Marco Crocchianti – Artist on the Verge

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Marco Crocchianti – Artist on the Verge
by Donald Matteson,
At Home in Brooklyn

A dozen years ago, toward the end of summer, a young painter was serving pizza in a restaurant deep in the hills of Tuscany, a place with spectacular landscapes that draw writers, artists and filmmakers from around the world in search of inspiration and settings for their creative impulses, a place where something as quotidian as a sunset can bring one to tears. The waiter and I chatted, badly, in each other’s languages.
Marco and I became good friends, spending time together nearly every day. I was fascinated that a person who grew up in a village so remote he had to take a train to get to a high school where he could study art, could maintain the will to develop his talent and be so eager to make a success with it against all odds. Marco was mature beyond his years and intuitive. It helped that we both liked to drink red wine – and were in the perfect part of the world for it – and we were both a little neurotic with frustrated creative sides, and both, despite the difference in our ages, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of our lives. Over the months that followed, we talked and smoked and drank late into the nights at my place long after the town bar had closed.

Later the following year, I moved back to Brooklyn in anticipation of the arrival of my first grandchild, wanting to be closer to the family. Then in 2007, I decided to turn my townhouse in Park Slope, facing 600-acre Prospect Park, into a bed and breakfast to help cover the costs of running it, and managed to get Marco a visa to come and help. He arrived in Brooklyn, five years after a chance meeting, just a few weeks before we opened, with a promise that in exchange for 20 hours a week of his help, I’d give him room and board, a place to paint and a modest salary.
Though he primarily painted in oils, he experimented with other media. Once, bored, and with few friends because his English was still limited, he grabbed a ball-point pen, and started drawing an interior scene of his bedroom in the basement of the house on a large sheet of brown wrapping paper. The piece took on a life of its own and he had to add a second, then a third sheet of brown paper to the original as the drawing continued to grow in dimensions. The only color in it was the striped bedspread, which he painted with acrylic blues and greens.
Oddly, the end product, a hyperrealist drawing, seemed slightly surreal because the perspectives dictated by the several photos of the space from which the drawing was made are taken from different angles, heights and distances, and are then blended to create a hybrid reality where an electric fan seems to fit, but at the same time jumps out of the picture at you from the edges. In some places the perspective is normal but then as your eye line moves to the right or left, it is as if you, the viewer, are moving to look at the room from a different place within the room where you stood initially. You are “in” the room – but not sure how you got there – and it feels strange.

Marco seemed to have found a new voice and hasn’t done an oil painting since. This drawing spawned a new series, a totally new direction for Marco’s work, with increasingly larger pieces, some further experimentation with paper and ink types and pen strokes, but all essentially large interior landscapes done in ink on brown paper that are extremely detailed, right down to the cigarette ashes and paint brush bristles, that incorporate liberal use of chiaroscuro shading which can make them feel dark but not depressing, and that make you think hard about the way you see everyday objects.

Marco is now one of the biggest attractions at the B&B, our own artist in residence, and that makes a visit here special for more than just fine bed linens and good breakfast. Guests love his work, his accent, and ask to visit him in his studio (my converted garage) to see and talk about his latest work. His paintings and drawings cover our walls wherever there is space. Guests have offered Marco up to $10,000 for one of his drawings. So far, he has declined sales in favor of building a body of work so he can have a one-man show which he hopes will lead to the types of commissions he wants to do. He has staged minor shows as part of larger exhibitions, and has done several commissions, including portraits. The contacts he has made in New York have generated a lot of interest in his work. He is producing more now than ever, and was recently asked by one of the world’s leading architectural firms with headquarters in Midtown Manhattan to let them stage a show of his work in their offices. His only serious long-term problem remains his production rate. It can take many months to complete one of his drawings, not least of the reasons for which is his perfectionism. He sees almost all of his pieces and works in progress, even after they are done, and will often complete a section only to decide it needs to be slightly darker and then spend days going over it all again. That’s all great for whoever buys it, but not so great for those who are waiting in line now to acquire a piece.