Representational Art, Reversals of Thought and Radical Departures


Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist. – Pablo Picasso

Some say creating works of art – on paper, on canvas and even on Plexiglas – takes time and a desire to learn the rules before breaking them.

Traditional Portrait Artist Julia Maddalina, 19, is a student of that method. Majoring in Illustration at the Cleveland Institute of Art, she begins her sophomore year this fall. This spring she spoke with Art House Press about her style, art world experiences and artistic philosophy.

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon – Artist Julia Maddalina

A Style Borne of Early Exposure

With parents who studied Fine Art, it’s little wonder Maddalina’s already found her footing. She and her mother paint and exhibit together. They have a shared sensibility but signature styles all their own. Her father, who also studied Illustration, is an architect.

That early entrée fast-tracked her career and quickly drew attention to her work.

While a senior at Fairport High School, Maddalina appeared in a “Scholastic Arts Spotlight” video aired by WROC-TV. News Anchor Maureen McGuire set up the clip by saying, “Some of the best artists in Rochester call Julia Maddalina the best student they’ve ever seen.”

Later that year, Southwest Art profiled the representational artist in its “21 Under 31: Young Artists to Watch in 2014” showcase. The piece highlights her work habits – inspiration, favorite studio music and artistic quirks (“I hold my pencil funny”) – and reflections on rapid success.

“Since opportunities have been coming my way so soon and so quickly,” Maddalina shared, of her biggest fear, “I am cautious and anxious about managing all these great things. From working alongside my idols to teaching workshops, I am nervous every time. But I always decide to jump in with confidence.”

Whether with brushes or pencils, she voices that confidence in realistic works like Girl with Shawl (water-based oil on canvas), Dancers in White and Gold (oil on panel underpainted with ink) and Defiance (charcoal on paper).

Those who influence her style include Visual Artist David Jon Kassan.

“(I recently) took a workshop with David Kassan … one of my inspirations since I (was) about 16. So, that was really exciting. Last year I drew next to him at the Portrait (Society) Conference and again I was able to connect with him and demo next to him, which was incredible.”

“To see him, in action, and then have him critique my work (was) pretty amazing.”

But it doesn’t end there.

“I’m taking another (workshop, soon), with Jeffrey Hein …. He’s been another one of my influences for a while. Michelle Dunaway is another.”

Scott Burdick is yet another.

“All these people have (influenced) my work for as long as I can remember. I’m just kind of taking bits and pieces from what they teach me and (developing) my own style.”

Maddalina brightened when asked if artists of other periods have made an impression.

“Oh, absolutely!” she replied. “I love Bouguereau.”

A trip to the Gardiner Museum to see his work and that of Sargent and Zorn was already on her agenda.

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon - Julia Maddalina

Photography by Stephen S. Reardon – Julia Maddalina

Reversals of Thought

Maddalina’s first foray into formal instruction came at age 14, studying under Steve Carpenter. The two recently joined forces for an exhibit and remain in close contact. Her first pivotal a-ha moment, which solidified her interest in a career in art and provided direction, came courtesy of Scott Burdick.

“I was (15) and my instructor at the time, Chris Kolupski, had me up in his studio. I was working with him, he was my teacher – my mom was there, as well – and Scott Burdick and Susan Lyon … came through.”

The pair commented on Maddalina’s work. Burdick then urged her to attend one of their workshops.

“I was like, ‘Well, it’s a lot of money and a lot of time …,’” she began. “And he was like ‘No, you really should take this. This is really going to further you, as an artist.’”

That was the workshop where I realized, ‘Oh, hey, he’s painting people and traveling the world and making a difference.’ And that’s what I want to be doing: I want to have my work in a gallery and be remembered for representational art.”

World travel. Festivals. Other cultures. Maddalina was bemused by Burdick’s itinerary.

“It’s really amazing. It’s not necessarily that I want to follow in his exact footsteps, but now I’m looking at David Kassan and Michelle Dunaway and all these other people who just paint and have galleries and teach workshops – and that’s their living.”

The possibilities seemed endless. That revelation? Was eye-opening.

“He definitely took me under his wing, during that workshop. Literally everyone else was (40-plus) and I’m sitting there, as a 15-year-old. He (drew a chair up by his side) and said, ‘No, Julia, you sit right here.’”

He embraced her participation and championed her skill set at any age, which was refreshing.

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Radical Departures

Maddalina’s LinkedIn summary echoes sentiments she conveyed in person: Art energizes her, excites her and spurs her evolution. It also hints at a discipline-before-radical-departure artistic philosophy.

“What I have learned … is that you cannot break the rules of art until you have learned all of the crucial concepts,” it begins, “so I continue to take workshops and learn new approaches that may someday become a part of my own technique.”

In Maddalina’s view, figure study is challenging and limitless. Studying the masters? High art.

“A little bit of everything I learn moves though my works, as I continue to develop my own unique style.”

Her latest discoveries include tempra-ink resist, bleach-and-ink, gesso-buildup and other rendering techniques – which open new avenues for vision sharing and enhance her narrative.

“I don’t want to (create a) portrait of somebody just looking straight at you. I want to add some ambiance to it (that) makes people think.”

One way she’s achieved that is by sourcing, sand blasting, sketching and then painting on Plexiglas. That oil portrait found its way to St. John Fischer’s Patricia O’Keefe Ross gallery.

Learning alternate ways of laying a foundation which breathes new life into her compositions is what the Cleveland program offers her. Maddalina received a CIA Presidential scholarship, in part, for existing expertise. She bypassed basic drawing and color theory, jumped ahead in her studies and took a biomedical course, gaining new perspectives in human anatomy.

Increased visibility has doubled the value of her work and advice she has for other up-and-coming artists includes: Follow your passion, draw on outside sources and network.

“If you have the passion and the drive to actually pursue art, don’t give up on that.”

Maddalina hopes to further her career, as an independent fine artist, by traveling, teaching, showing in galleries and continuing to create works on commission and partner with suppliers like General Pencil – which released a charcoal pencil set, bearing her self-portrait, this year.

Examples of her work can be found at JMaddalina.tumblr.com, FASO.com and elsewhere.