2005-06-17 / Columnists

An Interview With Constance Del Vecchio Maltese

Maltese (right), at the opening of her one-woman show, with Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and Wave Publisher Susan Locke (left).Maltese (right), at the opening of her one-woman show, with Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and Wave Publisher Susan Locke (left). Nine exemplary women of determination and accomplishment now inhabit sTudio 6 Gallery in Fort Tilden and will remain there through June 26. A tenth exemplary woman of determination and accomplishment is responsible for them being there – indeed for their very existence. For it is the images of these real-life women, painted in vivid oils and pastels on large canvases, that emerge from the brilliantly pristine white walls of the RAA gallery. Award-winning artist Constance Del Vecchio Maltese has brought her portrait series, American Women, to the Rockaway Center for the Arts in a one-woman show. Ms. Maltese graciously sat down with me recently for a candid interview that revealed much about these artworks and about the artist herself.

Maltese chose these particular nine women because of their outstanding achievements, the diversity of their fields of expertise and their diverse ethnicity and walks of life from which they come. The artist wanted to show what women have achieved through portraying these women in particular. “So many women deserve credit,” she states, “and one woman can do so much.” Most of those in the series play many roles – mother, professional, wife.

Constance Del Vecchio Maltese is a charming woman with intelligent eyes and a forthright manner. When I asked her why she painted the series, she discussed the initial motivation with characteristic honesty. Her earlier Age of Discovery Navigators portrait series, though very well received, had stirred some controversy. There were those in the Native American community that took exception to the portrait of Christopher Columbus whom, they said, was guilty of genocide and didn’t really “discover” America. As a result, Maltese says she wanted to do something that would be free of controversy. She set upon creating the American Women series. However, once she began, her enthusiasm for the project grew and she became more and more pleased with her choice.

Maltese wants her portraits to capture the essence of each of her subjects and “show them in their best light.” Interestingly, before even conceiving of the series, Maltese asked C hampion Runner Marie Palminteri, who reminded the artist of a Gibson Girl, to pose for an earlier pastel portrait in the clothing of that bygone era. But the athlete, Maltese says, was so unhappy-looking in a costume in which she did not feel natural, that Constance re-dressed her for this series in her running outfit, proudly wearing her medals around her neck. Her self-confidence is reflected in both her determined pose and facial expression. The artist had now captured “the real her.” Olga Mendez is the first Puerto Rican woman to be elected to a state legislature in the United States mainland. She has a long history of fighting for voter registration, representative government, social change, human dignity and high standards of ethics for elected officials. For Mendez, Maltese tells me, every battle is the most important one. In The Senator the artist has painted her subject in a characteristic pose speaking with impassioned dramatic emphasis at a public rally. Included in the frame is the coat of arms of Puerto Rico, Mendez’ native country. Florence “Sally” Masters was a dedicated Conservative activist. She was equally dedicated to being “a most happy wife, mother and grandmother!” The Grandmother, the only portrait in the series rendered in pastel not oil, shows Masters seated in the light of a window, looking back on her life with contentment. When asked why the use of pastel, Constance replied that it is a medium that best captured the softness of the light and the mood.

One can see why doing portraits showcasing women successful in their many roles attracted Constance Del Vecchio Maltese. She was Art Director for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, ran her own commercial art company, Maltese Design Studio, with an impressive client list, is a member of the prestigious Society of Illustrators Portrait Society of America and the Art Students League, serves on the boards of the Queens Theatre in the Park and the Queens Council on the Arts, where she also served as president, has exhibited her artwork in a variety of museums, galleries, expositions and public venues that include the Queens Museum of Art and New York City Hall, has been commissioned to paint the portraits of many public officials and has won many awards and citations for her artwork. All the while she found the time and energy to be the mother of two daughters and grandmother of four and, perhaps most impressive, the wife of a politician, State Senator Serphin R. Maltese. Talk about multi-tasking! When asked what characteristics she believes she has in common with her subjects, she pointed specifically to Anne Paolucci, internationally-acclaimed scholar in literature, drama and theater and an award-winning writer. “I have the same kind of work ethic. I am a bulldog. When I decide this is what I want to do, I get it done.” No surprise there.

Why after thirty-eight years as a children’s book illustrator, I asked Ms. Maltese, did she decide to turn to portraiture? “Because”, she said, “I love people.” “They interest me. I enjoy doing the body and face. Even when I was an illustrator it was most interesting to do the children’s faces.” Her first portrait was of Susan Molinari, then City Councilwoman-at-Large.

What is Constance’s next project? She will take the opportunity of a summer off to pursue a new way for her of painting portraits. Her method has been to make sketches and photographs at an initial sitting and then work primarily from them, with a final sitting. But this summer she will work solely from live subjects sitting indoors and outdoors at her home in upstate New York.

The elements of spontaneity and freshness that can result excite Constance greatly.

The other ground-breaking women whose personas and biographies are brought to vivid life at sTudio 6 are astronaut Dr. Ellen Shulman Baker, aviator Amelia Earhart, banker Joyce Lim, Head Nurse Yvonne Plummer who deals mostly with AIDS patients and Victoria Vattimo, Head Press Secretary for the New York Senate, pictured with her daughter.

American Women, A Portrait Series by Constance Del Vecchio Maltese is an art exhibition to be appreciated on various levels. And when you see it, think of that tenth amazing woman who created it. You can find out more by visiting: cmaltese.homestead.com.

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