DiMattio Off Leash: Fifty Years of Exhibition

October 15, 2018
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The diverse and storied work of artists and Monmouth University professor Vincent DiMattio is on display in the university’s galleries now through Dec. 7. Photo courtesy T. Navarra

By Tova Navarra |

WEST LONG BRANCH – Monmouth University is like a wild animal with 50 lives. All its galleries – DiMattio, Icehouse, and Pollak – are filled to the brim with a feral, diverse body of artwork that represents the last five decades of DiMattio’s world.

The “animal kingdom” includes the Totem, Circle, Oracle, Dream, Tube, Rain, Political and other series, plus Minis, Marks (calligraphy) and independent paintings – exhibits that run through Dec. 7.  DiMattio, professor, School of Humanities and Social Services, says his last five decades as artist, educator, founding gallery director and curator have been a “magical journey,” which, ever-evolving, stalks through the forest whose entrance has a key: his students.

“The kids help me keep my spirit and stay younger,” DiMattio said. “Monmouth University is a special place and this whole exhibit means everything in the world.”

His wife, Deborah, concurs. “He cannot stop – he works seven days a week,” she said.” Besides being a great professor, he takes 20 students to Europe every year to see and study art and architecture.”

A longtime resident of Loch Arbour, DiMattio, 77, maintains the Quincy, Massachusetts, accent of his birthplace as he praises the school and its evolution from college to its now-higher status. The revered 800 Gallery has been replaced by an impressive building dedicated to Arts and Design, a gift from Robert and Joan Rechnitz, Monmouth County art patrons par excellence. As one meanders from painting to painting, totem to totem, and so forth, it is also a journey for viewers who enjoy seeing a kind of documentary on DiMattio’s work. In addition to the exhibit, a room off the two-story DiMattio Gallery featured a movie on Vince, as he is known, and how he amassed a collection of such magnitude.

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Andrew Cohen, Ph.D., now chair and professor of the Department of Art and Design, said, “Vincent’s contributions cannot be overstated. He served as our gallery director and as the department chair from 1986 to 2002. Throughout these past 50 years, his persistent presence has enriched us. Art is his passion, which makes his work interesting and real. It also makes him a great colleague.”

Everywhere the eye falls in each gallery holds the viewers who become privy to the canvases, constructions and assemblages. Some of DiMattio’s influences include Paul Klee, Amadeo Modigliani, Martin Puryear, Pablo Picasso, Arshile Gorky, Georgia O’Keeffe and George Tooker. Although neither of his parents were art aficionados, they helped DiMattio sustain his interest in art via his earliest drawings with paper and pencil, even to the point of showing off his renderings to their co-workers. The drawings finally evolved into DiMattio’s Napkin Series and Dream Series.

As he approached adulthood, DiMattio did the paperwork necessary for him to enlist as a Marine. But fate took a holiday when one of his high-school classmates invited him to Boston and visit the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArts). There he abandoned his military enlistment and attended MassArts for his undergraduate studies. Thereafter, he completed a graduate degree at Southern Illinois University in 1965. Although he was offered a position at the school and taught there for three years, DiMattio was advised to teach at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In 1968 he came home to the East and began teaching at what was then Monmouth College. Seems his art blossomed into collages and all the influences of past artists. Diane Arbus’s and Joel-Peter Witkin’s photographs, as well as Matisse’s use of color manifested into more of DiMattio’s wanderings into many more mediums. And after 50 years, DiMattio has taught thousands of students who were inspired by his work and teaching and advice. Now on display in the galleries of his infinite forest, his work continues to expand and become the influence of aspiring artists through the years.

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“I love the way the planet conjures things up, such as street offerings,” said DiMattio, referring to items on the ground or on the side of the road that he picks up uses somewhere in an art piece. “I love the way the atmosphere churns all the time with birth, death, sexuality, plays on words and emotions, rituals, events of nature.”

Even primitive, Aztec-like, and Native American art joined his repertoire, as did artist Hieronymous Bosch’s nearly vicious work impacted DiMattio’s Dream Series, and, in fact, he says, his entire hunt in a kingdom of myriad species.

DiMattio’s various exhibits have traveled to several states as well as to Puerto Rico and Spain, among other venues. The “DiMattio/50” celebratory exhibits allow viewers a unique insight into how the pencil drawings of a child grew into maturity that is likely not to stop.

This article was first published in the Sept. 20 – Sept. 26, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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