Everywhere Charles Miano looks, he’s surrounded by modern conceptual art. And, oddly enough, it’s as if the 33-year-old realist painter has become a generational rebel by sticking to the rules.
Miano is the reverse of edgy, which makes him just that. An outcast among many of his peers, Miano also doesn’t look like his Italian ancestors who painted some 400 years ago. Call him a traditionalist. Call him retro. Just don’t call him apathetic.
The founder and president of The Southern Atelier, a classical-art school and studio off Whitfield Avenue in North Sarasota, Miano is clean-cut, soft-spoken and dressed in a white button-down shirt, baggy cargo shorts and flip-flops.
He’s hardly the picture of anti-establishment.
Even in his most recognizable self-portrait — an unsmiling image of the artist rendered in earthy oil paints — Miano appears approachable and, like his art, wise beyond his years.
“In a way, the atelier is anti-establishment in that it does the opposite of what art universities do,” Miano says. “All the ‘isms’ we’ve had over the last 100 years have not been focused on the craft or the skill, but on being different for different’s sake.”
“Atelier” is French for workshop. In the art community it is a studio in which the Atelier Method — an art-instruction technique modeled after the old European art schools of the 15th-to-19th centuries — is taught by a master in a series of systematic stages.
It is how Miano was trained.
A Buffalo, N.Y., native, Miano turned down scholarships to art schools all over the country to study academically and privately with mentors in Philadelphia and Italy.
He never pictured himself teaching, nor did he set out to become the local poster child for a grassroots classical-art movement.
The seeds for the school sprang from Miano’s studio at Art Center Manatee, where a group of artists took interest in the young man with the old palette.
“I don’t think people should be fooled by his youth and easygoing manner,” says atelier still-life instructor Sue Foster. “He’s had a vision for the atelier for years, and he’s pursued it relentlessly, in spite of obstacles.”
Miano opened The Southern Atelier three years ago in a barn off County Road 675 in East Manatee County. The location, although serene and pastoral, was too far-flung for Miano, so, in 2008, he moved the school into a 4,000-square-foot space in Whitfield Industrial Park Center.
Last October, the building caught fire, destroying most of the school’s supplies, furniture and student artwork. A cabinet containing hundreds of pieces of Miano’s work was charred.
The damage was devastating.
Within a month, however, Miano had moved the atelier into a new industrial space off Whitfield Avenue.
Volunteers and students helped salvage the school’s easels, sanding and staining them to remove the smoke smell. It was a setback that could have easily wiped out the school, but less than a year later, Miano barely gives it credence.
“Whenever I’ve had a crisis in life, I’ve always put my head down and painted my way through it,” he says. “In a way, we’ve grown from it. We’re in a good place now.”
The Southern Atelier is the only school of its kind on the Gulf Coast. Miano receives inquiries from student artists all over the country, including two applications last month from artists in Minnesota and Georgia.
“We’re getting national recognition as a valid place to study,” Miano says. “The bottom line is we’re providing something that was very hard for people to find — instruction that has been lost for 100 years — and, as a result, we’ve become a hub of activity.”
Miano predicts that over the next few years we’ll see more ateliers pop up, especially in Florida, where bountiful sunlight provides the ideal lighting.
He says, contrary to what many people believe, art is not always the product of natural-born genius. Many of his students start with only a raw desire to learn and limited artistic sensibilities. Miano says just as we learn to write as children, we can learn to draw and paint as adults.
To illustrate this point, he gestures toward his noiseless studio, where a handful of artists, stationed at easels, are painting a live model during an open session.
“You can learn to be an artist,” he says. “But it takes patience and hard work. You’ve got to remember that this was a craft born in stillness prior to television and microwaves. People used to spend a lot of time developing their craft. It used to be you didn’t make a painting in a day.”
Charles Miano is a fan of Italian artists from the Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo eras. He isn’t afraid to admit his Italian heritage has colored his preferences.
“I love that (Italians) add life and feeling to their work,” Miano says. “As with anything academic, you can sometimes lose that feeling. The Italians never did.”
Here are Miano’s top five artists:
Andrea del Sarto
Artist Charles Miano explains the significance of this salvaged drawing (VIDEO)
When a fire ripped though The Southern Atelier in 2009, studio founder Charles Miano thought all was lost –– until he spotted a flame-licked drawing amidst the ruins.
Scroll down for video.