It seems that for most of his life, Paul Baldassini has lived in two worlds—the modern world, where he founded and ran a successful boutique design firm in Boston’s Back Bay, and the 15th and 16th centuries, hobnobbing with master painters such as Rubens, Titian and Raphael. For 30 years, while running his business, he would travel to Europe to study the techniques of the Old Masters, while on this side of the pond he would keep abreast of advances in design, such as digital image editing.
“Rubens’ work, especially, has a glow and luminosity that’s stunning,” Baldassini says. His admiration for not only Rubens but also all of the Old Masters has been the source for Paul’s lifelong pursuit of a career in painting. “This was how I wanted to paint, and to this day I still study Rubens and his life,” he says.
Baldassini began his education copying the Old Masters. “It’s how I wanted to paint, so it made sense to paint what they painted,” he says. “And I pretty much now follow exactly the same process they used 400 years ago.” Baldassini emphasizes the importance of a solid foundation in controlling his materials, from the panels he builds himself to the process he uses to paint, citing the Old Masters’ proficiency in the control of their materials. “Some modern artists’ canvases are already breaking down, but the Old Masters’ are still here today, and they’re in good condition,” he says.
Baldassini has pooled his talent in design, composition and digital tools, his skill in both old and modern painting techniques, and an impressive knowledge of art history to create a beautiful body of mature work, consisting of both oils and watercolors. His work is especially attractive to collectors, who are as impressed by technique as they are subject matter.
He begins his oil paintings, which are exclusively of flowers, with a drawing from digital images, usually a combination of at least three or four. This drawing is important to establish the composition and underlying structure of the painting. His oils go through a series of complex steps, notably a fully realized underpainting and then an overpainting, just like the Old Masters. “I use transparent pigment to build shadows, painted very thinly and laboriously, and then use a direct painting technique to build up the overpainting with both transparent and opaque passages, rather than traditonal glazing techniques,” he explains. The color is nuanced in the shadows, and Baldassini explains that he manipulates the hue, but not the value of the pigment. The result is patterns and shapes bathed in a strong, brilliant light that give the flowers a heightened, exaggerated, other-world quality.
His watercolors, which he rarely produces anymore yet have profoundly influenced his oil underpainting technique, are based on a combination of digital images and sketches. Compared to the technique he uses for his oils, he appreciates the spontaneity of his more directly painted watercolors.
Paul Baldassini is represented by Addison Art Gallery, 43 South Orleans Road (Route 28), Orleans.