Marco Domeniconi is a painter, photographer, dad, wannabe musician, overthinker, recovering neuroscientist.
1. Tell me about your journey from neuroscientist and professor to artist.
I grew up with art and artists around me and, in my teens, I was spending my time either holding a camera or in a dark room. So, though unexpected, I cannot say it was completely out of the left field.
After putting away my first camera, life happened and I reinvented myself a few times. A shifting focus has been a recurring theme for me. If I do not feel challenged and stimulated, I quickly get bored and move on to something else. Neuroscience was my latest solution to end all boredom. I thought scientific research was a place where all questions have an answer that is in turn a new set of questions – aka a built in anti-boredom clause. Plus, I am fascinated by the paradoxical nature of it: neuroscience studies the organ that does the studying.
It was a great idea and boredom was gone. I interacted with many amazing minds; I switched projects frequently; and, I truly loved research. Unfortunately, I was soon forced to do less and less research to focus more on managing and teaching. At the same time, I was also being exposed to artists – both at the university and in my personal life. Eventually, I earned the right to take a sabbatical, which is essentially a very long paid vacation. Well, before I knew it, I had bought a new camera and spent the following six months on NYC streets clicking away. My youthful excitement returned. It felt like a weight had been suddenly lifted. Although I did return to teach, the proverbial cat was out of the bag and I soon resigned to fully dedicate myself to art. Oddly, the last step was truly the easiest.
2. Do you find that your neuroscience and teaching background helps you with your artistic work?
Yes and no. I work with the energy and emotions of my inner world; then, the sum of my life experiences – including neuroscience and teaching - certainly contributes to my art. However, I think it was the other way around. There is certain amount of imagination involved in looking for new ways to ask a question or to create new experiments to answer those questions. My somewhat impure methods - I mean thinking like an artist at heart – at times helped my research. You would be surprised how many of my fellow neuroscientist are very skilled musicians, painters, and ballet dancers.
3. What is your typical day like?
My work is direct and spontaneous, thus it does not exactly lend itself to a routine. I guess reading would be the most typical part of my day. I read constantly, consuming news, articles, blogs and books about anything and everything. I am simply too curious about it all to limit myself in any way. And that leads to another fairly typical, though unpredictable, event: something bubbles up inside and I have to abruptly act upon it. Some days, it means I grab brushes and paint. I often start several canvases at once and obsess on them until they express my feelings. Other days, it means I grab a camera and venture around the city seeking moments and people. And there are many other types of day. So, you could say that my typical day is mostly about absorbing information.
4. Who or what inspires you?
Humanity. Rothko once wrote, “I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions — tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.” Though I do not share the talent, I do share the interest. Some people have the ability to understand and communicate the feelings of another. For my part, I don’t readily understand them, though they affect me deeply. Experiencing and witnessing human emotions, laboring to understand them is what inspires me. I record fleeting moments, landscapes, people and colors only as a mean to an end. The figures and shapes you see in my photographs or attempt to find in my paintings are not my subject. I just want to create a path to an emotion.
5. What is your dream art project?
Ah, I dream a lot. In a frequent dream, I turn a truck into a camera and drive it around the world. The truck doubles as a dark room for coating and developing large plates. I like the idea of a medium that produces a single, unique artwork at the time of capture. Everything comes together just once. Take an ambrotype of Chief Sitting Bull. You know it is unique, it was never manipulated and Sitting Bull probably held it when it was made. It brings the dream tones of analog photography with the magic of instant film. Of course, uniting fleeting targets of opportunity with the slowness of 19th-century photography and doing it out of the back of a truck presents some challenges, but nothing impossible. I think the results will be stunning.
6. You are a photographer and a painter. Do you prefer or feel more comfortable with one medium over the other?
I seldom feel comfortable, but I find photography easier to approach and a lot less intimidating. As a photographer, my objective is to discover and capture something that is already out there. My subjects are fully formed and my challenges are to find them and keep the details. In painting, my subjects are just ideas and I have to give them both form and details. A white canvas requires a different mindset that I often find daunting. In this sense, I am more comfortable with a camera.
As a photographer, I can correct things later. Painting, at least for me, could not be more different. My paintings are immediate, instinctive and there are no second chances. Moreover, the final images are evolving as I paint them. You can say that I have a dialogue with my artwork. I am not entirely aware of what I am doing, but the art and I have a connection and, the moment I lose that connection, it is a colorful mess. Because I am more in the moment, I am more excited when I paint. I ultimately prefer being excited to being comfortable.
7. You've traveled a lot. Is there anywhere you'd like to go that you haven't been as yet?
Absolutely! I have very few inhibitions when it comes to traveling. Every place on this planet falls in one of two groups: “been there” or “want to be there”. As a rule, I am not satisfied with being a tourist. I dream of getting lost in foreign cities, tussling with a language I can’t speak, and drinking or trading stories with the locals. That kind of travel takes time. If time is in short supply, I prefer to return to familiar places. London and Firenze, for example, are cities that feel like home the moment I land there. A few remote locations also retain a similar familiarity. But, if I could book a month long trip tomorrow, I would probably pick Myanmar.
8. What has been the highlight of your career as an artist so far?
A show, an award or mastering a technique are things that come and go. A while back, I was cleaning up my studio and I uncovered a few canvases rolled up in a corner. They were leftovers from the time I first explored painting. I never intended to show those immature experiments to anyone. “That’s where they are!” It was my son. He grabbed the painting and walked away. I did not know he had seen me paint them – he must have been six at the time – nor that he had been looking for them. Later, in his dorm room, I heard him and his friends discuss those paintings. At first, it made me feel like the little kid whose parents hang his stick figure on the refrigerator. Then, I heard them speak of the very emotions I had painted. It was the first time I knew my art had communicated my emotions and it stands apart.
9. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists/creatives?
I say, forget uniqueness. Go out there and be influenced. Copy artworks you love; copy many of them many times and your unique voice will find you. Also, promote yourself shamelessly and never work for free. It is great to be generous with your friends and causes you care about, but you should care about money. You will need it. Plus, if you don’t care about being paid for your work, why would anyone pay you for it?
10. What's next for you?
I don’t honestly want to know! I do not think there is much fun in knowing things ahead of time. I am just emerging as an artist and I know I need to focus more on promotion. Artistically, I love creating art for large spaces. I feel freer in large spaces. So, you will see bigger canvases and bigger prints. Personally, only forward motion is allowed. It took me a while to become an artist. At some point, it is possible that the strangeness will wear off. If that happens, I will find new ways and new means to explore and communicate. Meanwhile, it is just more art and, maybe, Myanmar.
Interview By Glodeane Brown
All photos provided by the artist