Art inspired by nature and science

Mark Dell´Isola is a local artist whose dramatic and colorful paintings have earned him numerous awards and the distinction of holding worldwide exhibitions of his art in galleries in Washington, DC, Spain, Samoa, Palau, Bali, New Caledonia and Guam.  He has been actively producing paintings in the Pacific Islands for over 25 years.  In fact, Dell’Isola’s art can be found in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, the IberCaja Cultural Center in Zaragosa, Spain, and the Palau National Museum in Koror, Palau.  His paintings are also viewable locally at the A. B. Won Pat Guam International Airport in Tamuning, Guam.

Dell’Isola was born in 1956 in Zaragoza, Spain, and is of Chamorro and Italian-American ancestry.  His parents are Rosita Gutierrez Dell’Isola and Alphonse Dell’Isola.  The couple met on Guam in 1955 when Alphonse Dell’Isola was stationed on the island as an officer in the American Army Corps of Engineers.  Spending much of his youth in Washington, DC, and around the nation’s capital, Mark Dell’Isola earned a Bachelor’s degree in Art from the University of Maryland in 1979.  At the invitation of an uncle, Dell’Isola traveled to Guam where he set up his first studio.  Taking his inspiration from the reef, ocean and sky, Dell’Isola began producing pieces meant to capture the intensity of the vibrant colors of the island’s natural environment.  However, it was a visit to Palau that changed his life and his perception, giving direction to what would eventually become his style.

While in Palau, Dell’Isola found a connection to his islander roots, adopting a more traditional island lifestyle and residing in a simple wood and tin structure in the shade of coconut trees.  Subsisting on food from the ocean and rainwater he collected himself, Dell’Isola began to explore the ocean and reefs, immersing himself in the chaos of the tropical marine environment, and also testing his limits with even deeper dives.  These experiences were helpful in creating pieces for his series of paintings inspired by the Marianas Trench, particularly for expressing the relationship of the abyss and the surrounding levels that give it definition.

Many of Dell’Isola’s pieces are large paintings on canvases measuring as large as 12 by 15 feet.  His work varies from exhibition to exhibition, but many of the pieces are abstract renderings of colorful lines and curves, parabolas, circles and other geometric shapes and grids.  According to one review in the Washington Post of his 2005 exhibition of Pacific island-inspired paintings, Dell’Isola’s work was visually interesting–

“a marriage of cartooning and latter-day abstract expression…his palette is ripe with bright tropical colors and passages of paint spelling out the color spectrum.  Each massive, highly detailed piece posits the freestyle drop against a calculated underpainting.  The result is something like a controlled explosion.”

Dell’Isola describes his approach to beginning a new painting, especially his larger pieces: He begins by laying a clean canvas on the floor where he formulates the areas in which he will apply paint, like filling in a map.  Then he places the canvas vertically on the wall to help him visualize further how the piece will take shape.  The resulting pieces are eye-catching and visually expressive.  Each of Dell’Isola’s works has a story of its own, inspired by the artist’s own journey through life.

Dell’Isola’s search for inspiration has led him to different places to live and work, with each new setting bringing different feelings that often take him out of his “comfort zone.”  In these spaces, Dell’Isola is able to create pieces that reflect his own feelings and that resonate with his audiences.   After living in Palau for 23 years, Dell’Isola set up a studio in Bali where he spent eight years before setting up another studio in a small, remote Japanese fishing village on the Japan Sea.  For the past three years, Dell’Isola has been living in a 100 year-old traditional house, the first foreigner to live among the mostly elderly residents of this former salt-producing community.   A recent review in the Marianas Variety of paintings inspired by his life in Japan highlights the stark contrast between the artist’s vibrant use of color in his Pacific Island-inspired works and the ethereal shades of grey, blues and greens in his Japan pieces.

Although Dell’Isola maintains studios in Bali, Palau and Japan, he finds Guam to be ideal for its location and its closeness to the environment that inspires him the most.  He is currently working on several large pieces at the Chamorro Cultural Center in Oka Point, Tamuning (the old Guam Memorial Hospital doctors’ housing area), finding inspiration in the calm, peaceful overlook of Tumon Bay and the Philippine Sea.

Dell’Isola has received numerous awards and artist fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guam Council on the Arts and Humanities, and the Maryland National Capital Park & Planning Commission, Department of Parks and Recreation, Prince George’s County Arts Division.  His notable exhibits include Paintings from Guam and Belau: 2006-2007, Govinda Gallery in Washington, DC; the Pacific Festival of the Arts in Noumea, New Caledonia, Apia, Samoa, and Koror, Palau; a self-titled exhibit in 1994 at the Centro Cultural De IberCaja, in Guadalajara, Spain; and Belau-Paintings from the Rock Islands which he exhibited in 1991 at the Guam Council on the Arts and Humanities Gallery in Hagatna, and at the Ward-Lawrence Gallery in New York City.

By Dominica Tolentino

Mark Dell’Isola Video Links

KUAM’s Experience the art of Mark Dell’Isola
CCIC671’s Mark Dell’Isola at Sagan Kotturan Chamoru 

For further reading

Brooks, Donovan.“Dell’Isola Delves Deep into Pacific,” Island Time, Vol. 8 April-June 2009.

CAHA Artist Directory. (Accessed 15 June 2012)

Dawson, Jessica.  “Island-hopping in the name of art,” Washington Post, 31 March 2005.

Guam Humanities Council, Picturing Guam Teachers Resource Book, 2011. (Accessed 15 June 2012)

Hart, Therese, “Renowned artist Mark Dell’Isola holds exhibit,” Marianas Variety, 02 May 2011.

Mark Dell’Isola Portfolio: Paintings from Bali, Guam and Palau. (Accessed 15 June 2012)