I am an artist and I’ve been working …
Driving home from a grueling but satisfying art show in Palm Desert last week, I tried distracting myself to stay awake by dredging up some ancient memories while listening to country music. I needed to clear my head of all those white club pants, sparkly sandals and tennis outfits that may or may not have permanently damaged my retinas.
About a million years ago, my youngest daughter got married. Her new in-laws gave the happy couple a piece of land as a wedding gift. How excited my girl was, telling me all about it on the phone. “You’ve just got to come see it! We’re living in the country!” I took down the address and flew to Florida from D.C.
About an hour after leaving the Jacksonville airport I knew something wasn’t quite right. North Florida is pretty much exactly like Alabama except with more swamps, so forget GPS. I went to a Piggly Wiggly (“the Pig” to locals) market to get directions, but we had a language barrier that more likely was a dental hygiene barrier. At least I understood her pointing. Down a very overgrown gravel road, ostensibly to my destination.
I will never forget seeing my daughter standing on that porch in the clearing. Wearing Daisy Dukes, a cropped men’s undershirt and a big smile, the broken washing machine in the yard made a snapshot image to remember (and use) forever. (If the local Chamber of Commerce used it, the caption could read, “Come to [name removed], Florida. They’ll never find you here!”)
Before I could speak or drive off, my girl dragged me into her home, exclaiming, “It’s a double wide! And look, we made a curtain out of dried noodles where the door should be and glued glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling and found a Foosball table!”
“Uh huh, “ I said. “Where’s your husband?” He was in the back digging holes for exercise. I asked him why he was digging holes. He said and I quote, “Cuz.” And that, dear reader, is one of my all-time favorite memories and perhaps most potentially valuable piece of blackmail ever.
What possible connection does that memory have to do with this month’s art column? Absolutely nothing! Except for the irrelevant observation that you can find the most indelible impressions in the most unexpected places, like actually remembering Clint Eastwood’s no-name character in 1973’s “High Plains Drifter.” Oh snap, there’s the segue! I found an artist hidden in plain sight here in Cambria who actually resembles a young Clint Eastwood. He has the skills to be a major force of art. His first inspiration was a world famous cowboy painter, Richard McLean. His style is photorealism (aka technical perfection). Connection made, I decided to ask him a few candid questions.
Milo Divencenzo was born in 1973, the year of “High Plains Drifter” in Marin County. His father was eccentric even during those years. A long-haired artist, hunter and conservative, his contradictions influenced the family of five. Milo is the youngest.
PD: When were you aware of your skills?
Milo: I pretty much always knew I could draw. I knew I inherited some talent from my father, but didn’t prioritize it. I spent my youth and early adulthood doing lots of menial, dirty jobs, fighting against an identity as an artist. I traveled, but not like other Marin County kids. My travel was taking a Greyhound to a town in central Virginia and getting a job as a parking lot attendant.
PD: You went to California College of the Arts in Oakland as an adult. Why?
Milo: I saw photos of Richard McLean’s paintings. I wanted to understand how anyone could turn the goop of paint into something so perfectly rendered. It had nothing to do with the beauty of the subject, but the impossibility of the craftsmanship. I wanted to work. I wanted to be immersed so that nothing else mattered. My teacher Jack Mendenhall knew McLean. Perfecting and executing photorealism in oil paint is as much fun as digging a ditch. But the payoff is huge when successful.
PD: Understanding the labor involved in photorealism, would you change your style?
Milo: I have done quicker works, but they always propel me back to my preferred style. I don’t mind the hard work. Artists I admire most are the hardest working artists. Creativity is a craft. It’s all about time; I need more hours!
PD: Did you have an “aha moment” when you first completed a piece to your satisfaction?
Milo: Yes! I did a portrait of my ex-girlfriend during high school in 2003. It was my second effort using oil paint. I knew I could do this for another 30 years. Of course, she broke up with me for being obsessive!
PD: You have been supported by patrons and completed a stunningly diverse, but small body of work. As you mature, your work will reflect an identifiable signature. I’m going to use examples of two of your paintings to demonstrate the disconnection between subject matters. The first is of Geishas and the second is from Hearst Castle. No question here — they speak for themselves.
Patrick Dennis’ column appears the second Thursday of each month and is special to The Cambrian. Find him online at www.patrickgallery.com.