Concetta Antico is a renowned tetrachromat artist who has recently relocated to Australia after decades based primarily in San Diego. 2020 and COVID have meant changes, but no slowing down – she’s offering online painting classes, and preparing to open a new gallery on her farm retreat in Byron Bay in August.
In this interview, Concetta shares her experiences as a tetrachromat artist, her love of art before discovering she was tetrachromat, and how she has adapted during the coronavirus pandemic.
- At what point did you decide you were an artist? What do you remember of that time?
Art has always been inherent in my life – my mother provided many artistic experiences I remember vividly. As a mere toddler, perhaps about two or three years old, I have memories of painting a wooden garden fence at lunch time with a pail of water and a household paintbrush. I remember the water looked like rainbows, making the fence a myriad of colours when painted. The sun would dry it as I went, and I would repeat over, and over, to see the “pretty colours” again, and again. This now makes sense given my super-vision abilities.
Being an artist was never a decision. It was a fact in my life that built momentum.
- You were an artist before you found out you were a tetrachromat. How did your approach to art change after this was confirmed?
I had no idea I was a tetrachromat. In fact, I didn’t know this scientific “gift” or mutation existed until about 2008. I knew I loved colour. I was immersed in it, and it drove my life, my choices, what I loved, what I chose to buy, what I wanted to create.
It was not until 2012 that I was identified as a tetrachromat by Dr. Jay Neitz of the University of Washington. The knowledge did not necessarily change my art – which was clearly already being driven by the 100 million more colours I was seeing – as much as it changed my interactions with others. It was after this “cold water in the face” moment that I had a new-found awareness of what others were not seeing, that I was. It was a profound life changing moment, but not an art changing one.
- What has been the most challenging aspect of setting up a studio and gallery in regional NSW? Why?
Apart from the logistics of physically bringing my 25 year career in San Diego to Byron Bay (which was a Herculean and emotional effort), the fact is that I am not a country girl!
I love the city life, the energy of which is intoxicating! I do miss that in the stillness that abounds in this regional area. I am also a night owl, and I find myself longing for late night cafe society with good conversations long after midnight. I hope to recreate some of that energy here. So the challenge is mostly of the remoteness I experience here.
But nature, which is abundant here, is an element threaded throughout every domain I have created. Tooraloo Farm Stay and my new gallery are no exception. My studios and homes have always been punctuated with natural adornments, like the 24 wisteria vines covering my home in San Diego, CA, or the cedar, willow and oak whimsical fairytale furnishings I used to decorate my studio and patios with. So, in many ways regional NSW was a natural progression of my style, and my gallery has followed suit.
Byron Bay is an amazing art hub, one of unique personal self expression. I am excited to meet like-minded artists and bring a new creative flavour to the scene here. I have so many ideas! There is definitely room for it. What at first felt isolated (literally!), now feels welcoming and needed.
- How have you seen the arts industry in Australia change in the last few years? How has this impacted your business?
I believe that the changes in the arts industry globally have been universal. Like any change, they are usually societally, economically and technologically driven, to name just a few drivers. Almost every aspect of the arts has been taken onto a variety of web-based platforms.
Digital is the new way, whether that is to view a work of art or to create one. Artists have websites, as well as virtual galleries and studios. Brick and mortar galleries must have virtual galleries as well, yet they still need openings and opportunities to meet the artist. I have followed suit.
However, as art is a very tactile and visual medium, I believe there will always be room for real experiences in gallery spaces. Community is key in this industry, and the sharing of like-minded ideas at events will always be a part of it. While I have seen an increase in online presence, I have also witnessed a marked increase in arts related and cultural events. Art lovers want real life art stories delivered by real artists. They crave the human creation connection.
In the end, like every other business model in a changing world, we artists too must change, or die. However, I fully believe the changes have added, not subtracted. Any-art-thing and every-art-thing now goes, which is actually the ultimate in creative expression really – isn’t it?
- How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your business?
Unlike any other event, or global pandemic, COVID instantaneously brought the world economy to its knees. My business was not exempt, but it forced me to be resilient in ways I had not employed before.
I am now teaching live oil painting sessions online with Zoom to many of my sadly missed students in the USA, as well as videoing the classes for future editing and uploading to Udemy.com. I have also submitted an instructional virtual gallery concept to Airbnb Experiences and await that result. A new body of COVID work is also being birthed. In the end, COVID has enhanced my business and my offerings. As Grandma Moses once said “Life is what you make it, always has been, always will be…”
- What do you think will be the lasting impacts of the pandemic on the arts industry in regional and rural Australia?
I believe the pandemic, like other events in history, will evoke change – but not all of it will be lasting. It is hard to project what time will ultimately tell of the pandemic’s impact, and what time will erase, but I feel that we will once again find our equilibrium after tragedy. I believe that soon it will be business as usual. This is the way of the human spirit.
Creativity is dynamic, and it will have ongoing impact as long as ideas are rife, and opportunity abounds. I am grateful for the time that the isolation of Covid19 afforded me to dig deep into my instructional offerings, to indulge in the design and opening of my new gallery space, to create another gallery store website, and to take a breath to look inside myself. I believe other artists must feel the same at this time.
I see a budding of new and unique artistic endeavors in these regional and rural areas, that were once unsung. For art is everywhere, so why not more art in remote areas too? That is my plan, to bring art out here to play, and to create a mecca for all to explore with wanderlust in the Northern Rivers.
About the expert
Known in many circles as “The Colour Queen,” Concetta Antico is a world-renowned fine artist, teacher, lecturer and confirmed tetrachromat – capable of seeing up to 100 million more colours than the average person. Her super-human colour perception brings to life visionary oil paintings, always completed in a single sitting, recognized for their vibrancy as well as the subtlety in her signature blends of colour.
After spending decades creating and teaching in San Diego, Concetta has recently returned home to Australia, where she is establishing a new gallery, studio and creative hub on Tooraloo, her restored farm near Byron Bay.
Image description: Headshot of a Caucasian woman with long black hair and different shades of blue, green, and purple streaks. She wears a patterned long blue earring, read lipstick, and eyeshadow with shades of blue and purple.