New book promotes Bethel Park artist

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As an art lover, Raymond Black of Bethel Park wants to promote local artists.

He has put together a new book, "Master Artist," on the paintings of John Del Monte, who has lived in Bethel Park for 50 years.

"I just think he's an excellent artist, and we need to promote some of our artists," said Mr. Black, president of the nonprofit South Arts group.

Mr. Del Monte, 88, has a studio in the historic Schoolhouse Arts Center in Bethel Park.

"When I first met John seven or eight years ago, I thought he had a magnetic personality," Mr. Black said.

"When I got to know John and his family and saw his paintings and drawings, it astounded me he didn't have much recognition in the art world.

"He needed a push -- he has so much art he has accumulated and worked so hard at for 60 years. There are probably 150 works at his studio and even more at his home."

So Mr. Black took photographs of about 200 of Mr. Del Monte's works and published them in the book, along with a biography of the artist.

Mr. Del Monte is currently in Lucca, Italy, where he has taught art to English-speaking students during the summers for 43 years. He was invited to set up an art school by Lucca's mayor, whom he met in Pittsburgh through a music teacher at Carnegie Mellon University.

"John was born in McKees Rocks and attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon," Mr. Black said. "He went to the Art Students League of New York on a scholarship. And he's had shows in Italy, Pittsburgh and New York.

"He is a Renaissance man, he really is a master artist in the Old World tradition, in his study and preparation of art," Mr. Black said.

"For instance, in his preparation for a painting of pears, he would cut open the pear and examine the seeds, and he says it tastes better, once you know what's inside. This was the approach of the old masters, they would study the bone structure of the human body and the muscles before painting a person.

"He does many, many drawings in charcoal first as he develops his ideas for a painting. And at one time, John made his own canvasses and paint.

"He does a lot of collages -- of ideas and subjects. Maybe it's a religious painting, and his commentary is on the Catholic religion. Or he has one painting with his father sitting on a stool, surrounded by several horses, with a small mirror in the corner. But he doesn't tell you what he is trying to say through his painting, he leaves that up to you," Mr. Black said.

Oil is Mr. Del Monte's primary medium, but he also works in watercolor.

Some local artists have compared his style of painting to Leonardo da Vinci.

A Pittsburgh doctor collects Mr. Del Monte's paintings, Mr. Black said, but he believes more people would be interested in the artist's paintings if they saw them. The paintings range in price from $500 to $15,000, Mr. Black said.

When Mr. Del Monte returns from Italy, he and Mr. Black plan to hold book signings in the area.

Mr. Black believes artists need help in publicizing their work because often it is too expensive for them to display their work in regional galleries.

"Sometimes the galleries want 40-50 percent of the selling price, and all the framing jobs," he said. "I understand they have overhead to pay for the studio's upkeep and staff, but it's very expensive for the local artists."

Mr. Black has worked with the South Arts group in the past couple of years to help organize events and promote artists in the South Hills.

South Arts, begun in 1984, has 42 members and holds workshops and classes at the Schoolhouse Arts Center on South Park Road. The former elementary school was built in 1909 and closed in the mid-1960s.

Mr. Black said South Arts holds about 30 classes a year at three locations -- the Schoolhouse, Bethel Park Recreation Center and in Peters. It rents space in the Schoolhouse to its members, and the building also houses another arts group and a craft store.

A theater performance group, the Heritage Players, has an office in the building, and South Arts also holds fundraisers there a couple times a year.

Mr. Black is encouraged that the new management at The Galleria of Mt. Lebanon is interested in promoting the arts and is organizing an art show where artists will be able to sell their work. The show begins Oct. 11.

Mr. Black, 75, is retired after working 30 years in retail. An avid photographer, he became active with a Mt. Lebanon photographers' group called The Photographic Section of the Academy of Science and Art in Pittsburgh.

Mr. Black would like to write books about other local artists and is considering a book on a local photographer and a local wood sculptor who carves birds.

"Because of budget cuts, the arts seem to be going by the wayside in some of our schools these days," he said. "But art makes you think creatively -- out of the box -- and it should be taught. We need to stretch the mind to think differently."

"Master Artist" is published by RoseDog Books, a Downtown company that is the online publishing arm of Dorrance Publishing Co., also Downtown. The 230-page paperback sells for $71.


Debra Duncan, freelance:


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