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‘Do it for love and money will follow’: Alum reflects on 25 years as a professional painter

Tom Tartaglino (BFA ’94) always loved to draw and paint, but didn’t pursue a degree in the arts until he was married with children. His friends and family expressed doubts that a career in the arts was sustainable, yet his desire to pursue his dream of being a painter eventually inspired him to enroll in the VCUarts painting and printmaking program at age 40. His first year after graduating, he sold 11 paintings. He’s since produced hundreds more portraits, natural and urban landscapes, and etchings—at the rate of 30 works a year.

Fluvanna Review reached out to Tartaglino to learn about his motivations, subjects and plans for the future.

“I suppose I will pick a subject based on how the message in my head needs to be said to the public. Art is a non-verbal form of communication and works well with emotions. As something is triggered in me, I will think about what sort of painting will best describe it,” he said. “I am often attracted to a subject and unaware of how I feel about it. Not until I paint it do I understand what I am trying to say. Painting and art in general has a lot of surprises. Sometime I don’t know where it comes from.”

At the present he is taking a break from painting, and believes that these breaks make his next painting more powerful. He is thinking about doing more etchings with wildlife, like birds and reptiles, going along with the nature paintings he already does.

“I would like to explore some familiar sounds of the unusual birds. A whippoorwill for instance. That would go along with a painting of a twilight mountain or woods painting. When have you seen a whippoorwill? We only hear them,” he said. Tartaglino will research his subject from the inside out before laying it out on canvas, whether it is a car or a bird.

Read more in the Fluvanna Review.

Lead image: “Going Places” (2010) by Tom Tartaglino.