Michael D’Antuono is an artist out of New York that has been painting about the American (or the Western world as a whole depending on the level of cynicism one might possess) political strata for some time now. Covering everything from oil fracking (a harmful practice that pollutes the drinking water of small towns turning it into a brackish sludge) to the abysmal Citizens United ruling (a Supreme Court case that in essence allows corporations to irrevocably stilt elections in favor of their preferred candidate), Michael has not shied away from the difficult questions that we need to ask ourselves as a society when we enter a polling booth or engage in political discussion.
Michael’s work, while poignant, emotional, and hauntingly beautiful, manages to critique our current governmental policy and climate with razor sharp depictions of the injustices that they have caused. His pieces don’t just aim to point out some of the issues we’re facing in contemporary America, they seek to foster important dialogue about the choices we continue to make as a “sovereign” collective and if those choices can ever truly lead to better future for those who reside within it.
In the wake of the unfortunate deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the world should have no shortage of artists like Michael who are not only unfettered by the criticisms and controversy that comes along with this style of social commentary, but welcomes and embraces it.
Here, we speak about the aforementioned issues, the ramifications we may see if something doesn’t change, and what drives him to create these pieces.
Prox: Being an artist that tackles social issues, you’re required to be current on social and political movements. Does it ever become overwhelming to remain so locked into the media matrix?
Michael: It becomes repetitive. While the names and specific instances change, the struggles between the haves and have-nots stay basically the same. Since the media today is more concerned with their bottom line than factually reporting important information, they predictably spew out only the “news” that’s in sync with their corporate agenda.
Prox: Could you discuss your own political beliefs? Are you affiliated with any particular party? Do you think the party system matters at all in the wake of cases like Citizens United?
Michael: While it still makes a difference which party or individual you vote for, with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders, the political system is such that politicians from both parties are beholding to special interests. Our democracy has certainly mutated into an oligarchy, exacerbated greatly by the Citizens United ruling.
Prox: Almost all of the topics you cover in your work are difficult, controversial subjects that some less than savory news outlets would prefer to simplify or outright ignore. How do you streamline your ideas so that they are comprehensive and thought provoking while remaining emotionally resonant (or gut-wrenching in some cases)?
Michael: As an artist, I’m not restrained by commercial interests so I don’t need to soften my work to conform to others’ sensibilities. My only interest is to create work powerful enough to spark public dialogue. The controversial nature of my art, has inspired some of those “less than savory news outlets” to misrepresent, ridicule, or censor it completely. Students who exhibited their homages to my art in public places have been bullied into removing them from public viewing. A high school teacher in Arizona lost her job for showing my work to her students. That leads me to believe I’m hitting a nerve.
Prox: As someone who would be categorized as Caucasian-American, has anyone ever confronted or criticized you about your depiction of black hardship and struggle due to your inability to “truly know what it’s like”?
Michael: Some of my paintings on racism have garnered a fair amount of press and response from the black community. Ninety-nine percent of the response has been very positive, expressing gratitude that a white man could express empathy and compassion. A couple of people expressed resentment that a white man was getting so much attention for his art on the issue, when there are so many talented black artists out there.
Prox: Could you give us your take on the unfortunate events that took place surrounding the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile? Have you considering making pieces in their honor?
Michael: I try to honor them and all the other victims with my work. I protested their murders in NYC with my 8 foot banner of “It Stops With Cops” leading the march as thousands joined us in Times Square. Sadly, those individuals are just two more in the ever growing multitude of casualties of the deep-rooted racism embedded in our criminal justice system.
Prox: In your opinion, what needs to happen for us to move past the inherently greedy, racist, and antiquated ideals of U.S policy and politics?
Michael: Over the past thirty years, the power elite has increasingly rig the system in their favor.
For them, greed is their motivator, racism is just one of their tools. They control our government, the media and the market. We are still living too comfortably at this point, but if trends continue, eventually the masses will revolt, unless our collective greed destroys us first.
Prox: Who are some of your favorite contemporary artists?
Michael: For me, Ron English is the perfect combination of intelligence, skill and message.
Prox: Favorite hobbies?
Michael: I only have time for my art and my family. Next life, I’ll pick up the guitar.
Prox: Tips for aspiring artists?
Michael: Don’t go into any career that begins with the word “Starving.” But if you do, be uniquely you and be persistent.
Prox: Information on upcoming releases and projects?
Michael: I just finished a painting concerning the growing privatization of education and negative effects on the public school system. I’m also working on a film about racism in the criminal justice system. So far I have interviews with Russell Simmons, Michael Steel, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Eugene Robinson and others along with heart wrenching testimonials and footage from some of the protests.
Prox: Final Thoughts?
Michael: The powers that be live off of ignorance and apathy, so I would encourage young people to become informed about the serious issues that affect their lives and actively participate however they can towards the goal of positive change. That said, I hope these aren’t my “final” thoughts.
You can learn more about Michael and follow him on his social accounts, here.
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