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Donato Giancola - interview by Wendy Mitchell
SFR) How and when did you get started on art as a career?
Donato Giancola) My art career began the day I was born. Looking back through the years, I see that most of my free time as a child was devoted to creating objects (toys, models, and utilitarian items) and drawing fantastical images. It wasn't until I enrolled at Syracuse University in 1989 that I began to take painting and drawing as a serious future profession.
SFR) Have you always done Science Fiction art?
DG) My Science Fiction career began with Star Wars and developed with much of those genre movies of the late 70's and 80's. My love of picture making as a small boy expressed itself though the depiction of World War II imagery in pencil, markers and models, inspired by my father's and uncle's military service in the 50's. The love of fantasy in movies fueled other interests in comics, role playing games, and literature.
SFR) You started your college career in engineering, how did you end up painting?
DG) A few engineering courses I was enrolled in during my sophomore year proved to be very frustrating, uninspiring and foreshadowed for me the boring and creativeless future I saw as a corporate engineer. I dropped out of three of these courses in mid-semester and proceeded to experiment with my hobby of drawing by taking a drawing class the next semester. A VERY risky maneuver that I would not recommend anyone at home trying without appropriate adult supervision; I had no idea what tremendous odds were against me in pursuing a successful lifestyle in the art market. After watching the attrition rate of my fellow students and graduates over the years, I think I should have remained an engineer.
SFR) Does your engineering background affect your painting, either in technique or subject matter?
DG) I have always enjoyed detailed renderings. The objective nature of Scientific study with examination of all elements of a problem with equal light is reflected in my treatment of the surface of the paintings as a unified graphic field. The bolts of a doorway in a corner carry as much weight as the eyes of the main figure (well, almost).
SFR) You have won many awards, including a Chesley. How do you find that this has helped your career?
DG) Awards are a great by-product of creating paintings that have an integrity all their own. I will never create a work solely for the merit of an award. I am pleased that so many other artists and people have enjoyed my work over these few short years, but I would be creating the same paintings even without the praise of my peers. Awards bestow recognition upon work that has already achieved a high degree of quality, but in the same breath, these awards pass over many other great paintings/images by other artists. I am always flattered to receive the honor of an award like the Chesleys.
SFR) What are your current Chesley nominations for?
DG) I have two Chesley nominations. One for a packaging art painting of an archangel for Wizards of the Coast and the second of a hard cover wrap around for Barbara Hambly's IceFalcon's Quest.
SFR) Who do you like to work for, and why?
DG) I prefer to create paintings for clients who allow me total creative freedom with characters, costumes and environments. I am currently developing my own Science Fiction universe of imagery and am attempting to keep all rights to these images for future use. Tor books has been wonderful to work with these past two years and by bestowing this level of freedom, they are receiving the absolute best of my abilities. I will devote extra long hours to their projects because of this.
SFR) What is your favorite piece you have done, and why?
DG) I have no favorite painting that stands above the rest. Each image is like working through a problem, with little steps of enlightenment along the way. I can find elements of high merit for myself in over 50% of my work. I'll let you decide which is your favorite, but you can see twelve of mine on my website (www.donatoart.com).
SFR) Do you only paint for assignments, or do you paint for yourself as well?
DG) The constraints of being a successful professional has greatly limited my production of non-commissioned work since my graduation in 1992. When and if I do find a free hour, my love of Science, early hominids, and space exploration draw me into their worlds.
SFR) Who are your favorite artists, in SF as well as the "real world?"
DG) I couldn't possibly list all the influences I have been exposed to over the years as a developing and evolving artist. To make a list of contemporary Science Fiction artists would be treacherous as I would probably omit someone of great importance and forever place my name on their punching bag! It doesn't matter anyway, because my true love lies outside the art of commercial illustration and in the world of the museums: Carravaggio, Hans Membling, Van Eyck, the Limbourg Brothers, Velazquez, Modrian, Titian, Rubens, Vermeer, Ingres, Rembrandt, Correggio, Botticelli, Bellini, Desiderio, Goya, Van der Weyden, and Bosch.
SFR) Are you interested in Science Fiction beyond the art?
DG) Outside of the fantastical nature of the art I create, I am drawn to the aspects of Science Fiction that pertain to extrapolated real science: Jupiter moon probes, search and speculation of other planetary systems, early human social organization, etc This is where I focus my leisure reading and research.
SFR) What books, movies, TV, magazines, games, etc. do you like?
DG) I watch little TV and when I do it is usually Science or English mystery programming on PBS or soccer on Sunday afternoon. I am brushing up on reading the classics that I was never exposed to as an art educated painter. Currently my favorite writer is Dostoyevsky. The same is true on my musical tastes, but they tend to the more modern with minimalists like Steve Reich and Philip Glass. I prefer to attend performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and watch art house films.
This may sound like an elitist cultural menu, but rather, I like to engage in any activity that will spark my imagination in a way that is divergent from the norm. As a Science Fiction artist it is my responsibility to provide my viewers with new and outlandish solutions to centuries old human problems. I find that by studying only the genre will lead to incestuous use of imagery. By searching and exposing my senses to foreign and unfamiliar material I hope to inject something new and creative into Science Fiction art.
SFR) Do you collect art, or anything else?
I am working on some trades with other artists now, but I still haven't gotten rich enough to afford many of my friends' paintings yet.
SFR) Is your art collectible?
DG) I put as much integrity into my work as humanly possible for an illustrator. I value my original paintings well above their use as a commercial illustration commission, for this reason I place hours of professional craftsmanship in each piece. If you love original paintings, I hope you might appreciate what I do with mine.