The History of Art is Messy… Let’s Talk: Marc Dalessio

by Poppy Field I digiQualia.com

As an Art History undergraduate, I spend a substantial amount of time with my eyes fixed upon an image or nose in a book…. in these moments my thoughts revolve around times gone by.

But, I also reflect upon my own life. I love to remember the wonderful year I spent sculpting, drawing, laughing, crying, eating, sleeping and breathing amongst actual real-life artists in Florence.

It is in these moments that I imagine the future and cannot help but chuckle. Trained in academic techniques, these artists are going to cause such problems for future generations of Art Historians. It is with the deepest respect that I judge none more so than the painter Marc Dalessio.

Let me elaborate.The History of Art is messy. Most movements are without manifestos. Styles cannot be neatly labelled. Artists and their Art are enigmas. Indeed, my first essay of term questioned how the scientific examination of paintings brings information to the discussion of authorship. Prior to this, I had no idea that artwork is so regularly subjected to such extensive analysis!For instance, if are under the impression that the Van Eycks invented oil painting then I am afraid Vasari has deceived you.Seeing Through Paintings, a surprisingly accessible read, reveals that oils have actually been utilized by artists from about the 6th Century. Although, admittedly, it was not until the 15th Century that drying agents, necessary for the paint to harden, were added. From the 1700s many more pigments became widely available. The 1840s saw the invention of the zinc tube that gave rise to en plein air painting. Following the Second World War, the production of commercially available Acrylic and PVA paints commencedMaterials available to artists, and accepted as art by the public, have so drastically evolved that we are left wondering “What is Art?” For example, just last week I was volunteering at a children’s workshop with theRoyal British Society of Sculptors when the question “what can sculpture be made from?” was posed. One little boy made his classmates laugh uncontrollably with the suggestion: “Light!” Yet, artists such as James Turrell have shown us even that is possible. Just pop over to Pace, London to see for yourself.So, how could I not think of Marc? With so many modern mediums available why does he practise traditional techniques?Recently, Marc explained to me that commercial oils contain fillers that sometimes weaken a colour’s tinting strength. This becomes apparent in the comparison of hand-ground and shop-bought black oil paint… the latter appears slightly grey. Thus, he considers it essential to make his own media of pigment and high-quality linseed or walnut oil:My second essay of the term considered aristocratic patronage and court artists.Parallels can be drawn between the traditions of gift giving in Renaissance Courts and the relationship Marc enjoys with his patrons. Did you know that Sofonisba Anguissola, the Cremonese female artist at the court of Philip II (1527-1598), was once given a four-faceted diamond upon the completion of a full-length portrait? Today, when Marc spends time at an Italian aristocrat’s estate, their thanks is often demonstrated with gifts of fine wine and olive oil. Image detailing that on a tax return!Such stays involve at least one portrait commission. In his studio, Marc usually works on portraits for two hours each day, but when undertaking such a commission in situ he tends to focus on this image alone. Although, inevitably the time individual clients are willing to pose for a painting greatly affects the speed of production.

Yet, Marc does not deny the convenience of innovation. He recognizes that various manufactured colours are very similar to those he might make. And so, alongside his traditional hand-ground paints, Marc has been known to apply Williamsburg cadmiums and Old Holland blues.

With pigment analysis considered a vital technique in dating artwork, I am certain that Marc’s combination of media and methods will surprise future restorers.

Angel Ramiro Sanchez, the Director of Advanced Painting at the FAA, describes such commissions as “creating a biography of the sitter.”  

A patron may have a vision of themselves or the loved one who is to be painted… perhaps a “romanticized notion” which can create unrealistic expectations as well as pressure. Needless to say, it is vital to maintain a good relationship. I have been lucky enough to interview Ramiro – it was then that he revealed the difference between painting patrons and friends:

Where can we place artists like Marc and Ramiro in the canon of Art History? Can an academic training the grounding in bargue drawings and hours spent before a live model be considered the defining characteristic. Neo-what I wonder? Or are they simply the continuation of a practice that cannot be pigeon holed.

Whilst at The Florence Academy of Art (FAA) I often found myself sitting for friends. To maintain a pose for a quick sketch is one thing. To spend a few hours each day in that same position is another. Of course, with distraction this becomes easier. Ione Hunter Gorden ensured that I was comfortable for the following portrait by playing a stream of chick flicks.

The experience of sitting for the sculptor Johanna Schwaiger so affected me that I wrote an entire article about it!

Yet, ensuring a patron’s comfort is not always a painter’s greatest challenge.

Marc has identified that his patrons tend to have one of two distinctive mindsets. The majority entertain the modern notion that “the artist is a solitary genius who demands complete creative freedom and control” while a fraction still maintain a more ‘historic’ approach. That is, they consider themselves “as the producer of the work and the artist as a means to that end”.

Surprisingly, Marc prefers the latter. He believes that to create something significant an artist must have boundaries to push against.

So, commissions are a tricky business. Especially if a patron has “strong opinions and doubtful taste.” Thankfully, Marc has allowed me to pass on a little of his advice; “be polite to the staff, don’t get paint on anything and, at dinner, start from the outside with the silverware!”

For over a decade, Marc has exhibited his personal work at the Grenning Gallery in Long Island. This has exposed  his work to a wealthy community  and enabled him to grow his clientele. It has also allowed Marc to spend his summers there! He has observed that an artist “being inspired by an area acts as a great validation” for the locals.

It is evident that Marc combines his talent with a sound business sense. As Simon Fletcher revealed in digiQualia’s previous blog post, this is how to succeed in today’s world.

Most Popular

Ellen Charlesworth

IN THEIR OWN WORDS: Christin Geall

This week, Christin Geall – writer, gardener, and artist – introduces us to the world of flowers. Her illustrated book, Cultivated: The Elements of Floral Style, artfully combines reflections on beauty and botanical history with opulent arrangements. Christin’s beautifully staged

Read More »
Image Credit: Rocio Chacon
Ellen Charlesworth

IN THEIR OWN WORDS: Kundai Munetsi

Kundai Munetsi is a multimedia artist, designer, and DJ. Working across video, performance, and fashion, his work draws on his design education to tie together themes of place and space. As a prolific collaborator, he talks to us about how

Read More »
Ellen Charlesworth


Director and animator Jac Clinch talks us through his creative process and the mainstays of animation. Nominated for a BAFTA, his critically acclaimed debut film “The Alan Dimension” is both funny and heart-warmingly earnest. He’s since garnered a reputation for

Read More »
Ellen Charlesworth


Jenny Løvlie, celebrated illustrator – and winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for best illustrated book – talks to us about her creative process and the challenges of lockdown. Born in a small community on the coast of Norway,

Read More »
Ellen Charlesworth

IN THEIR OWN WORDS: Sofie Maceanruig

  Today we talk to jeweller Sofie Maceanruig, whose award-winning work has most recently been exhibited at International Jewellery London, and in “Handmade by Machines: Seized by the Means of Production”, Birmingham. Inspired by her love of medieval sport and

Read More »