Musician connects with visual tempos at I-Square exhibit
03:35 PM, Aug 07, 2013
If you go
What: Sights & Sounds 2.
When: Through Aug. 15, open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Artist/musician reception 7 p.m. Friday; artist/musician talk 7 p.m. Aug. 14.
Where: I-Square Visions Gallery, 693 Titus Ave., Irondequoit.
The United States was freaking out. It was 1957, and Russia had just launched Sputnik 1. A 184-pound polished sphere, basically a simple radio transmitter, the world’s first artificial satellite. “Everything changed from liberal arts to what we called ‘college entrance,’ ” says Pete Monacelli. “That was all math and science, because we were afraid the Russians were ahead of us.”
So two years later Monacelli, not at all a science and math guy, went from high school cut-up and fledgling rock drummer directly to Erie County Technical Institute in Buffalo to study industrial chemistry, and save America.
He promptly flunked out.
Monacelli retreated to “working at General Electric, working as a meat cutter, selling life insurance,” he says. “I thought, ‘If that’s all there is, kill me now.’ “
But Monacelli lives, thanks to a random encounter with those once-neglected liberal arts.
This month he’s part of the second “Sights & Sounds” show, in which local musicians present their second creative lives, as visual artists. The event, at I-Square Vision Gallery in Irondequoit, features the paintings of Margaret Explosion drummer Paul Dodd, drawings by singer-songwriter Scott Regan, the marquetry wood collages of keyboardist Charles Jaffe and the photography of singer-songwriters Steve Piper and Jed Curran.
The musicians play and discuss the connections between their music and their visual arts on Friday and again on Aug. 14.
Monacelli is a drummer with The Maria Gillard Band, The King Bees and the South Wedge Blues All Stars. He’s played with many others over the years, one of those Zelig-like sprites of the scene.
As an artist, Monacelli’s contribution to “Musicians & Sounds” is 14 oil-and-collage works depicting the 14 Stations of the Cross, scenes from Christ’s final hours of crucifixion. “They’re kind of self-portraits, landscape-y looking things, not overly readable,” Monacelli explains. “It’s about life’s edges. The joys and sorrows, how sometimes the things that give you joy most also cause the most pain.”
This from a guy who confesses, “I never saw a real painting until I was 26.” That random encounter was in 1967, while giving higher education a second shot at Monroe Community College, which had recently opened for business on Alexander Street. “It was built for 300 or 400 people, and we probably had a thousand or more people in that building,” Monacelli says. “When the classes changed, the stairways would basically shake.”
One day, something on the landing of one of those staircases “stopped me dead in my tracks,” he says. “I had no place in my reality to put what I saw.”
What this still-directionless young man saw hanging on the wall was a series of abstract oil paintings done by Jack Clements, who was teaching the “funky Essential Arts class” that Monacelli was taking.
“I knew that’s who I was,” Monacelli says. “Once I found what I was gonna do for the rest of my life, it opened all the doors. It changed how I could read. I think I was dyslexic, too. Once you connect with yourself that way, it seems to me those doors just opened.”
After having flunked out of Erie County Technical Institute, “I thought I was stupid.” Monacelli says. But, “I went to being a straight-A student.” He later picked up a bachelor’s degree at Empire State College, but it was that moment in the staircase at MCC that resonates most. “I’ve been teaching there off and on since ‘88 as an adjunct,” he says. “Paying my dues back. It changed my entire life to go to that school.”
He was a self-described “90 pound, barely 5 feet tall class clown” at Albion High School. “A lot of those teachers never married; they were what I considered dedicated teachers,” Monacelli says. Teachers like the late Doreen Sundell, whom Monacelli recalls once sentenced him to detention and then drove him home so that Mr. Monacelli would understand what a reprobate his son had been that day. “That was death to me,” he says.
Now 71, he gets up at 4:30 every morning to paint and draw. “I thought I had no connection with art from that time,” Monacelli says, “I never took art in high school. Then when my mother died, she left me a box that I didn’t open for 20 years.”
He finally did, earlier this year. It was filled with drawings he had done in Sundell’s mechanical drawing class in 1956. Forgotten, yet instantly familiar. His style often hard, abstract lines was not at all random.
“If you look at my drawings now, and you look at those drawings I did as a kid, especially the use of dotted lines, I’m still making the same drawings,” Monacelli says.
“She had a major effect on my life. And I didn’t know it until six months ago.”