Philip Monteleoni is an artist and retired architect. Born in Padova, Italy, he then grew up in the United States. In his profession he was a leader in the field of healthcare design, and has now returned to his passions of stone sculpture, art and music.
I know exactly when I first became interested in carving marble. I was in my early 30's, reading Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy, and I became fascinated with Michelangelo's passionate relationship with stone carving. I thought to myself: I should do that. After all, I'm Italian, my father is from Florence, and some of Michelangelo's spirit could be coursing through my veins. Banging away at stone would be a great, physical antidote to my architectural career, which was based on paper, talk and long-delayed gratification.
I think of each piece as a learning exercise, setting a fairly high bar for myself: realistic representation, not abstraction or caricature. So I try to convey in stone not only the essence of a particular creature but also its volumetric truth. Early on, I was lucky to have a teacher who instilled in me the discipline of scrupulously measuring the model - whether live or in photographs - to be able to convey, without simplifying or cutting corners, the full three-dimensional proportions of my subject. I paper the walls of my little studio with a collage of dozens of images of my current subject, and get to work.
Animals are our precious cousins, and many are under threat. I want to know as much about them as I can, and to honor them by making sculptures so that others may appreciate their beauty and their plight. I try to reproduce them as realistically as possible, to respect their essence. As I work I understand them more and more deeply.
Nature photographers are doing heroic work, and for me, their photographs, or chance snapshots that I’ve taken in the wild or in zoos, are often the first source of inspiration, catching a particular pose or feeling. I then search for other images on the Web that can complement my understanding of the creature in the round. The other starting point, the convergent force, is the stone itself. A multicolored stone with deep reds and greens suggested a poisonous tree frog from the Amazon, another in white and gray strongly implied the head of a wolf, and white alabaster, with its haunting translucency, was perfect for a polar bear family on an ice floe.
The theme of my work is respect for our fellow creatures – animals of all shapes and sizes. I find a deep satisfaction in studying and portraying animals, particularly in light of the precipitous decline of large mammals in the wild. My goal is to create an honest awareness of these species in the viewers, and through that, a genuine concern for their perilous fate. I am particularly focused on portraying my subjects faithfully, with proportions that are as correct as I can make them. No cartoonish exaggerations, no cutefying.