Artistic inspiration isn’t always found in a picturesque sunset, trip to Paris, or pretty model who moonlights as a muse. In fact, artist Domenick Naccarato’s creative epiphany was literally a joke.
It went something like this: Naccarato was waiting for sculpture class to start and a fellow art school student walked in and dropped a 12-inch slab of wood covered in decades of chipping paint and riddled with rusty nails on the table. He sarcastically declared, “That’s art.”
Naccarato laughed, but a lightbulb went off. As a young and budding artist, he had been spending his days trying to create the most realistic work possible. “It finally dawned on me that you can find beauty in everything,” he explains.
This isn’t necessarily a new sentiment, but he actually means it—he even finds the beauty in Pennsylvania’s primary affliction, construction. Naccarato commutes from the Lehigh Valley to King of Prussia every day without complaint. “There are all kinds of interesting things I see on the signage and backs of construction vehicles,” he says. “Rust marks on the back of a tractor trailer will catch my eye, and that’s what I keep in mind when I go to create a new series.”
As a husband and father with a digital marketing day job and knack for constant home improvement, Naccarato’s schedule doesn’t leave much time for play. For a while, he stopped making art entirely while he started a family. “I want to be an awesome dad,” Naccarato explains. He later realized that embracing his creative spirit didn’t mean he would be less of a good parent—and it might help him be an even better one. “I had a vision of being an artist and creating work, but my kids were my top priority,” he says. “But I also felt like I almost wasn’t myself.”
“Rust marks on the back of a tractor trailer will catch my eye, and that’s what I keep in mind when I go to create a new series.”
Four years ago he turned the light back on in his basement studio and leapt into the local art scene by joining the Lehigh Arts Alliance and Arts Community of Easton, which introduced him to a vibrant spread of group shows and diverse styles. “Joining these groups has opened up a whole world of not only exposure for me personally with my own work, but also being able to meet all of these different artists and see their work has been awe-inspiring,” he says. “It just makes me want to be a better artist.”
His renewed commitment to his craft sends him down to the studio at 9:00 at night—after work and awesome dad time—where he toils into the night on his art, best described as “industrial abstract.” Remember the 12-inch slab of wood from his college days? That’s almost the feeling he goes for now—worn and weathered—but with brand new materials, often plucked from shiny bins at Home Depot. Then the artist distresses them with sanding, scraping, and touches of hydrogen peroxide to create pieces that appear to have been found on retired train cars or forgotten buildings.
“It’s like I’m playing,” he says. “I’m taking an object that has a completely different use in the real world and turning it into something that looks like I found it.”
His pieces are rich with texture, and while sculptural elements and assemblage are common themes, Naccarato still refers to his works as paintings. In additional to Home Depot hardware, Naccarato’s materials include black roofing tar—“I love the texture—it’s the nastiest, most caustic stuff you can imagine,” he says—as well as plaster and house paint. Why house paint, you might ask? (I did.) The self-proclaimed “weekend warrior” is always painting something around the house and simply has perpetual leftover paint cans laying around. Unlike most artists, Naccarato actually can’t remember the last time he had to run out and buy paint.
One of his most memorable pieces was done on a 24-inch square of steel, as Naccarato typically veers away from traditional canvas. Most of his pieces feature a numeral. Sometimes they have significance; sometimes he glances at the clock and goes with the time. This piece in particular features a prominent 72, which is the year his wife was born.
Unlike working directly from life, his creative process isn’t always straightforward. “Every now and then something pops into my head, some sort of vision,” he says. “Other times I just go into my studio and start with a clean surface, and often, I get to a point where I envisioned one thing, but what’s happening is it’s taking me somewhere else, so I follow that along.”
Also unlike a landscape or portrait, determining when a piece is finished can be a little trickier. “It has to tell me,” he says. “You can feel when you’ve gone too far, especially when you’re creating abstract work. You feel it, you know it, things become muddy. But at the same time, you can also sense when you haven’t gone far enough and there’s this dance you do until you reach the point where you feel like you’re done.”
Where some see an impending traffic jam or decrepit building, Naccarato sees flashes of an untold story that he later brings to life, inviting those of us who sometimes take our scenery a little too literally to slow down and appreciate each slice of life for how, in its own way, is a treasure.
To see Domenick Naccarato’s work, visit domenicknaccarato.com.