Like a photograph smudged with streaks and outlines, Carmelo Blandino’s floral paintings live between abstraction and classical realism. His acrylic petaled subjects—voluminous peonies, dainty irises, blooming bouquets—are crisp and detailed, displaying a skillful blend of authentic tones, yet surprising doses of spray paint add a graphic touch and powerful sense of playfulness. “They’re still lifes, but not really still,” the Naples artist observes. “There’s a depth to them.”
Why flowers? “They open up a person’s heart,” he insists. “You’ll buy flowers for a wedding, for a funeral, to beautify your home. My work is not meant to be highly intellectual but rather emotional, and it delves into the depths of mysticism. The topic of flowers has universal appeal.”
Unbelievably self-taught, Blandino credits his mix of Baroque and contemporary influences to a life raised between two art-centric cities: Sicily and Montreal. After years creating illustrations for clients such as book publishers and advertising campaigns, the artist switched careers overnight to pursue his dream of being a fine artist, turning to landscapes and the flowers for which he is known today.
In beginning a piece, he simply intuitively paints a flower on the canvas—no sketches beforehand or preconceived ideas—then introduces another. “It’s almost like bringing people into a room to have a conversation,” Blandino muses. “Who’s going to be the main character? Who are the supporting characters?” Some are based on live flower models, others come from photographs and nearly all are rendered without the use of his prescription glasses. “I don’t want it too perfect,” the artist explains. “When you see less, you paint more. You have an inner vision and are not relying on physical sense.” Even without corrective lenses, though, he focuses on composition, filling blank spaces in the work. As part of his spontaneous method, Blandino mixes paint on canvas for an of-the-moment palette of high-chroma yellows, bright pinks, vibrant lavenders and blues contrasted in harmonious coats.
Just as his life has evolved over the years, so has his approach to painting the flower. “What’s the next version?” the artist wonders. “I’m not one to stay with a specific style.” Beneath their straightforward subjects, his floral phases have explored personal topics such as meditation, healing and the existential question: Who am I?
Viewers can observe these transformations at a retrospective exhibition of Blandino’s work opening January 17 at Florida Gulf Coast University. Whether they detect the underlying emotions, however, the artist asserts he has no agenda other than to create something beautiful, allowing others to take what they need from his work. “People have told me, ‘As I’ve changed, the flowers have changed,’” he says. “You can recognize yourself in a flower.”