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