- DOMINIC SANSONE -
Visual ArtistUnited States
Dominic is best known for his room-filling installations and repetitive cast objects that combine to create an industrial mass-produced sensibility to his sculpture. His current body of work is a critical response to the disproportionate role of the Military Industrial Complex in society. His practice has been heavily influenced by time spent in the aerospace industry where he was responsible for producing fabrication and assembly drawings for satellites, military aircraft, and mobile artillery units.
He is a native of Chicago Illinois and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign and a Master of Fine Arts from the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis. Dominic has exhibited in group and solo exhibitions across the United States.
I’m originally from the South Side of Chicago, but my family left the city for the southwestern suburbs when I was nine years old. I’ve spent most of my life in Illinois, with brief stops in Charlotte, NC and Indianapolis, IN.
Ten days before my tenth birthday, an explosion in the distance knocked me down and terror struck my impressionable young mind. It was obviously the Russians and this was the beginning of the end. Unbeknownst to me it was actually an industrial disaster at a nearby refinery, but that did not stop my imagination from running wild. While the decade wore on, we would “win” the Cold War, but those times seem distant. I didn’t know it at the time, but this is one event of many that would shape my career and motivations in the arts.
Originally, out of high school, my plan was to be an engineer. I was accepted into one of the top engineering schools in the country, The University of Illinois, and I couldn’t have been more wrong about my path. It took about six weeks into that first semester that I knew I wanted something different. It wasn’t until my first experience casting bronze in an introductory sculpture class that I knew where my heart was. Even though I received a BFA in sculpture, art was really personal to me and I couldn’t envision it as a “career”, so I ended up spending a couple years at an aerospace company as a draftsman and then over a decade as a project manager/engineer at a tradeshow and museum company. Working at these two companies had a real impact on not only the why I make the art that I do, but also the how.
It really wasn’t until I was on the verge of becoming a father for the first time that I started to reflect on my past and decide that I was interested in being an artist. We were still deeply involved in Iraq and Afghanistan militarily and I wanted to do something that had a positive impact on the world, with the ideal of making it a better place for my children. Looking back on that moment of fear I experienced as a kid during that refinery explosion, I realized that we are always finding some new enemy to be the source of our nightmares. Always fighting some war. I want to change that thinking, so I went in pursuit of my MFA and have been a “full time artist” since 2010.
Early on in my arts education, I was really drawn to Joel Peter Witkin and Hans Bellmer, both photographers. Francis Bacon was also a big influence for me at that time. I suppose it’s sort of odd that a “sculptor” would site three artists known for two-dimensional work, but it’s what moved me the most as a young artist.
There are a lot of people I look at and find inspiration from in the pantheon of “blue chip” artists, but my role models are my contemporaries. I find encouragement and motivation in the people around me that are fighting the same fight I am, trying to carve out a living doing what they love. It’s not just visual artists I turn to though. Music plays a big part in the energy of my work and my playlists are pretty eclectic. If you pay close enough attention to my art you can find those influences, sometimes hiding in plain sight.
Ultimately I’m looking for things that hold my interest. Whether that gets fulfilled by the process or material I’m using, the historical or current event that might be the inspiration for the artwork, or something as ethereal as a feeling or a memory; as long as it holds my interest, I’ll carry that piece to a conclusion. Otherwise I drop it pretty quick, my studio is littered with started ideas that just didn’t hook me. If I’m bored by it, well it’s a safe bet that my potential audience will be too.
My end goal is always about creating something that makes the audience stop and think. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with “art for art’s sake”, but the main point of my being an artist is to create change. So I’m always striving for that ideal, to make artwork that has some impact on a deeper level than just being a thing to look at. I guess you could say I’m trying to convey my point of view of our world and getting people to consider my perspective. Mostly that’s been about the role that militarism plays in our lives. My time in aerospace comes into play here. While I never served in the armed forces, I was a part of the military industrial complex and indirectly participated in war-making. This isn’t about guilt; it’s about recognizing my contributions to humanity and trying to chart a different course for myself and maybe others.
I do feel pretty strongly though, that once something leaves my studio and enters the public realm (either IRL or digitally) that the interpretations of the work by viewers are just as valid as my own. I made the art, I own the art, but I don’t get to dictate what someone else sees in it, even if that contradicts my own view.
Yes and no. The art I make today has a “rawness” that is evident in my work going all the way back to my undergraduate degree. I’ve long since gotten away from the early figurative inspired sculpture and in the last two years have moved towards making objects that are less representative and more abstract. I’ve also started to utilize subtlety a bit more. Up till now my visual vocabulary has been pretty much summed up by “hammer, meet nail”. So I’ve been looking to be a little more nuanced in my work lately.
Mostly the subject matter has changed. It used to be all about me. Art was a way to work out my insecurities or exorcise my demons. I grew up. I became a dad. I started making art about the world around me instead of the world inside me. But how I present that work and how I make it, I’ve stayed the course.
While I’m my own worst critic, my favourite style is whatever I’m currently working on. I try not to get too attached or make things “precious”. I think it keeps me grounded and helps keep my ego in check.
A version of this question, and I’m glad you didn’t ask it, is to place myself into movements, in an art historical context, and that’s really hard to do. I find it to be a really confining question.
Quite honestly I don’t have one. During my time in Auckland at the International Sculpture Center’s 2013 conference, I was routinely asked by other attendees, “what do you work in?” While they were referring to my material of choice, they were met with my unexpected response of, “I work in ideas, not materials.” By this I meant that no one material defines my practice, nor limits it, allowing me to experiment with everything from traditional objects, to installation and participatory works, to time-based and kinetic works. This approach has resulted in a multi-disciplinary practice, keeping me interested and engaged with my art making.
What excites me is trying new things and using materials in ways they were not intended to be. While there are times that a material I’ve used might have some symbolic significance, more often than not, it’s just what interested me at that moment in time or it facilitated my idea best. All that aside, from a standpoint of process, metal casting, hands down. There’s no greater thrill for me, than to be filling a mold cavity with molten bronze/iron/aluminum. It’s like holding hell in your hand. Ultimately it still needs to be about the work and casting is just a means to an end.
Pay to play is bullshit. Nothing irritates me more than submission fees. People wanting you to participate in something for “exposure” comes in as a close second. Being an artist is expensive enough as it is, especially one making sculpture, so to be nickel and dimed with fees on top of the expense of showing, just gets me worked up. Rant over.
The industry is a tough one to navigate. It’s difficult to break through, galleries are struggling to stay relevant (outside of a handful), and collectors can be hard to find. I think it’s increasingly headed the way of traditional retail, which is online. It is an Instagram world after all. Nowadays the hats you have to wear are many in order to get your work out there and get noticed.
There are a few things that stand out. One, I really like being part of something new, that “in on the ground floor” vibe. It’s an opportunity to reach new people and I’m all about opportunity. Two, I think they have an interesting model for addressing the fine art market and an interesting approach to how artists interact with the service they provide. They aren’t reinventing the wheel, but at the same time they aren’t just repackaging what half a dozen other sites already offer. I also really appreciate that they are open to communication and willing to listen to and consider feedback from artists that are participating.