In May, I was asked by a friend if I would be willing to guest host a local access TV program which he will be producing using the facilities at MNN, a local access cable television network based in New York City. This is an exciting opportunity and I readily agreed.
The show is being put together as a final project for my friend's training at the network. His plan is a 28 minute program consisting of 2 interviews with two artists. One of those men is Mike Fontana. We agreed to visit Mike together for a preliminary meeting. Mike lives in one those unlikely locations - a street so well known for its shops that the prospect of an artist living on St. Marks Place between 2nd and 3rd Avenue is hard to imagine.
Mike's home is a shrine to his sculptural work - every wall, corner, shelf, room, piece of furniture. A small balcony a the front of the building overlooks St. Marks from the second floor.
Mike is a native New Yorker, born here in 1961. As I typically do with my profiles, I corresponded with Mike by email to learn more about him and his background. Mike spent a semester at SVA and a year and a half at Art Student’s league. There, he was a drawing and anatomy major. Mike says:
I dropped out of high school to work with my families photographic retouching studio. I’d spent some years in construction, mostly as a carpenter, building houses, apartments, renovation etc... All the while making paintings. Found work with Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Studio where I ended up becoming Chief Sculptor and Associate designer. Many long stories there. I stayed 12 years. Since then I’ve pursued all kinds of sculpting and design endeavors from props and display to major historical monuments, museum figures, fabrication for major artists ( “I don’t have to finger paint any more.”) and, my own stuff.
I was amazed to learn about Mike's family background:
Father: Illustrious family origin, aristocracy, 700 year old name. Grand father: famous opera star early 20th century. Caruso was my dad’s step father. Dad’s mom: Spanish Countess. Title originally conferred on family by King Ferdinand. That and half a sawbuck gets me on the subway.
Mother: East European peasant stock but, her mom’s rise to the American dream is quite extraordinary.
Mike speaks of his interests and the importance of his daughter in his life:
Interests: Painting, Sculpture, Design, Illustration, Photography, Industrial design and architecture, Music, Film, Animation, Rapid prototyping. It goes on and on. I think that my biggest achievement is the relationship that I have with my daughter. Strip away everything else and she is the center of my everything. I’ve never known a comparable love. Of all of the interesting and or beautiful things that I’ve had my hand in creating, all pales before her. She is my angel.
But there is another fascinating side to Mike's life that I had the opportunity to participate in. We will see that in part 2...
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