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Intention & Intuition: A Q&A with Deron DeCesare

Persephone, mixed media, by Deron DeCesare. Winner of the Carol Bruce Pastel Award in the "Orbit" exhibit, juried by Melissa Staiger.
Persephone, mixed media, by Deron DeCesare. Winner of the Carol Bruce Pastel Award in the “Orbit” exhibit, juried by Melissa Staiger.

With its springlike subject matter and strong sense of movement, you might think this piece was made specifically for “Orbit,” our current exhibit exploring cycles and routines. But it actually has its origins elsewhere. Like many works of art, it took some unexpected turns on its journey to The Art League.

Deron DeCesare won the Carol Bruce Pastel Award for Persephone, and we asked him to tell us its story:

What was your goal with Persephone?
Deron DeCesare: I had several goals with Persephone. The most specific was to create a work that fit the theme of an upcoming exhibit. The funny thing is that that show was not “Orbit.” I created Persephone with another gallery’s exhibit, entitled “Green,” in mind. I was thinking spring, plants sprouting through the snow, that sort of thing. Only later did I realize the piece’s sense of movement and the imagery suggesting life and seasonal cycles fit the guidelines for the “Orbit” show as well.

Detail from Persephone by Deron DeCesare
Detail from Persephone by Deron DeCesare

A secondary goal was to continue my ongoing experimentation with ways of combining printmaking and painting. In this case, that experimentation resulted in the piece’s swirling abstracted background. Finally, I’ve been pushing myself to move beyond only producing preliminary works during my weekly Open Life Drawing sessions, to producing some finished pieces as well. It was at one of those drawing sessions that the figure was integrated into the composition.

What were the different media you used? What was the process like?
Watercolor, printmaking, charcoal and pastel are the media I used here. Work took part in two distinct stages. The first stage was to establish the overall green tonality and patterning of the support, in this case watercolor paper. This was executed in my studio in a very spontaneous manner in watercolor, using found objects such as leaves, twigs and pine needles for stenciling. I wanted an animated, mostly abstract background to contrast yet enhance the more developed realism of the figure I planned to add. During the second stage, the piece was completed at the Workhouse Art Center using charcoal and pastel and working from a live model.

Skiers and Trees, drypoint and chine colle, by Deron DeCesare. From the January 2011 All-Media Exhibit.
Skiers and Trees, drypoint and chine colle, by Deron DeCesare. From the January 2011 All-Media Exhibit.

In general, what’s your creative process like? As a painter and printmaker, how do you jump from medium to medium?
My creative process functions best when it resembles a kind of controlled chaos. I usually develop ideas through preparatory sketches. I also enjoy experimentation and build it into my creative process. I like a mix of intention and intuition.

When picking what medium to use, I identify the overall feel I’m after for my subject and choose a medium that inherently lends itself well to creating that feel. I find jumping between printing and painting refreshing for the most part, but the downside is it can be disruptive too. It’s a challenge to maintain momentum in both mediums simultaneously.

Lately, I’ve been combining the two mediums in the same piece, using non-traditional printing methods to transfer paint to the paper instead of ink.

Spring, watercolor, by Deron DeCesare. From the September 2010 All-Media Exhibit.
Spring, watercolor, by Deron DeCesare. From the September 2010 All-Media Exhibit.

What’s your first memory of art as a child?
Finger painting in kindergarten is a strong early memory. The feeling of the thick, squishy paint. I don’t actually remember this, but I found out years later from my mom that the teacher told her I was concerned about getting my hands dirty. My mom apparently had to reassure me that it was OK to get paint on my hands. Thanks Mom!

When and how did you make the decision to become a full-time artist?
The decision to quit my day job, as it were, was made for me in 2005 when my son was diagnosed with a very serious form of cancer in his teens. Driving him to his many treatments and appointments and helping him maintain his strength and studies was a part-time job in itself. Fortunately, my wife and I were in a position to sacrifice one of our incomes allowing me to concentrate on our son and the less lucrative, but more flexible occupation of artist.

Incidentally, my son has grown up to be one of the most artistic people I know. And although (or maybe because) his expertise leans more towards the musical than the visual, I find him to be a good sounding board.

“It’s in the actual doing that growth occurs.”

What are you working on now?
It might seem strange and superficial to say, but I am currently working on increasing both the scale and quantity of my work. The ability to work effectively in large formats is an acquired skill. It’s valuable because it’s another way to increase the impact of a work. As far as increasing the quantity of my output, quantity can actually improve quality. Quantity can only come about by doing and it’s in the actual doing that growth occurs.

“Orbit” is open through this Sunday, May 1. 

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