Exploring Artistic Creativity

I’m intrigued at the diversity of artists and their inspiring works that bring creativity to life. My insight into anything done “LIVE” gets immediate respect. Capturing The Moment in dance photography was a challenge I wanted to explore as I left the world of video and began creating still images.  Those sources of motivation collided when I connected with Maria Caruso.

She has incorporated her talent and skills into 5 dance companies. Additionally, she leads educational programs in fitness, therapy, health, movement and is the Performing Arts Chair at La Roche College. Multitasking does not come close to describing her lifestyle.  The collective activities of her organization are known as the M Train. Managing all of this, she still is committed to performing herself. Her work ethic fuels her determination to always be doing something. I see these character attributes as part of the foundation of her creativity.

I truly appreciate Maria allowing me access to her company and performances in an attempt to capture images of the athleticism, grace and beauty of dance. Her critique of my photography is honest. I love that!  

The dynamics of what she presents on stage or into rehearsal involves integrating music, costumes, lighting, emotion and movement into the art of choreography. The process she goes thru in synthesizing these disciplines varies. Surprisingly to me, “music is often added after the routine is laid out”.  She also relies on her community of people she has gathered around her to inject ideas. In her dance studio creativity is fueled by collaboration.

The work of a painter can last for centuries as can the words of a poet. The performance of dance, or any stage production, is a brief moment of energy transformed into art that cannot be completely recreated. Choreographers and dancers, like other artists, frequently develop a legacy of style.  Ms. Caruso’s vision of any legacy she is forming revolves around bringing health and wellness into artistic outlets. As an artistic activist she is expanding the opportunities for those without waif like bodies to dance.

The rural roots for Maria began in a well-rounded childhood. Tennis, swimming and crafting were all part of her life. She proudly claims that she was “amazing in woodshop”. Even though she was becoming devoted to dance, her enthusiasm wasn’t always encouraged because of not having the stereotypical dancers’ body. She was determined not to let that stop her moving forward with a resolve that would foreshadow her career. Finishing High School simultaneously with her freshman year of college, she considered a medical career but was searching for opportunities to dance.

In college, the styles of classical ballet were seasoned with her exposure to modern and jazz. Still facing the challenge of not having the body type of a ballerina, she developed a philosophy that dancers shouldn’t be limited by the aesthetics of the body. The aesthetic of the technique gave her gratification.

Here, her vision and mine converge. Classic ballerina images where lighting, costume and form are sculpted onto the human form is indeed an art form. However, I am inspired by the diverse athletic form of dancers. I try to capture the bond of athleticism, emotion and art in my lens.

At 18, during an internship at The Dance Theater of Harlem, Maria found a space and place that felt like home. That connection with the company became a seed for her emerging career. Tempted to remain in NYC, she returned to finish college then went straight back to the city to explore collective opportunities. In an era when dancers were expected to choose a style, she chose diversity. Her inspiration came from Martha Graham, Darcey Bussell, Alvin Ailey, Jawole Zollar and others where the healthy feminine body was not frowned upon as in traditional Balanchine style of that time.

Finding a way to balance artistic objectives with economic survival she connected with people throughout the NYC dance environment teaching, freelancing and connecting with other dancers. Not knowing any better, she sold her car to finance her own show while she also learned about cash advance on a credit card. Financially, her efforts on that 1st touring show were not successful. The discovery of finding out what she loved to do was, as the saying goes…priceless.

The creative fusion of training, talent, interests, inspiration, experience and determination were all coming together. Although she dropped business in college, she realized she couldn’t afford to build her dream in New York and returned to Pittsburgh where she would define and create her space. The vision was locked in her mind.

Her influence from diverse styles allowed her to develop Bodiography, a dance company focused on technique aesthetics and healthy bodies. The support and opportunity for self-sufficiency was fueled by determination. It was now do-able. As her dreams were coming together, she did numerous jobs including hosting a late-night show on the Home Shopping Network.

When I first met Maria and found out her studio was the former studio of Gene Kelly I wondered if the space had creative spirits. For some artists, elusive mystical muses and sacred spaces are not something to dismiss. Her creative ideas are randomly conceived with inspiration from the desert, to dreams…from people she chooses to surround herself with to an inner force she follows without question. The window to the inner muse of her creativity is wide open.

Choreographing for her company is a coming together process watching how her dancers adapt. Although she says she is not a good choreographer, she credits early training for her non-traditional routines. Often, for a personal performance, she doesn’t over rehearse. A plan is in place but details of the movements can be of-the-moment filled in by her spirit and soul. The physicality and technique are the driving motivation in her dance. She trusts her abilities and harnesses her self-confidence to drive creativity.

She does not easily relax. Time spent running, an average of 35 miles a week, is her alone time.  Performing a 50 minute solo show Metamorphosis, her conditioning was put to good use.  The artistic, athletic and emotional talents the performance demanded could only be done by someone as galvanized as Maria.

