Dan Finaldi doesn’t have a studio. His house in New Jersey doesn’t have space, and that might become a problem when he retires from teaching to spend more time painting, which he plans to do in the next few years. He’s been a high school teacher for 23 years, and as much as he enjoys teaching teenagers, at age 62, he’s finding it harder to match their energy.
But he’s still teaching now, and when the weather’s too bad to go outside, he often stays after school to paint. More often than not, he ends up painting his students. “They’re posing or eating, and I’m painting them. They talk, they share. They tell me their life stories,” he said.
“I just want to paint them. Sometimes, people will come to me and say, ‘Can I pose?’ and I say, ‘Sure.’ I’m fascinated by looking at people. There are so many different things to look at in a face. I love looking at their faces,” he said.
Finaldi teaches at a public high school that welcomes lots of Indigenous students, many with complex or traumatic histories.
“Last year I painted two double portraits, sisters from Mexico. They told me their grandmother speaks an Indigenous language, not Spanish, some ancient language that has perdured,” he says.
The Southern and Central American migrant students often speak of their families, and Finaldi said they also seem to bring a heightened sense of color and design to their work, as well as an apparently innate talent for working with pottery and clay.
Awakening a dormant ability
All students have a “dormant ability in drawing,” he said, and he sees it as his job to teach them the skills to wake up that dormant ability. But it helps when some of the students also supply enthusiasm and inspiration.
“When you’re in a class of 25 kids, it does lift all boats, when you have kids that are not on their phones, and they’re looking at other kids’ artwork,” he said. “Their work improves aesthetically. They see the line work and the color, and they try to imitate it.”
Finaldi is just inspired to paint the kids themselves, though.
“They’re such beautiful, interesting-looking people; I just want to paint them. I’m fascinated by looking at people,” he said.
The natural world
But when the weather is fine, Finaldi will be outside, using oil paint or watercolor to capture his other great love: The natural world. He’s learned to harness the power of Instagram and will share a video panning slowly past a busy playground where he’s set up his easel, his unfinished canvas blending into the rosy sun and shadows of a late summer afternoon.
The loose, light-filled strokes of color are typical of Finaldi’s work, which presents fluid, unpretentious scenes of daily life: the rusty glow of autumn leaves under a cerulean sky; a moody moonlit nocturne with power lines; teenagers just hanging out…Read the rest of my latest artist profile for Our Sunday Visitor.
This is the sixth in a monthly feature on Catholic and Catholic-friendly artists I’ve been writing for Our Sunday Visitor.
Previous artists featured in this series:
If you know of (or are) a Catholic or Catholic-friendly artist you think should be featured, please drop me a line! simchafisher at gmail dot com. I’m not always excellent about responding, but I always check out every suggestion. Thanks!