The nature of beauty


    The Cosentino family’s business is the beauty of nature. Artist Manny Cosentino makes that beauty eternal.

    The son of the Malibu florists and nursery founders works out of his studio, a converted greenhouse behind the landscape nursery on Pacific Coast Highway. “My house is a mess, my studio is a mess,” he warns. “I pour every little shred of energy I have into this.” He points to his current work, a painting depicting his parents, a Malibu hillside in the distance.

    “I’m going after the sensation of space, and the sensation of light hitting the objects, and the tactile sense of texture,” he explains. “I’m going for a sensation of deep space and Malibu light.”

    He admires Venetian painters. “You see this figure coupled with the landscape — the figure in its contemporary background,” he elucidates. He seems to follow Italian ideals, occasionally making architectural blueprints for scale and perspective. “Even if I figure out perspective, I wouldn’t do an architectural rendering every time. It has to be real but natural.”

    One of his landscapes depicts a residential street in Hollywood. “It’s an L.A. street painted as a Venetian would have painted it 500 years ago,” he says. “As an artist, I’m trying to make people see their own times with fresh eyes. If you stop to look at it, it’s an incredibly beautiful city.”

    He admires Picasso for his rebellion, but says the appreciation of Picasso’s work is secondhand. “If you were in a room by yourself with Picasso’s painting, you wouldn’t get anything from that painting.” The understanding, he indicates, comes from outside the canvas.

    His own technical goals are the creation of texture, light, space, volume, form and expressions. “Whatever’s not done,” he says, “I’ll get it in the next painting.” But the painting is complete “when I’ve convinced you of what I’m trying to say.”

    Somedays painting is like pulling teeth. “When I’m midway through a painting, I get my jitters — I get my doubts. Part of maturing as an artist is letting go.”

    Cosentino was raised in New York City and was engaged by art from an early age. He moved with his family to Malibu 24 years ago, attending UCLA for undergraduate and graduate work in art and receiving an MFA degree.

    Still, his educators never taught him to prepare a canvas; 20 years later, his college works are cracking. “Colleges emphasize content, not form and technique,” he complains. “You go to the university and get an MFA, and you don’t know how to put the ground on the painting. I was using the wrong brushes for years.”

    After graduating, he took up opera. Today, his 88-year-old singing teacher lives in his house. (She is Louise Caselotti, also known as the first American coach of Maria Callas and sister of the voice of Snow White.)

    He has taught at Mission and Ventura colleges and has painted a mural at Wilson Middle School in Pasadena in collaboration with the students. “I just wanted to see what it was like to do a mural,” he says of the two-year project.

    His family has welcomed his art. His father gave him studio space and refused rent. His brother, Marco, is acting as his publicist, entering him in competitions and showings. “I never worried about selling my work,” he says, happy merely to have the public look at his work, “so it doesn’t just go into my bedroom.” Starting this weekend, two canvasses will show at Loyola Marymount University. Other galleries have told him he does not produce work fast enough to suit them. “You go to art openings and nobody’s looking at the art — nobody’s being moved by it,” he laments.

    Working outdoors, Cosentino sets up his palette on an ironing board. He recounts that a friend recognized Cosentino’s students painting in Echo Park — by their ironing boards. He takes up his brushes, recommending clove oil to keep his paints wetter longer. “The whole thing with painting is to look at what you’re painting, not to look at the canvas while you’re painting,” he instructs. He’ll listen to Mozart or Brahms while he paints, but not opera, “because if I put it on, I end up singing.” He blends edges on the canvas, saying, “If the edges are too sharp, they come forward in the picture.” He says these are things he passes on to his students that he was never taught.

    “For painting outside,” he says, “I know France was the place, but for me Malibu is unbeatable. The wind is not bad, and the temperature is incredible.”

    Manny Cosentino’s work will be on exhibit at Loyola Marymount University’s Laband Art Gallery. The artist’s reception is Saturday, 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.