HE’S known for his large-scale terrestrial events, but now the founding director of the National Multicultural Festival, Domenic Mico, is using his art to take a leap into the cosmos.
Following a sell-out exhibition at FORM Gallery in Queanbeyan during 2018, the noted arts identity-turned-painter has refocused his gaze to outer space in a series of large oil paintings conjuring up cosmic clouds, nebulae and constellations.
This new suite of oil paintings, which will occupy the large gallery of M16 Artspace in Griffith, is curated by “CityNews” arts writer Dr Anni Doyle Wawrzyńczak.
Mico is no stranger to Canberrans. Born in Calabria, Italy but raised in Canberra, he became the first recipient in 1982 of the Australia Council’s Ros Bower Award for Community Arts, has been honoured for his life in art with an Order of Australia Medal and an Italian knighthood and was in 2001 named by “The Canberra Times” as one of 75 people who had shaped the national capital.
He founded the Canberra Day celebrations which became the Canberra Festival, as well as Blue Folk Community Arts Association at Strathnairn, Tuggeranong Arts Centre, TAU Community Theatre, the Backstage Performing Arts Café and the National Multicultural Festival, always stirring up hot debate about multiculturalism.
As a young man, Mico had trained at the old Canberra School of Art before turning to the performing and community arts in the early 1970s and now, back at the easel, he sees this new suite of paintings a natural continuation of his earlier flowery bursts of colour.
“I wanted to explore the colours of the universe, but that led to abstraction,” he says.
“The evolution of the universe gave me possibilities of new colours and new patterns, some of them formed by explosions.”
The idea of the M16 exhibition came from musing on things happening in the universe and most of his paintings reflect on positive space, showing light and colour, with only one painting concerning black holes.
Mico was aware that venturing into the cosmos might lead to comparisons with indigenous art so has tried to keep away from appropriating dot painting, which he describes as “a very sacred thing”, although it is not impossible that the pricks of light on his canvases suggesting stars may manifest that.
He’s no astronomer, but loves looking upwards at night.
“I’ve read about astronomy a lot in a general way, but from the painting point of view it’s the colours that matter,” he says.
“I started stargazing as an adult at Strathnairn.”
That’s where Mico founded the influential arts collective Blue Folk, which has recently given its name to a laneway in Ginninderry’s first suburb.
“There was something very exciting about staring up into the sky, and once upon a time at Strathnairn you could see the whole universe,” he says.
Mico recollects having enjoyed the same experience on a camping trip to the Warrumbungles, where the absence of competing ambient light and pollution meant you could see more of the heavens.
Alas, no longer, and when he returned to his native Italy, he could hardly make out the unfamiliar northern skies at all, for the same reasons.
Viewers of his new work will notice a more profound aspect to this new suite of works, darker and more enigmatic than his 2016 images of light and colour.
“When you look at the skies,” he says, “you feel very small and it all makes you think of death.”
And not just death, he adds, but also that perennially vexing question, “Are we alone?”
“The Cosmos”, M16 Artspace, Griffith, March 20-April 5.