Antonio Dattorro
1918-2001

 

 

It occurred to me just today that I had never given credit on this site to one of the people who encouraged me to become an artist.  Every thing I know about drawing I learned from him. He was a great artist himself and I am going to continue to search the web to find images of some of the incredible figure drawings and portraits that he did over the years.  I hope they still exist somewhere, I will keep looking.  I did find this drawing on Picasa Web Albums, a self portrait.  There are more but this one struck me as the most evocative of his work as I recall it during the mid sixties.  He was a master draughtsman.  Try as hard as I might, I never achieved his level of skill with a pencil. 

In my Junior year at Hope High School I dropped out of College-Prep Physics (horrible teacher in that class) which gave me room to take art.  Mr. Dattorro and I hit it off from the moment I walked into his classroom.   I told him I was there to learn to draw. He said he had any number of students who thought of art class as an alternate study hall so I would be a welcome addition. He had a small supply room off the main classroom where he kept some of his works in progress, figure drawings mostly.  They were simply amazing, in a totally unique style.

With every drawing and collage I did he had more and more positive things to say.   With his encouragement I eventually applied to and was accepted into the Rhode Island School of Design, no mean feat for a local boy from Smith Hill.    That year, 10 students from all of  Rhode Island were accepted into a freshman class totalling 250 at RISD.   Four out of the ten were Mr. Dattorro's students from Hope.  Pretty amazing. 

When school let out for the summer, after my Senior year, he invited me to some life drawing classes at his studio which, in 1966, was above a bar called the Crystal Tap.  Several other people, mostly older, walked into the class with me.  In the center of the room was a model stand, surrounded by folding chairs and a large  jug of red wine. This was my first experience, at 18, drawing from a live nude model.  Tony knew that so when the model dropped her robe he had her sit and face my direction, legs "a kimbo".  Sweating, and most likely blushing,  I put down my pencil and poured a large glass of wine into a paper cup and drank it on down.  I could hear him laughing quietly behind me. Then I picked up my pencil again.  I still have some of those drawings in my studio.

I went there all summer and by the time I started at RISD as a freshman that fall, I was ready........

This is just my small piece of history/memory regarding Antonio Dattorro and his influence on me.  There is much, much, more.  Although he never talked about war or politics in class, he was a veteran of the Second World War, in the Pacific, and a Bataan Death March survivor who spent years in Japanese prison camps.  He never mentioned it in the years I knew him.  All he talked about was art.