Artist Spotlight: Michael Pianta

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The Art Village at the University of Dallas provides a reclusive refuge for the artistic talents of UD, pursuing the heights of their undergraduate and graduate degrees. One of these talents is Michael Pianta, a Master of Fine Arts candidate scheduled to open his most recent exhibition “Savage Arcadia” on Saturday, Feb. 19.

He attended the University of Texas at Tyler, obtaining his BFA in painting amongst a small, friendly community of artists and scholars. His works were inspired by a variety of artists from different periods, such as Rembrandt, John Singer Sargent and figurative modernists Modigliani and Kirchner. He also drew inspiration from Mick Rock, a rock star photographer from the 1970s, and different contemporary cinematic imagery and compositions.  

“I was trying to figure out how to take representation and the figure and make it more vital and ‘contemporary,’ without necessarily giving up the craftsmanship and aesthetic beauty that we associate with old masters,” he clarified. “In a way that’s a meta-project that I’m still working on.”

After graduating in 2009, space, time, motivation and loss of community grew to be a challenge for his artistic career before he found his niche. 

“After graduating I found I had a renewed interest in very traditional, well-crafted paintings,” he said. “I had always had an interest in that, but I realized it was the only kind of painting that I cared enough about to keep producing even if there was no external reward. That’s how you know what you should do I think.”

This led him to pursue the certificate of completion at the Texas Academy of Figurative Arts, a classical atelier specializing in live model portraiture, and an MFA at the University of Dallas in later years. Both have allowed him to create more noteworthy works and grow in professional credentials.

During his time in the MFA program, his creative process did not involve strict narrative, agenda or even theme — opting to present “narrative or mythic painting” through a contemporary, freeform manner.

 “I think of this as a kind of “psychological” painting, which is more poetic than literal and is united primarily by the worldview of the artist (myself, in this case) that generated the images,” he explained. 

Although his creative process was not traditionally structured, he drew inspiration from other artists known to take the same approach, such as Bo Barlett. Other sources of inspiration include playing guitar and writing songs, writing and creating video games. Rather than considering these practices distractions, he considers them complementary to his artistry.

His free sort of thinking grew to become a collection of large-scale oil paintings by the name of “Savage Arcadia,” “ … dealing with humankind’s precarious position vis-a-vis nature.” Within the natural world, he found that though humanity needs and values the natural, it is constantly at war with it, without hope of defeating it. 

His thought process behind his artistry was exemplified through the two-year COVID-19 pandemic. Though Pianta took reasonable precautions such as vaccination, he found irrationality in the opinion that the virus was to be eradicated through human methods and that normality would only be restored if this was to occur. 

He clarified, saying, “When the characters in my paintings are climbing mountains or weathering stormy seas, these are metaphors for implacable forces of nature, and the message in my mind is that it will always be this way, and so we have no choice but to carry on with our lives as best we can.”

Out of the multiple paintings of the collection, his favorite is “The Revelers,” a dynamic image depicting a group of characters around a fire, since he was able to explore extensively through figure and lighting. 

In closing, Pianta remarks to UD’s future professional artists: “Be prepared to work hard, but don’t stress yourself out too much. The faculty are here to help you. They will challenge you but they are not against you. You can ask them for help and advice. Make friends with your fellow students too — this is your incipient professional network.”

Pianta’s exhibition of “Savage Arcadia” will remain on display at the Goldmark Cultural Center until March 18, 2022. He is currently a resident of Fort Worth, with his wife Audra and two daughters.

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