Vincent Fantauzzo always had a thing for cutting up boxes, drawing on the walls of the family home and dabbling in a bit of graffiti when he was a wayward youngster. He also dropped out of school aged fourteen because of his dyslexia.
For most young men, this would spell a life of trouble on the wrong side of the tracks, but Fantauzzo decided to do things differently. He became one of Australia’s most renowned painters, won an Archibald prize for his work and became a University Professor along the way.
D’Marge sits down with the face behind the canvas to chat about his advice for aspiring artists and his mounting pile of unpaid parking tickets.
MH: What’s your definition of good art?
VF: My definition of good art is a piece that has been created by the artist with total honesty. I feel that’s always the one that has the best connection with the audience. Also, if a piece has a real personal connection with the artist, then it more often than not will find a personal connection with the right audience.
“I left school quite young. I’d only just turned 14 when I left. With my dyslexia, I was really struggling and I was failing everything – including art.”
MH: Tell us about your early days. Were you always a creative kid at school? And what did your family think when you told them you wanted to be an artist?
VF: From the really early days, I’ve always had an interest in drawing. My mother was a great painter and she could draw so beautifully. She wasn’t a practicing artist but she always encouraged us to express and be creative.
Our home was a big creative shambles, cutting up boxes, drawing on anything, too much fun and just the right amount of creativity. My family’s homes were always rented and I often managed to leave my creative signature on the walls…literally. Early on, I started to sneak out and do a little bit of graffiti and things when I was young too, but I’ll be making sure my children will be doing no such thing!
MH: And the school grades?
VF: I left school quite young. I’d only just turned 14 when I left. With my dyslexia, I was really struggling and I was failing everything – including art.
To be honest, I became far more creative when I left school. My family could see that if I didn’t become an artist, I’d probably end up getting myself in a lot of trouble, so I think it was actually my family who told me I was going to become the artist.
MH: What are some of the struggles you’ve encountered in your career as an artist?
VF: Through the early years, I really enjoyed practicing as an artist and making art work, but I’d never been exposed to the academic side of the art world. So when art became serious in my life and I decided to go to University, I hadn’t been at school since I was 14 years old. This meant that I had no clue and no idea of how to articulate myself.
I had no idea about art history. I had no idea about the greats. I hadn’t even been to a gallery.
I think a lot of people emerging into the art scene really face this same struggle. Without the artistic articulations it’s a real effort to somehow fit into the art world. That having been said, I believe as important as the history of art and the academics of art is, the enjoyment and passion of making art is the most valuable ingredient.
Actually, it’s a more important ingredient.
MH: Tell us about one of your proudest moments in the job.
VF: I feel really privileged and lucky and it’s too hard for me to narrow my journey down to just one moment.
It was a real eye opener for me when I began to be able to support myself and support my incredible family by doing something that I was really passionate about. That was a real moment of pride.
Obviously winning art prizes are defining moments too. To be 100% honest, it’s winning the People’s Choice Prizes that mean the most to me. And when the pieces winning these awards are of paintings of the people in my life who I love the most, then that is the real definition of finest.
MH: What advice do you have for aspiring artists who want to achieve what you have?
VF: The best advice I can give is to embrace doing things your own way. Be brave and create your own path, your own destiny and your own voice.
There’s so many directions you’re pushed in when you’re emerging in the art world and it makes me think of a boxing analogy my old coach used. He’d say, “If you’re looking for the knockout, you’re going to get knocked out. So if you try and fight someone else’s fight you’re going lose. You’ve got to stick to your own fight plan.”
So keep creating and keep fighting.
MH: Where does the inspiration for your work come from?
VF: The inspiration for my work always comes from my friends and my family. To me, these are most beautiful things in the whole world.
MH: Can you recommend any locations in the world to gain this sort of inspiration?
VF: I find Melbourne so beautiful and so inspiring, but if I had to say a city outside of Melbourne that really inspires me, it’s New York. I feel a real connection there. New York is one of the most creative cities in the world and the minute I arrive there, I feel a refreshed energy.
MH: What do you think Australia’s art scene needs to grow?
VF: Australia has an amazing art scene and quite a supportive scene. But in the same way the hospitality industry etc has connected with the public, I feel the art world needs to continue connecting with a wider audience.
If you were to ask any kid in Australia to name a famous chef, they could probably name ten. But if you asked them to name an artist they might be struggling to name one. So I believe it’s time to expose the artists to the mass population to bring awareness to what incredible artists we already have in Australia.
MH: What did you spend your first big paycheck on?
VF: All of my outstanding parking tickets. All of my many, many parking tickets.
MH: And if you weren’t an artist, you’d be…
VF: I’d probably be a kitchen hand at the Old Footscray. But if I had my choice I’d loved to have directed a film or raced fast cars…or directed a film AND raced fast cars.