by Kimberly Chun
John DiPaolo | Drifter #6, 2015 | Oil on canvas | 63 x 70 inches
John DiPaolo is the first to admit that, when it comes to painting his large, gestural abstract works, he inspires himself.
“I had the realization if I was going to be in it for the long run, I’d have to come up with something from inside,” he explains. “I really needed to focus on my own experience and my experience with color, weight and mass.”
Less evident are the children with cleft palates who are touched by his art. Each time the Brooklyn-born San Francisco artist sells one of his works, now on exhibit at Dolby Chadwick Gallery, he also funds a Smile Train kid.
“It feels good,” says DiPaolo, 69, scanning the pre- and post-operation pictures lining two walls of his light-filled studio at Hunters Point Shipyard. “It makes my work feel more far-reaching than just entertainment.”
There are a lot of shyly smiling kids on his walls, because DiPaolo has sold a lot of paintings. But he hesitates to spread the word about his good deeds, though those gestures, like other parts of his life, are on full display in his studio, just steps from the bay.
Above the children’s photos are a poetic tribute to his late father and a snapshot of DiPaolo with Robin Williams, for whom he worked for a decade. Below are models of the classic cars he loves, animal masks that he calls “magical” and stacks of obscure vinyl, including a disc by Vito & the Salutations, his brother Bob’s doo-wop outfit.
“I think music inspires all the other arts because it’s so enveloping,” says DiPaolo, who always listens to music while working. “A painting you have to look at, a poem you have to read, but music is environmental.”
That feeling of connection between the work and the observer is vital and part of what drives him to show up daily.
“It’s really about the physicality of paint for me,” says DiPaolo. “The emotional part that comes out, you can’t avoid that. That’s the thing people respond to in paintings, in general. I just want the painting to have the look of paint.”
He moved to the West Coast in 1971 to attend San Francisco Art Institute and, instead of following the path of peers in the Bay Area Figurative Movement, turned to abstraction.
That work continues, tangled in the traces of charcoal on his current canvas, especially now that DiPaolo’s gotten another look at his own paintings at the opening.
“I have to throw myself into it, and once I’m in, I just have to work to get out,” he says, with a chuckle. “You gotta get in to get out.”
Kimberly Chun is an East Bay freelance writer.