As we mark that our continuing Artists You Need To Know series has reached the milestone of 100 artists, it is a good time to turn the spotlight on the two artists who are Art Is Hell / AIH Studios with features about them.
This week’s Artist You Need To Know is Tony Calzetta.
Over the last half century, since receiving his B.F.A. from the University of Windsor and his M.F.A. from York University in Toronto, Tony Calzetta has exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions. He works mainly on canvas and paper and also sometimes in sculpture and printmaking. He has published three major livres d’artiste; Acts of Kindness and of Love in collaboration with writer John Metcalf, and the more recent How God Talks in His Sleep and Other Fabulous Fictions and Peculiar Practices both with Governor General Award winning writer Leon Rooke. Calzetta was elected as a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (R.C.A.) in 2004.
In addition to commissioned works he is represented in numerous public, corporate and private collections in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. In 2011, his paintings were exhibited as part of the Padiglione Italia at the 54th International Venice Biennale. HIs most recent exhibition was at Niagara Artist Centre, where his massive works dominated the room, creating an environment rich in colour, line and form that enveloped the viewer.
In his own words: “My art explores drawing originating from my early paintings grounded within linear abstraction. My images are composed of shapes and forms constantly evolving from a highly personal visual vocabulary which started with subconscious doodling and automatic drawing. Over time I consciously incorporated external visual influences.
Often described as ‘abstract funnies’ or ‘surreal cartoons,’ my artwork straddles – and challenges assumptions about – high art and popular culture. My aesthetic is very focused upon ‘image as image’ and I believe in letting the viewer interpret and create their own narrative within the elements / components of my work.”
From the text for his exhibition Tony Calzetta : Shadow Blocking at the MacLaren Art Centre : “Calzetta is similarly interested in geometrical abstraction and the use of humour to enliven his art. After abandoning pure abstraction in the 1980s, Calzetta’s work has increasingly embraced a comic-strip aesthetic that celebrates the narrative potential of the wandering line.”
The shapes and forms in Calzetta’s art is reminiscent of 20th-century American modernists such as Cy Twombly and Philip Guston. Many of his works “emphasize art as a play space: a space that is treacherously spiky at times but ultimately humorous….Calzetta’s sense of the absurd is strongest in the links between his images and their titles….Calzetta originally wanted his titles to have nothing to do with the images: they “were deliberately whimsical and obscure because Calzetta didn’t want to force interpretations of the work.” Interestingly, this practice has changed over time: “‘Now, composing a title,’ he says, ‘has become a side art form.’” (from here) Often his titles offer commentary on the larger art world in a barbed and irreverent manner: this is an interesting play between the strong aesthetic sense in his work, and the monumental nature of his art.
In a response to an exhibition of Calzetta’s work at the Grimsby Public Art Gallery, the reviewer offered that Calzetta’s “art exists between symbolism and story, straddling narrative and figure. His pieces are often large in scale, confronting the viewer and are a contemporary interpretation of how a “painting will react to you if you react to it. You get from it what you bring to it. It will meet you half way but no further. It is alive if you are. It represents something and so do you”, to quote Ad Reinhardt.”
Calzetta has shown with the Fran Hill Gallery (Toronto, ON), Mira Godard Gallery (Toronto, ON), the Pollock Gallery (Toronto, ON) and the Art Gallery of Windsor (Windsor, ON). His exhibition War Stories for Children and Art Stories for Adults: Paintings and 3 Sculptures toured to the Thames Art Gallery (Chatham, ON), Leaf Rapids Exhibition Centre (Manitoba), Heritage North Museum (Thompson, Manitoba), Medicine Hat Museum & Art Gallery (Alberta), Yukon Arts Centre (Whitehorse), Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba (Brandon), Gallery Lambton (Sarnia, Ontario), Two Rivers Art Gallery (Prince George, British Columbia) and the Art Gallery of the South Okanagen (Penticon, British Columbia)
A more extensive list of his exhibitions and accomplishments can be read here.
A number of short videos about Calzetta and his artwork can be enjoyed here: and he recently sat down with Bart Gazzola from curated to talk about his more recent works, and some upcoming projects. That can be seen here.
Much more of Calzetta’s artwork can be seen here, including his work in prints and several Livres d’Artistes previously mentioned. An extensive archive of his work can also be enjoyed at the CCCA site, which is here.