We all know that building a sustainable career in the creative field is not easy, especially when you discover your passion at a later age. How many times have we heard the question – can a self-taught artist make it in the art world? At Agora Gallery, we have a number artists who have embraced the freedom of being self-taught and done incredible things with their artistic career. We decided to interview some of them in order to inspire those of you that may have apprehensions and fears about being a self-taught artist.
Having realized his own passion for painting during the aftermath of a tragic incident, David J. Marchi officially started his artistic career much later in life. However, that or the lack of artistic training did not stop him from achieving his dreams. Creating abstract works of art that are cheerful, passionate and innovative, David J. Marchi has made a name for himself among celebrities and collectors alike in a very short amount of time.
Having had no professional art training gives him the encouragement and freedom to simply create from his heart instead of trying to find a balance between educational training and personal expressions. “It is not about being compared to people with training or degrees; it’s about the art that comes out of that person,” he says.
Even though you’re an incredibly successful artist, you have just recently started painting. Could you share the story of how it all began? When and how did you start painting?
I call myself an artist “by accident.” Literally. While vacationing in Tampa, my husband Matthew and I went out on a friends boat. We were sitting on the front deck when the boat turned into very rough wakes. We hit a large wake and I lost my grip. I was thrown up into the air and landed in the boat. I was rushed to the hospital with a fractured back and other injuries.
Two weeks after the accident, I woke up in the middle of the night and told Matthew that I had this urge to paint. I never ever painted before in my life so this was way out of the ordinary. That morning, we went to Blick on 23rd street and I bought my first acrylic paint set, started to paint and never stopped. I believe someone had a plan for me and this is how it happened.
Sounds like fate! I don’t want to sound insensitive, but do you ever feel as if the accident was a blessing in disguise?
I believe in fate. I’ve read about people who have had the same experience. As a matter of fact, I met a woman in New York who had been in a bike accident that sent her into a coma. When she woke up, she started to paint.
Painting is a blessing, but the accident was not. For the past two years, the event has compromised my life in other ways.
You use non-conventional methods and tools to create your artworks. Do you think this is because you are a self-taught artist? Do you think professional training limits an artist to some extent?
I really believe that creativity is in all of us. In some people, it manifests itself early in life and the path for these people starts there. I don’t believe that professional training limits the people who really believe that their gift to create has always been part of their DNA. When it’s in you, it’s just too strong to compromise with any type of training.
What are some of your favorite non-conventional tools? Do you experiment with different things a lot?
Some of my favorites are Italian wooden pasta rollers; they create incredible movements on the paint. I also love using cardboard as a paintbrush; I cut it in different size pieces to get certain effects. I experiment every time I paint with something different, usually something close. I always find things in my local hardware store.
I dream in colors and configurations, I see my painting finished before I start the first stroke. I see my tools in a brush, kitchen utensil, piece of cardboard. It’s really hard to explain but it just happens.
When it comes to being an artist, do you feel that being self-taught is an advantage or a disadvantage? Do you ever wish you had professional training?
It is hard to say since I never looked into professional training.
When I was having my first pieces stretched at a gallery framer, he asked me where I went to school. When I told him my story, he said that my work is better than most people who come in with art degrees. Once again, it is hard for me to understand this. It is not about being compared to people with training or degrees; it’s about the art that comes out of that person.
I have thought about professional training but, frankly, it scares the hell out of me. I have painted over 50 large-scale canvases in under 16 months, I am represented by Agora in the New York City marketplace and my paintings are selling.
I am very humbled that people like my work enough to pay for it. Every day, every single day, I stop and thank God for releasing this gift in me to share with others.
Being self-taught gives me no parameters on what is right or wrong. I don’t think there is any right or wrong in art.
You mentioned that you get inspired by watching your husband create his collection (David’s husband is a NY fashion designer). The fabrics, materials, beading, construction, and colors are like a palette you can wear. Do you think it goes both ways? Does he ever get ideas for his collection by observing your paintings?
Absolutely. I get mesmerized when Matthew is designing his collection. I get inspired by the freedom of the design stage and the discipline it takes to create a collection, year after year. When he sketches, I am sure it is like when I am immersed in painting, everything else around you is white noise.
Your artworks adorn the walls of art collectors and celebrities alike. How did you become so widely known? Would you be willing to share some of your secrets with our audience?
My past career has helped quite a bit. I owned a global marketing company and had very large multi-national clients. I worked a lot in Hollywood with many celebrities and directors like George Lucas, Kaley Cuoco, Steven Spielberg and Michael J. Fox. Through my husband’s couture red carpet business, he has dressed public figures like Kristin Chenoweth, Kelli O’Hara, Debra Messing and women’s soccer star, Carli Lloyd.
I know there are many artists who do not have as much access, and I am thankful for where my connections have led me. However, I still work hard on creating a presence on social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter. I create real relationships with artists, galleries, and art influencers every single day which is why social media is important to me.
Useful Series: Social Media for Artists
What advice would you give to other self-taught artists?
Visit galleries and use social media to meet people in your area. Look for a mentor, not just other artists but people who collect or people who write about art. Try not to compare your work to anyone else’s.
Proper representation to really jump-start your career is very important. I had no experience in pricing art, marketing art, curating etc. and that’s where the knowledge of galleries like Agora is helpful.
Finally, paint as much as you can, you get better every day.
Interesting Article: Self-Taught Artist Series – Intuitive Art of Robert Ellison
More inspiring stories in our upcoming articles for the Self-Taught Artist series are coming up. We’re going to be featuring more painters, photographers, and sculptors, all self-taught artists that were able to break-through and consider themselves successful.
If you have a topic that you’d like our advice on, please add it to the comment thread below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
This post is also available in: Spanish