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Former IUP professor exploring new techniques

by BILL ZIMMERMAN billz@indianagazette.net on October 08, 2011 3:00 PM

As an art professor at IUP, Tony DeFurio, said he stressed the imporantance of lifelong learning.

Now as a retiree, he's following that advice.

An artist since his teens, DeFurio, 75, has been rethinking his approach to art in recent years, learning new techniques that weren't part of his formal education.

"I was always telling students to take a chance," he said.

In September he completed his second Weekend with the Masters, an intensive four-day program put on by American Artist magazine in Monterey, Calif. It's a continuation of his commitment to learning the techniques of representational art, "very, tight academical methods" that he said professors were biased against when he studied. To him, they were strictly focused on "modernist traditions."

In those days "the buzzwords were creativity, originality, novelty," he said.

With that influence, DeFurio often expressed himself through oil paintings and later pottery. Now he's exploring life drawing and painting en plein air, creating art out in the open. DeFurio said he's long been attracted to landscapes and learning to "be more disciplined when capturing images."

I have a "very romantic notion about streams and fields and woods and snowfall and all that stuff," he said.

DeFurio grew up in Butler, where a part-time job with a sign painter introduced him to art. He earned his bachelor's degree at Edinboro, his master's at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and his doctorate at Penn State. He arrived at IUP in 1969 and would later serve as the art department chairman for 13 years from 1985 to 1998. His last two years at IUP were spent at the Cook Honors College, where he said professors from multiple disciplines came together, urging students to continue learning after graduation. He retired in 2001.

"I can't imagine being in a better field than I am, and I can't imagine that I'll ever get tired of it because there's so much," he said.

In 1968, DeFurio was selected from among art educators for a six-week fellowship at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where he experienced "a hardcore bias against representational art" while having lunch with sculptor George Segal, who was often associated with pop art and slammed the realist paintings of Andrew Wyeth. DeFurio said many in representational art hold similar biases, some even going as far as saying modern styles destroyed art.

"They can coexist," he said. "I think the beauty of art is the freedom you have to explore along all of that stuff."

At the Masters workshops, participants get to choose three artists to study under from a group of about 30. DeFurio attended his first in 2010, making the trip to the California in a motor home with his wife.

The workshops are open to artists of all ages and skill levels, but enrollment is expensive -- close to $1,300, according to DeFurio. Next year, he plans to head to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for a program focused on "strict, 19th century, classical methods."

"Any money that I invest in learning, as far as I'm concerned, is worth what I paid," he said.

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