Fine Art Photographer

Dan McCormack, Fine Art Photographer 

Not Just Another Pretty Picture 

Sometimes a wacky stunt will confirm the course of a lifetime.

In Chicago, in 1968, Dan McCormack was a recent college grad.  He had studied with Aaron Siskind, Joe Jachna and Wyn Bullock at the institute of Design and graduated in ‘67.  He had enrolled in the MFA program at the Art Institute where Barbara Crane was a big influence. So his interest in photography was serious and he was taking it seriously.  However, Dan McCormack did not want to take himself too seriously.

It was summer. He heard about a love-in: 50,000 hippies. He was a puppy photographer, heading for something.

Dan McCormack is telling me this story over the phone.  His voice, naturally rather high, gets thinner and higher.  It is almost as if he is a kid again, and he still cannot get over how it happened.

He decided to go, but not just go, but go and be noticed. So he went to a store that sold Styrofoam and bought a cylinder that was 8 inches around and 8 feet long.  When he got to the park where the love-in was happening, he sat down and put the 8-foot long Styrofoam cylinder between his legs.

Here Dan pauses in his tale, perhaps just to remember, or perhaps to make sure I get the image.

A young woman, Wendy, sees his “display” and comes over. She is an artist’s model. He tells her he is a photographer. She tells him she models in the nude. He tells her he has never photographed the nude. “I’ll teach you,” she says. As he writes in his internet bio:

At the Art Institute of Chicago around 1969, I began photographing the nude with Wendy, my wife, and I began making multiple image prints. Then for over thirty years, I explored various techniques and processes while photographing the nude as a central theme.[i]

Over the years, McCormack worked with all types of cameras and films. In 1998, he started shooting with the pinhole camera.  He develops black and white images. After he scans the results into Photoshop, he “pulls curves” to colorize the image.


At a day’s shoot, McCormack sets up 15 pinhole cameras and takes a two minute exposure with each one, one at a time.  So a photo session generally takes 2-3 hours. At the end of a shoot, he may have one or two usable images, but he does not find that out until he gets to the darkroom.  The extreme wide angle and distortion means that even the initial results are always a surprise.  “I love the surprises. I think I know the best shot,” he says, “but often the best shot is something else.”

We talked about Sara_C_8-19-05—6DG, a highly colorized print. McCormack was teaching a photography workshop at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts in August 2005. He was staying at a bed and breakfast inn that had an intriguingly decorative marble sink with multiple mirrors.  He wanted to have fun with the marble and get Sara in the mirrors without having her in the picture.  This was very tricky and it took a half-hour to set up the shot. As it turned out, the best result was not quite what he had envisioned. He pointed out that in addition to Sara in the mirrors, this image includes a profile of her breast coming in on the lower right.

McCormack explained the reference system he uses to title his work: model’s name, Sara C.; date of shoot, 8-19-05; film negative number, 6 (of the 15 shots); and finally, pulling curves in Photoshop and saving them within two sequences of multiple steps, DG, meaning the 4th step in the first sequence and the 7th step in the second. Based on the reference title of the work, McCormack can always locate the exact version of an image stored on his computer.

I asked McCormack about Sarah_M_5-08-09—4BC which I found to be one of his most surreal images. He laughs:
That was in the Unison Sculpture Garden in New Paltz.  We had gone to McDonald’s and they were giving out happy smiles on sticks as a promotion. So I took the photo with the model standing next to the sculpture of an eye, and she bent over and held the smile up behind her butt.
Dan McCormack has another irreverent piece, very popular, which was selected by five curators (in the period before we changed the rules and began retiring artworks from competition after three selections).  He calls it Lupe_8-07-07—8CD. I would call it “Lupe Gives a Finger.” Lupe is not the model’s real name.  She was a student at Marist College, where Dan has taught for 24 years, and heads the Photography program. The shoot was on a friend’s property and she came with her boyfriend and a huge bottle of wine. It was a class demonstration shoot. She was very nervous. She got so drunk, she could not drive home.


In Helen_W_4-27-08—7BB, the image is less colorized. Here McCormack mentioned that he likes to center the model in the frame but in this case, the model is pushed to the side and her shadow has taken center stage.  This was taken on Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day at the Barrett Art Center workshop in Poughkeepsie, NY.

