As a child, Marian Dioguardi sold her paintings for pennies in her Italian-American neighborhood. After decades in other successful careers, though, she returned to those roots in 2002 as she stepped into her new life as a professional painter. Now Bostoniano speaks to the local artist to find out about her childhood, the process of creating art and just how she got started painting laundry lines.
How has your upbringing in East Boston shaped you as an artist?
I grew up hanging out the laundry lines with all the Italian women on the back porches because that was my job as a kid. Not only do I do laundry lines, but also I do a lot of food, because I was taught to cook with my [Italian] grandfather when I was a little girl. He would put a little stool up so I could reach the table and I would start off by making meatballs for the meatball soup. It was like play dough.
Your new collection features laundry lines inspired by Burano, Italy. Prior to starting this project had you ever painted laundry lines?
Actually, it’s strange you should say that. I remember doing a laundry line in the 4th grade and getting an award for it…. And my mother gave me a picture of my first grade art award. It was of the Pied Piper, however, I did a background of East Boston, so I have an apartment building with a laundry line in it. I’ve been doing it a while I guess.
You use bold colors in the laundry line paintings and your other work. Why?
The colors really drive my work. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been very stimulated by color. When I was younger, I would just look at a color and tell my mother that I wanted to eat it. Even though I knew you couldn’t eat paint or eat colors, I would say, “I want to eat that, Mommy, it’s beautiful!”
Since you began painting professionally, the public has responded very positively to your work. What specifically do people say?
Well, I think if people like color, they really respond to the color. The second thing people tell me – and I hear this over and over again – is that my paintings make them happy. And I can’t really say I’m surprised because I’m very happy when I’m painting them. I feel privileged to be able to paint, because I come from a background where things were not so easy, and so I am really very happy to have something that I do feel passionate about and can make a living at.
Why did you decide to set up your studio in the South End, an area of Boston seldom associated with art?
I actually worked [as a nanny] in the South End when I was in college. It was kind of a rough area back then… but I always loved it, I always thought it was beautiful down there. It’s a partly nostalgic reason I like being in the South End. In part I also like being there because it surprises me. It’s not a place I would’ve imagined I’d be if you had asked me 30 years ago.
Do the city and its energy influence your work?
Oh yeah. I have a long list of work I want to do inspired by my walk into my studio. I haven’t gotten to it yet, but it’s on my ‘painting projects to do.’
So how do you manage your inspiration and getting around to doing those projects?
I always have lots of ideas, but there are some that just never leave until they become paintings. Even if they sound really wacky like my project where I paint Jell-O. That’s a really wacky thing to do, it’s probably not a big seller, but I can’t not do it. I tried. I tried to talk myself out of doing it, but I did it and I’ll probably still keep doing it. That’s sort of how the projects prioritize themselves. There are a lot of things around Boston that really interest me and I see and I want to get to. I want to do a Boston project, sort of like I’ve done my Burano project.
Was that something you thought about for a long time before painting it?
Yes. I’ve painted Burano on and off since 1998, but it wasn’t until 2006 that I had this idea to make each painting a house and then make them to the same scale so they could all hang on one wall and look like a canal walk in Burano…. I started doing studies and I took photographs, but I didn’t quite have enough material and it didn’t quite come together in my mind. I was there again in June and then it all came together. I saw exactly what I wanted to paint and I knew I would do it.
How many paintings are in the Burano series?
There will probably be somewhere between 15 and 19. I have ideas for about 20 of them, but I know that every once in a while it just won’t work in some way.
How do you feel when a painting doesn’t work?
Actually I think it’s a good sign…. When Apple was just sort of coming into the world, they were saying if you’re not having failures, you’re not trying hard enough. And so I feel that by having failures I’m still taking risks. I might not make it this time, but I’ll make it next time.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?
Yes, something that I’ve been thinking of just over the last two weeks…. There was a little article in the paper and apparently there’s scientific study of personalities saying you become what you were. And I find that as I get older that’s so true. I am more who I was. I can really reach back to growing up in East Boston and the values we had there in the Italian-American community and I find that as I get older I reach back into that time and those values for my life and for my art.
To see more work by Marian Dioguardi, please visit the artist’s website or meet her in person every first Friday of the month at the SoWa Galleries at 450 Harrison Ave., Boston.