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2010-03-03 digital edition
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The Arts March 3, 2010  RSS feed

Leilani DeMatteo

In The Studio
Artist Leilani DeMatteo does things differently. She dances with her easel.

Leilani DeMatteo PHOTOS BY ROB BENCHLEY Leilani DeMatteo PHOTOS BY ROB BENCHLEY “I always listen to music when I paint,” she said. “I need to be moving when I’m working. It’s more of a dance kind of thing with the canvas. I don’t plan anything — I’m never quite sure where it’s going to go. Things come up.”

DeMatteo was raised in Plymouth and won many contests as a child for her poster art and a wire sculpture. But the time was not right for her talent to blossom.

“I was in the era of the 1950s when art was not considered a vocation. It was never taken seriously so I didn’t think of going to art school.”

DeMatteo earned her bachelor’s degree in American folklore from Binghamton University in New York State. From the 1970s on, she took night classes at The Museum of Fine Arts Museum School and found she had a love of figure drawing, especially the exercise of working quickly to capture a form in 30-second gesture poses. Also finding a sense of immediacy in photography, she concentrated on that medium until becoming pregnant with her first child when she could no longer spend time with darkroom chemicals.

Miacomet Rest Miacomet Rest After raising her two sons, DeMatteo’s thoughts turned again to creativity, and she commuted from Nantucket to attend courses in design at the Rhode Island School of Design and the Arts. When a professor saw her ability in selfportraiture, he told her to spend the rest of the semester concentrating on that skill. Later, she and another island artist hired a model once a week to improve their life drawing. All was going smoothly until the night DeMatteo was seriously injured when she was struck by a car leaving Town Meeting.

It was not until last year when she joined a group called “Offshore Art” that she really got back into her work, going from her earlier figurative line pieces in charcoal and pastels to acrylic abstracts, her current passion.

Burbon Street Burbon Street “The abstract is very new territory for me,” she explained. “It’s not about what it looks like, it’s about some kind of feeling. Color is very important to me. When I started it was all black and white working in line. Then I became interested in color and what color could do. I seemed to need it to express. I don’t know color theory, I respond to a color and I use it.”

DeMatteo said she uses a palette knife at least as often as brushes, and looks forward to an order she placed for encaustic supplies, which is pigmented wax used in a painting technique.

“I have to be in there working on it. It’s all tactile with me,” she said. “The wax will really allow me to do that, and I’ll be able to lay in objects. I’m excited to be able to expand the vocabulary.”

Though she is concentrating on abstract pieces now, she said she is still inspired by the human form and interactions between people. Many times her art evolves from thoughts about someone or particular incidents she recalls that, when mixed with music she is listening to, take on the forms of her newest pieces.

“I’ve also learned that if I work on a piece and I stop, when I go back I have to listen to that same music,” she said. “With the abstract, I’m not trying to make it pretty. It just has to come out; I have to do it. I can’t consciously keep making pictures that people want to own. It would be great to sell, but I can’t work to please someone. It’s just about something that happens in that moment and I have to let it happen.”

Besides trying the wax painting technique, DeMatteo said that in the future she wants to create larger pieces because her work is all about motion.

“I want to be able to move my arm more and be more active than I can with smaller canvases. I want to be able to dance more with the canvases.”

DeMatteo also writes poetry for her private enjoyment. Painting gives her the means to express herself in ways words cannot accomplish.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to express myself,” she said. “With the art it is expressing something deeper. It reaches another place. Words can’t do it, but the motion in making the piece and the color and the music allows something else to be expressed.” I

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