Lately, McCormack has been working with a much more subdued palette.  AllisonFay_C_3-18-13—11AD is part of his “Nude at Home” series. Here, he thought he would not get anything at all. After shooting Allison from below, he decided to try shooting from above her. As usual, the exposure was 2 minutes. At 1 minute 45 seconds, her cat came over and rubbed against the tripod, bumping it. Usually movement of any kind is a problem for the pinhole camera, but in this case, the bump made no apparent difference.

Another image in the “Nude at Home” series is Bridget_L_5-20-12—14AD.  In this shot, at her home in Rhinebeck, NY, he intended the duality of the image in the mirror and in front of the camera. McCormack knew Bridget as his student at SUNY, New Paltz, and later as a model and friend.

Bridget_L_5-20-12--14AD  Robbie_J_4-27-14---10AD
Robbie_J_4-27-14—10AD is another in the series of “Nudes at Home.” This time it is a mansion in Poughkeepsie, NY. He noted, “Often the model is a co-conspirator in these shoots.”

Robbie was holding what McCormack described as a contraption that “seemed magical.”  She stood in front of the open double door. He explained that the doorknobs were so high, that Robbie looked small.  “Like something out of Alice in Wonderland,” he added.

Holding the contraption motionless in one hand at arm’s length for a two-minute exposure, making 15 attempts to get a usable image without a blur, and succeeding --- well, maybe that is a bit of magic.

More About Dan McCormack

  ©All images copyright Dan McCormack

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Photography of Joseph Mays

The Photography of Joseph Mays

Ideals, Expectations, Truth

Finding Truth in Colored Lights, Doors, Skulls and Rain...

Joseph Mays is a large bear of a man with a ready smile and a nervous laugh. As founder of Barebrush, I have had the opportunity to meet Mays several times. Last summer, he traveled from his home in Kentucky to show nine photographs at the third Barebrush gallery show (Undressed and Not, Aug 2014, NOHO Gallery, Chelsea).

Gallery Wall
Barebrush Aug 2014
This month, we spoke about his work by phone. In the throes of a bad cold, Mays explained his initial reasons for joining Barebrush. His manner was unprepossessing, even shy. However, as he spoke, his convictions and the importance of his art for him and to him, brought strength to his voice and a sincerity of feeling that seemed to make him forget everything else but getting his thoughts together and his point across.

Mays studied photography in college when black and white photos were routinely produced in darkrooms and color photos were impossibly expensive for students. Years after college, he resumed his photographic exploration. Digital was cheaper and easier. Friends were encouraging.

He wondered: was the work really any good, or was the praise just the benevolence of friends? When he found the Barebrush website, he liked the idea that independent curators would look at his work. These art professionals were people who did not know him. Their opinion would provide an objective validation in the context of a monthly, juried selection of art. His work would be judged among work by other artists. Would they select it?  Would his art find its place in the world?
Jungle #84

The answer to his questions turned out to be a resounding yes. Since his very first success at Barebrush with Curcuitboard Jungle #84 (May 2008), Mays has piled up a strong record of 139 calendar wins. Of these, 35 artworks have been “retired” with Honors.

Mays has several different photographic series represented on the Barebrush website. The first two are very colorful. The others are black and white. I asked about that. He said,
I use color only when it is important to the effect I want to achieve. When color is incidental, I prefer to eliminate it because it becomes a distraction.
 Mays feels strongly that photographs of the nude are more “honest” and as a result, more human. Photography of the nude strips away the extraneous and the expected. However, he felt deeply that photographs of the nude are often not “seen” in a careful and unprejudiced way. In conceiving of a way to use color as intrinsic to his theme he wanted to smash preconceived notions about nudity and entice the viewer to look closely in spite of his (the viewer’s) preconceived notions.

Street Level
Street Level is an outstanding example of his success with what he calls this Abstract Projection series. Mays is especially proud because he feels that the colors and the pattern are a good match to the thoughtful and analytical personality of the model.

Another tale about this series is especially poignant:
One model had had surgery and thought her body was ugly because of surgical scars. When she looked at her body in the mirror, the scars were all she saw. Finally, she got up her courage to pose. When she saw in the finished work that the tiny scars were hardly visible, she realized how unimportant they were. From that time forward, she began to feel much better about her body and she thanked me.

Joe Mays is justifiably proud to have helped her come to that truth through his photography.

Simple Machines

The Barrier

In the second series, his collaborator, Jill Morgan, painted abstract designs on the models using black light paint. Then Mays photographed them. Mays added painted linear elements to the black light paint series (i.e. Simple Machines and The Barrier). These set the model in space.  The fact that the models were nude became less important than the fact that they are humans looking different. The results were startling and unusual.

