365 Days to Infinity


365 Days to Infinity: The Art of Anthony Augustine Papini
“the last light the sun puts off before darkness….”

There was something about the 4 x 12 paintings I saw on the wall during the May show at City Arts Cooperative Gallery on Valencia Street in San Francisco. They were side by side along the wall, an entire row of them, like a row of fortress windows. Something drew me to the paintings, the traffic, the icon nature of the cars and the streets, the light as well as their size. Glimpses, slits, your eye goes way beyond the four corners of the canvas.

In these paintings, Papini wants you to ride in that traffic with him to a place just outside the canvas. Instead of giving you the view from the bridge or a nice rooftop vista of the city, with the occasional palm tree and waning sunlight, you are in the car. The scene is vibrant, moving, the horizon draws you outside the painting.

I thought about these paintings for a long time and then emailed the artist because I couldn’t get the paintings out of my mind. I had to see more. I had no idea how much more I was going to see.

What I discovered what that Tony Papini was painting one of these paintings every day — for the next 365 days. His 365 painting project thoroughly explores this format, these subjects, tests his endurance, designed to develop his “voice” in painting — his style — by having a painting for every day in a year.

Tony Papini with his 79 paintings done, 286 to go, in his studio at Art Explosion.

As a writer, that is our mantra, write every day. While many painters paint every day, very few paint a painting every day. Part of the reason Papini chose the 4 x 12 format for his canvas was that it made a painting a day possible. He wanted painting to be a part of his everyday life. “I wanted painting to be as natural to me as eating, or sleeping. I also wanted to challenge myself — this is like an artistic marathon.” I understood his desire to test himself, not unlike my November marathon at Nanowrimo where writers attempt to create a 50,000 word manuscript in 30 days.

He picked the 4 x 12 size because it is just large enough to use small details and just small enough to create a finished painting every day. The format recalls a window and looking through it, you get a wide open array, not just the flat surface of the canvas. Each of these stacked windows holds a story: street scenes, bumper to bumper vintage cars in a 1950s gray and green scene to a multi-lane highways in Los Angeles. Papini says that this bumper to bumper traffic is worse than a flock of pigeons but I see it in a different way. In this manner, laid out panel by panel, the scene becomes bizarrely romantic, creating nostalgia for highways and traffic as if we were in the future and this type of travel was now quaintly in the past.

He started to paint one of his freeway paintings every day, but as he got into the 365 project, he diverged from the freeway and did other things. A bear wanders across two canvases, race horses across four panels, a self portrait stares back in another panel. He started to chaff at the confines of the small format. He did two paintings of birds across three panels.  From his blog entry for June 28, he notes:

I am currently working on 2 three panel paintings. One at the studio in oil and this one at home in acrylic of birds.

These three panel paintings allow me to paint out of the 4″ by 12″ prison that I have created for myself. They are still 4″ by 12″

individually; they just combine to make a 12″ by 12″ Square. Now normally I don’t like photographing unfinished work in fear of never getting it look better than it did when photographed. I no longer feel this way. If I paint a crappy painting I will just paint another one. I am doing 365 of them.

This painting is about a thought I had often when I was young. What do the birds think of us? Are they conscious of us? Do they recognize shapes in freeways and farm land? Do they ever say to themselves, “wow that mountain is perfectly square and it has square holes in it…weird?” I guess what I am asking is can they distinguish natural and unnatural things and do they care?

A mallard flying must see a lot of interesting things in a single day of flight.

This format lends itself to showing all 365 paintings when he finishes — a very interesting show. He uses the 4 x 12 format, he says, because it allows him to use a dramatic vanishing point with a “simplified foreground.” Hardly simple. So much going on in one painting

He plans constantly to the next painting, like a running dialog of art. He describes part of his goal on his website that he is “trying to connect with feelings that we all face in everyday life such as being stuck in traffic or the last light the sun puts off before darkness.” The paintings are not about highways and traffic but lives caught up in them and where the people in the cars are going. I asked him what effects he is seeing from his marathon painting, and he answered that “my style is developing and evolving at an accelerated rate. “ (Pun intended?)
Anthony Papini was always fascinated by the horizon into infinity. Sometimes his paintings hold just the suggestion of infinity, like this one of the railroad tracks. In this painting, the vanishing point is somewhere off the canvas, but it still has the same effect.

Papini is a Californian, born in Sacramento in 1983, attended UC Santa Cruz and coming in to the art scene at the turn of this century. He blogs, tweets, posts on Facebook and shows within the Art Explosion compound, at the long standing Open Studios and like many local artists, at City Arts, on Valencia street. His studio is within a large building full of artists’ spaces, which allows him to do his work with low overhead.

Not all of his work is 4 x12. He has a number of different dimensions and in fact his larger work, the drama increases with size. Here is a great street scene in downtown San Francisco where the scale, the action and the vanishing point continually draw you into the painting giving the work a dynamic quality.

He has done a variety of work, plein air landscapes and scenes, some travel painting (Cambodia), as well as a series of rooster paintings (begawk), but this body of work, his traffic landscapes, have been his focus for a while and it is where he has developed his style.

Urban landscapes evoke a crowded, busy emotion — different from contemplative sweeping skies, distant mountains, curling oceans like landscapes of Turner and Bierstadt. Even some of the French painters like Dufy who painted the urban environs of Nice, didn’t attempt to capture the grittiness of, say, the Long Island Expressway at rush hour, or the I-10 on a Friday afternoon. Papini, instead of trying to just paint what he sees, is driving (pun intended) towards something else. He is taking the viewer with him to the scene beyond the vanishing point. Each of his 365 paintings is another trip into that horizon, into infinity.

Anthony Papini’s Website

Anthony Papini’s Blog

adavis-32Allison A. Davis is a poet, novelist , essayist and lawyer. She has written extensively on San Francisco performance/multimedia art in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. She just finished her first novel and is working on her second. She lives in both San Francisco and New Orleans.You can follow her at @allisondavis531 on Twitter.




  • EIL

    Thank you for your appreciative comment and stopping by. We are glad you enjoyed the essay. Cheers!

  • Harold S

    Dude Congratulations on the article and the lofty undertaking of your very impressive goal.