Surrounding herself with people she respects and loves is important personally and professionally. She quickly gives credit to those she works with that keep the train on the tracks.

The horizon is never very far off in Maria’s vision. Although massive lifestyle changes throughout society are occurring due to the Covid-19 Virus, I believe projects, performances and plans of the M Train will evolve. What happens with The Movement Factory will be an exciting project to watch develop. Her Off-Broadway show Rearview Mirror will happen. The premier of the digital magazine Arts Inclusive could become a co-op of diverse creative individuals. The potential for expanded mentor-ship could become a new garden of inspiration for anyone looking to grow their artistic talent.

Artists and creative individuals are as varied as the human race. Commitment and determination are common character traits of those that achieve their goals. Maria’s self-assurance does not have a trace of arrogance. On and off the stage, she has gratitude and a zest for people in her life. The creative community she surrounds herself with helps breed her artistic directions.

Symbolic Portraiture

Michael Fratangelo creates a compelling style with his painting.

I was honored to be welcomed into the studio of an artist to discuss his process & document his technique. People who whet their skills, persistence, talent & technique to create art define their own space. It is a place to be respected. Alone in a building on the third floor the work Michael Fratangelo does in his studio is primarily at night. Maybe Quincy Jones was on to something when he said “The muse come out at night.”

I first saw his work at Ketchup City Creative.  This powerful series was recognized & exhibited in Europe. The subject of the paintings was the War in Iraq. The series reflected photos from the NYT. I was taken back by the size of the paintings some as large as 6’ by 8’. My eyes welcomed the pallet of colors.  His style is such that the oil-on-canvas is thick & chunky giving an added element of form.  I was intrigued by how he defines his Symbolic Portraits. I was preparing my own Portraiture themed gallery show & his work was an unexpected perspective into defining a portrait. Classic portraits of people are not what he produces. The work I saw in his brochure gave me new eyes. Boldly, I asked if I could visit his studio to document his work.

My minds eye of a painter’s space is not what I found. From a photographers perspective the lighting was mixed & poorly distributed. Working at night the windows provided no source of naturally soft light. Mirror like, they only reflected glares. The primary light was florescent & he used 2 thrift-store-rejected pole lamps for the work in front of him. I quickly realized all Michael needed was illumination! The work was coming from his mind to his hands. Watching him work I began to understand his comment “Painting is stronger than me. It makes me do what it wants”. This is a place where the muse may visit.

 I’m not an art critic & lack their classic adjectives, adverbs & education to describe paintings. I can say that visually his paintings have strength. Since it is Michael’s work I accept his description of “using symbolism to create spiritually guided portraits”. Adjusting the viewer’s awareness to a different type of portrait resonated with me.

Some artists make sketches or drafts that play an important role in their work. For Michael, a critical step is interviewing & understand the person. What he learns becomes layers in the painting he creates. A common topic includes mentors & individuals that have inspired. Family snapshots showing decades of change in the person hang on the wall alongside of where he works. The favorite food in somebodies life can sneak into the symbolism coming from his brushes. The colors & forms Michael sees are a part of the spiritual aspects of the people he paints.

Allen Levine, who Michael has known for years, commissioned the project I photographed. Allen is an outgoing person with passion for sports. He hosts a local talk show calling himself the Talking Machine. The symbolism in his portrait reveals his character with forms & color from Michael.

Michael never started out to be an artist coming close to never recognizing his gift. As a student he was adrift. During our conversations he frequently discussed how John Bowman, one of his professors at Penn State, encouraged him to develop his own voice on the canvas using his intuitive sense of color. After that, he avoided academic probation & was on a path to understanding & developing his talent.

Michael has confidence he is where he needs to be with his art. His role as a Middle School teacher “inspiring his students to simply avoid being afraid to be creative” is part of his personality. He recognizes the value of ingenuity across all learning. Having found his talent he looks to help others discover theirs.  This provides motivation outside the studio. As a member of the board of Penn State’s College of Art & Architecture he gives back to the place where he found his gift.

I asked what artists inspired him. Of particular interest were sculptors Henry Moore from Britain & Michelangelo Buonarroti of Italy. I found it somewhat odd that sculptors influenced a painter working in a 2 dimensional medium until I researched their work. Both had a mystical view of their work, that the sculptors already lay in the marble they were uncovering. Michael considers himself more of a sculptor than a painter. Instead of using hammer chisel & stone, Michael has a similar belief he is uncovering his work like the sculptors but with brush, palette knife & oil paint.

 Michael daringly describes himself as a visionary artist. With early international recognition of his style, he now is earning commissions for his unique portraits. I do not doubt that his work may reach a new level. For now, he continues to produce his dynamic colorful symbolic portraits while trying to put a dent in the universe.

This new blog format I am using will allow you to click on the photographs to see them full frame. Feedback appreciated.