Ironically, in these color photographs, color is employed specifically as a distraction. Several of the models did not recognize themselves when they first saw the finished results.

Berlin Salon #5
The Berlin Salon #5 is part of a series that grew out of photographs of performers. The woman performs with her snake and the picture struck Mays as belonging to the time of the Wiemar Republic in Berlin, when all the old values were falling away and experimentation ruled. At the time, sexuality and the Bohemian lifestyle were on the rise and people were jettisoning preconceived notions and prejudices. The model looked like she came from the 1920s, so Mays decided to push it that way. He photographed performers and artists, imagining his own personal 1920s Bohemian Berlin, and populating it accordingly.

Door 1
Door 2
In the process of photographing performers, one day Mays got the notion of adding a door to the picture (Door 1). He asked the model and then lots of others about the meaning of a door in a picture and received many answers: safety, isolation, loneliness, trap, anticipation, mystery, meditation and change. Unlike other photographers whose shots include doors, for Mays, the plain door was not the object or the subject, but rather something else entirely. The door, he says, is “a visual subconscious cue.” The model has an attitude toward the door. The sensitive photographer recognizes the model’s psyche and brings it to visible reality. The viewer gets the subliminal message. In other words, the models’ responses to the door represent their attitudes toward the world. This attitude becomes the ultimate message of the artwork. Some subjects lock out the world (Door 8). Others welcome it (Door 2).
Door 8


Then we talked about his circular pieces. “What was this all about?” I asked. Mays told this story:
Liebe Und
Leben #4
Liebe Und
Leben #1
Liebe Und
Leben #10
A model I knew wanted to be photographed nude with a skull. I don’t know why, but she kept asking. Finally, I got some ideas. I had a chain link fence and thought I could hang things on it. Then I emailed friends to ask if they knew where I could get a skull. Replies came back: “I have a skull.” “I have skulls.” “I have lots of skulls.” I went to see a friend who lived on a farm out of town and she had all types of skulls. She said, “You can have the skulls, if I can also be photographed nude with a skull.” Well, the body types were similar, and I thought it would be interesting, so I called the first woman and asked her if she would mind another woman in the picture. “As long as I am nude with a skull, I won’t mind.” So I shot it, and made the pictures round with a darkened edge as if the viewer is looking through a spyglass.
One of his pieces (Cypress Rain) is very different from all the others:
For a long time, I had the idea that I wanted to photograph someone looking up in the rain. I was meeting the model for the first time in a coffee shop. That day, I had just come from the funeral of my father. It started to rain. When the model walked in, I wanted to take that picture. I had never worked with her before, but I asked her if she would pose in the rain. She said sure. I wanted her to call my other model contacts so she would know that I’m okay to work with. She said she didn’t need to do that because she’d already spoken to them, and that’s why she was there.
Cypress Rain
My reputation is very important to me, and a model is very vulnerable. Modeling is an investment in trust. So I’m sensitive about making sure the model knows she is safe.  A friend of mine had to stop modeling because of improper photographers, and when she resumed, I was the only one she would model for. She says that I’m the least creepy photographer in Louisville. Maybe I should put that on my business card.
Joseph Mays credits his decision to become a member of Barebrush as “one of the best decisions” he ever made. In an earlier conversation, he told me that the confidence he gained from Barebrush enabled him to get into many shows and fairs.

Dune 4743
One particular incident is very satisfying to me.  In March 2011, the New York Observer published an article on Barebrush, in both the online and print editions. I was asked by the editor to select art to accompany the article.  Mays’ Dune 4743 appeared in the print edition (the Barebrush pressroom has both versions of the article). When I called Joe back then to tell him I was sending him a copy of the newspaper, he told me that he had gotten a call from a real estate office in New York City, and that a “big New York real estate guy” and art collector had already asked the price and sent the money. 

Coming to the end of this current call, Joe briefly discussed his next project, but I’ll keep silent on that; the sequence on Barebrush must be kept as show, then tell. Stay tuned.

In this blog called Body Language: Art, Biology and Culture, the takeaway from these stories is how one sweet, shy and serious photographer grows, develops and tests his ideas. For Joseph Mays, Barebrush is a safe public laboratory in which to make visible ideas, notions, feelings and prejudices, in the quest to represent the complexities of being human.

 More about Joseph Mays

Liebe Und
Leben #6
Liebe Und
Leben #7

  ©All images copyright Joseph Mays.