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Richard Tenaglia’s world: Shifting shapes, transformative textures


Objects are an outer expression of his inner dialogue

By Melissa Cannavo-Marino

Born in Philadelphia, artist Richard Tenaglia, a third-generation Italian American, was raised in a heavily supportive artistic household. With both of his parents opera singers and a sister a photojournalist, Tenaglia had the balanced and creative atmosphere that enabled this young artist to flourish. At the age of 12, Richard began his elementary training under the direction of Ramon Gregorio. Early on Tenaglia was taught the structure of drafting, drawing, painting, and introduced to the techniques of the early masters such as Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Caravaggio. As the teachings progressed, he moved into the world of the modern masters including Francesco Clemente, Sandro Chia, Mimmo Paladino, and contemporary realist painter Vincent Desiderio.

His work and studies continued to transform and grow throughout his whole adolescence, and right after graduating high school Richard was given the opportunity to work in New York as a freelance designer. For two years he was widely exposed to New York’s contemporary art scene. Being thoroughly intrigued by this experience, Tenaglia decided to come back to Philadelphia to broaden his spectrum of skills. He enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. With the skill and knowledge he had gained, Tenaglia submitted a piece of work that led him to be awarded a merit scholarship, which eventually led to him obtaining his degree in PAFA’s BFA program. Simultaneously, Tenaglia was being personally trained and mentored outside of the classroom by accomplished writer/artist John Castagno, and ceramicist Jerry Bennett. Since then, Tenaglia has held multiple solo exhibitions, and was also joined his fellow artists with numerous group exhibitions.

Most recently, Tenaglia’s work was on display for the Taxonomy Group Exhibit at the Works on Paper Gallery. He was also featured in John Thorton’s documentary “Time and Again.” Tenaglia’s work is prominently displayed in several permanent collections such as the Abramson Cancer Center, Pennsylvania Hospital and Villanova University, along with numerous private collections.

Asked to describe his work, the artist says: “My drawings, sculptures, and installations are currently used as the conduits for visual dialogue I travel within. I craft and appropriate projects through reclaimed wood, found objects, and unfired ceramics. I reconfigure them with my experience of sculpting, and a certain variety of the pieces I’ve designed can also be adapted as a theatrical stage design. Conceptually, I tend to explore in the areas biographical narratives and experiments with the intent to create parallel imagery from an assortment of parts in history, politics, and literature by tapping into my personal reflection of my family’s history and Italian heritage; it serves as my vehicle to transport the viewer to thoroughly engage, and hopefully relate to the content I have been fortunate enough to produce. The act of observation through my works on paper shouldn’t be measured by their sometimes miniature stature, but assessed by the content that leads to the perspective of how one sees and experiences the world around them.”

Tenaglia also composes his pieces digitally or by hand with the use of vinyl material, which is later adhered to paper. Tenaglia had formed his own techniques by manipulating and distressing the material in use, and choreographing using bold lines, fragmented text, and abstract imagery which is silhouetted by the rough or fined surface of the recycled paper.

In his recent series “Through His Eyes and In His Steps,” he replicated a train car from 1923 which his great-grandfather, an Italian immigrant, had taken from New York to Philadelphia, where he laid the foundation of the family’s ancestral roots. It is a portrait of struggle, and investigates the journey of all immigrants that have come to the United States.

He explains, “It’s the act of perception and how we choose to perceive. These are the references in which I hope to obtain through three-dimensional and two-dimensional formats.”

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