Painter Michael DeMeglio isn't the first artist to translate sound into images on canvas, but being deaf brings another dimension to his work which transcends the senses and speaks to viewers on an emotional level.
Deaf since birth, DeMeglio is able to hear only with the use of hearing aids, which leads to a greater appreciation for music. From jazz to classical, music has been a source of inspiration for him for years. But it was the lesser known movements of Beethoven's 5th Symphony that led to his latest series of paintings offering an abstract, visual representation of the work.
"I have painted images from other musical genres that were subjective and pulled from the lyrics, but the Beethoven series was created intuitively rather than subjectively," said DeMeglio, who was raised in Bloomfield Hills and now lives in the Twin Cities metro area in Minnesota. "I started with a blank canvas and an open mind and allowed myself to be color-driven by what I heard from the music as it flowed in its form on the canvas. I painted strictly how the music made me feel."
For viewers familiar with the music, it isn't hard to "hear" the music coming through the visual artwork, from delicate brush strokes and the blend of soft colors that build to bold colors and thunderous crescendos. In fact, the realization that both artists – DeMeglio and Beethoven later in his life – were deaf could be easily lost on a viewer. However, there's no separating the artist from the art.
"My deafness does affect my work because I take in more visually to make up for what I can't hear," DeMeglio said. "It is a part of who I am, and I believe that it allows me to see texture, color and depth differently than others. I subconsciously assign color to mood, environment and memories. It can't help but affect my work and people often comment on my use of color."
The series, which was initially intended to be only one piece, has garnered attention in the Twin Cities area. This August, DeMeglio's four Beethoven paintings will be on display at the Robert Kidd Gallery in downtown Birmingham.
A graduate of Gallaudet University in Washington D.C., DeMeglio works as a deaf-blind interpretor for a school district in Minnesota. But as a self-taught artist, painting is a lifelong pursuit.
"Painting is a compulsion for me. I have to paint, and I get the most satisfaction from a large or oversized canvas," he said. "I have always been an artist. My grandfather was a passionate artist. The smell of oil paint in his Detroit basement and the pictures of his home in Italy are the things I grew up with. I didn't really take it seriously until I was about 25. When I was pursuing a graphic design degree, it became too digital feeling. It wasn't organic enough or satisfying. That's when I turned to paint and canvas."
Not surprisingly, DeMeglio was first drawn to Picasso's use of color blocking, as well as what he calls his childlike perspective.
"As a self-taught artist, I certainly matured," he said. "I didn't go to school for art, and you can see that in my earlier pieces... I have honed my ability to build depth into my work that even in an abstract, it isn't just a bunch of colors mushed together to make mud. That's not abstract in my opinion. An abstract should draw a viewer into it as deeply as any good landscape would."
Photo: Laurie Tennent