Anthony DiFatta got the first art show of his career at Nunnery's Gallery after he donated some of his paintings to a HeARTS Against AIDS fundraiser. Mike Nunnery saw his work and proposed the exhibit. The popular Jackson artist, who now has shows all over the country, still helps arts organizations. Most recently, he donated paintings for the Greater Jackson Arts Council annual fundraiser, the Storyteller's Ball on Aug. 11.
A Hattiesburg native, DiFatta got his bachelor's degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. He worked as a graphic designer before becoming a teacher and artist. DiFatta, 43, has lived in Jackson 15 years. He is married to Melissa DiFatta, and they have a son, Preston.
What kind of artwork do you do?
Well, I try a lot of different things: abstracts, portraits, landscapes, still lives, illustration. I've done illustrations for cover art in the Jackson Free Press and Jubilee!JAM, the music festival. I'm working on a poster for the Mississippi International Film Festival in October, and I'm doing some artwork for a composer in Austria.
What made you want to be an artist?
I've always liked to draw. I guess the first exposure was when I was really young. I used to stay at my grandmother's, and she had a little secretary (desk) and had paper and pencils and crayons and modeling clay. She really taught me how to draw and work with clay and things like that. She was a bit of a folk artist herself in Hattiesburg. That was what we did together when I was real little. That was sort of how it all started to me. It never really slowed down or stopped.
Where did you go from there?
I painted full-time for a little while, and then I got married. My wife and I started talking about starting a family. We bought a bigger house. ... I went back to part time for a steady income. Even if you're sort of successful here in Mississippi, it's still a tough way to make a living. I didn't want to go back to commercial art.
My wife had been one of the attorneys for the Department of Mental Health. She told me they had art teachers out at the state hospital in Whitfield. So I split my time working at the Mississippi State Hospital and working out in the community. ... I did that for almost 10 years, and now I'm about to start teaching the AP art program at Madison Central High School.
What's your take on the status of arts in Jackson?
Right now is a really tough time for all of the arts. When people have lost money on their homes because their home values are falling ... arts is one of the first things to go, unfortunately. It adds to the quality of life of any community that has a strong arts (scene).
I mean, look at Fondren After 5. It's the same people (who display), but it creates an atmosphere that attracts people from the outside who want to come here and spend their time in the city and enjoy the culture that they have.
Do you have any inspirations?
I think the work itself is inspiration. (That's) part of the reason I change what I'm doing. I work in cycles and series. I push an idea or experiment with something for a while, and as long as I'm feeling (that) I'm learning or growing from that, I work on it for maybe a year or two or three years.
For instance, I started this series of abstracts for a show, and it continued on and ended up for several different shows. When I finished that period of work, I started on another body of work, landscapes or portraits. I've taken something from those abstracts and synthesized them into my portraits as well. And I work on portraits for a while, and when I'm not growing there, I'll move on.
What's your history with the Storyteller's Ball?
I've never been directly involved with it before. I've been involved with the Art Alliance (now Greater Jackson Arts Council) and I think (it is) a really good positive organization for the arts in Jackson. It has always been one of the funnest parties in the year. They have a theme every year, and the theme carries throughout the evening. It was completely unexpected that they chose to honor me this year. I think, what artist from Jackson really came from the '80s?
Tell me about teaching.
Completely unplanned; I never planned on being a teacher. That's why I had to go the alternate route to get my teaching license because I wasn't planning on teaching. It has caused me to look at art in different way, at the creative process as something (that is) improving someone's life.
What advice do you give future artists?
Learn the fundamentals. Listen to your teachers. Learn from people that have come before you. Make sure the work's good, and then get it out there. Don't worry about trying to come up with a gimmick or a style, because when you're working or creating work, your style will come out. Don't try and find something for the sake of finding something different. Let it be a natural process.
The Storyteller's Ball is at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 11 at the Arts Center of Mississippi, 201 E. Pascagoula St. Tickets are $50. For information, call 601-960-1557.