After I hit reply to my email thread with studio artist Tony Astone I re-read my response: "Don't worry about a thing, I'll make sure to bring my wide angle lens." He warned me about the size of the artwork (huge) and wanted to make sure it would work for our upcoming portrait session together.
When I got to Tony's apartment in Somerville, MA, I walked in and was shocked: Lining the kitchen walls and all the hallways were 6+ feet canvasses. He wasn't lyin' about the sheer size of his art work. Luckily our photoshoot wasn’t a “copy photo session” (meaning the photographing of his paintings with even lighting, usually for portfolio reasons) but an individual lifestyle shoot to capture an environmental portrait for Tony’s recent achievement of being Somerville Arts Council Artist of the month. Before each shoot I always ask myself “what should be the backdrop of this environmental portrait?”, and within one second of walking into Tony’s kitchen I knew the paintings were the environment and perfect backdrop. So we photographed in front of them, gabbing the whole time over our shared love of American artist Cindy Sherman and my suggestions to channel his inner Dominic Chianese (The Godfather, The Sopranos). Tony easily and quickly relaxed with this suggestion, one hand on his kitchen windowsill, while his city-slicker cat, Zamboni, looked on. Zamboni is a black and white indoor-outdoor cat and is well known in the community and as friendly as his owner. But Tony has an intellectually charged deeper side in his artwork: the paintings are fantastically grotesque filled with brutal realities and metaphor. These paintings are fiery, political, sharp, honest, playful, and refreshing all in one colorful breath of a view. After our hour-long shoot together I asked myself: What makes a person dig this far into the depths of their creativity?
Tony’s latest politically charged oil painting lined an entire wall of his bedroom. In bold primary colors with comic book sensibility, I witnessed a painting of young children playing within a murderous scene in a classroom. This painting was intense - with a tension between playful and terrifying. The bold red color of the blood jumped out at me because it matched the same hue of red as the leather chair Tony sat on front of it. On a lighter note, Tony had amazing dark Italian hair with one strand that fell over his forehead, which I called “the Uncle Jesse strand” and we laughed and agreed John Stamos is a dream boat.
Tony’s sketchbook was another great element of discovery from the shoot. He opened the large black-bound book and with a tinge of vulnerability began showing me some of the most intricate sketches I’ve ever seen in a sketchbook. With tight line work and precise use of minuscule dots each drawing looked like a polished rendering. This is where his brainstorming occurs. After politely and directly telling me about the process I learned how Tony would spend months prepping each painting, sometimes laying them out in Photoshop, often changing the concept at the last minute, then spending hours (even days!) with a brush rendering them to a large scale.
Perhaps it was Tony’s schooling from Rhode Island School of Design, or the impressive amount of time he puts into his studio practice, but this work is impactful and liberating. It was an amazing photographic experience to witness an example of an artist who leaves behind no “should-haves” in his life. I highly recommend you see the paintings in person because they’ll swallow you in and spit you out covered in goopy insight.