A new exhibit at the Albany Center Gallery celebrates the life and work of the late Schenectady artist Duane Todman, who was fatally shot this spring.
Like many who knew him, Gallery Director Tony Iadicicco calls Todman a kind and passionate soul, whose promising future in art was tragically cut short. The 27-year-old New Jersey native was killed in a Schenectady shooting on May 23. Iadicicco says Shining Light: Duane Ivan Todman hopes to preserve Todman’s memory.
"His subjects really ranged, I think part of what he was working on was really trying to work on, really everything," Iadicicco explains. "From still lifes of everyday objects, to portraits of people that he knew in the community and family members that he did portraits of, to just doing some of his sketchbooks — kind of street art and more graffitti, lettering, things that he had to work on. So really it was a wide range, and I think he was just trying to really perfect his craft."
Iadicicco says the exhibit, which includes 51 pieces in total, was organized in part by Todman’s friends and family throughout the art community – of which, he notes, there were many.
Len Tantillo is a historical and marine painter who has worked in the Capital Region for decades. He also became Todman’s mentor when a teenage Todman suddenly reached out asking to visit his studio in Nassau, New York. Tantillo says he didn’t really know what to expect – between their differences in race, age, experience, and location, they appeared to come from different worlds – but he says they clicked immediately.
“Probably within three sentences, I realized that this guy was extremely smart, very articulate, and passionately interested in art," he remembers fondly.
Tantillo says Todman was fascinated by both contemporary artists and the classics, set on becoming what he called the “first black William-Adolphe Bouguereau,” famous for his portraiture. For years, the two swapped ideas and critiqued each other’s work, Todman happy to find that Tantillo never held back. While he was still young and trying to “find his expression,” Tantillo says the promise was there.
"You've probably noticed the classical drawings of humans hands and the movement of fingers — that's not an easy thing to draw, and he was fascinated by that stuff," he explains. "I have a portrait that [Todman] did. It's a street guy on Lark Street [in Albany] who posed for him. But there's a great look in the guy's eyes. Duane was very loose, he had more of an impressionistic way of dealing with portraiture."
Tantillo admits they had their differences. He thought Todman should focus on getting practical experience, while Todman was intent on getting a formal education. With a recommendation from his mentor, Todman earned a scholarship from the Academy of Realist Art in Boston just a week before his death. In a piece for the Times Union just after the shooting in May, a grieving Tantillo shared his last email from Todman – updating him on both the scholarship and a new series he had in the works, signed with a simple, “Thanks for all the help.”
In addition to the exhibit, Iadicicco says the Albany Center Gallery is hosting an art show July 11, where local poets and representatives from the Academy of Realist Art will get together to celebrate Todman’s life. Iadicicco says proceeds will go to various scholarships created by Todman’s family in his memory.
"The foundation is the Duane X Foundation," he adds. "[The family is] hoping to really help people that are creative people [by] giving them a platform and a way to keep pursuing artwork and knowledge, and really model after Duane's life."
Iadicicco says the gallery will also livestream the event on Facebook. Tantillo calls the exhibit bittersweet, wishing Todman could see it for himself.
“We have to live with his loss and the pain of his loss. But I think the greater loss over time is cultural," says Tantillo. "He saw the world in a different way, and yet he was fascinated by all of it. And those expressions that would have come from his imagination – that’s the great loss.”
Shining Light: Duane Ivan Todman runs through July 18th at the Albany Center Gallery. It is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., although visitors are asked to wear masks and make an appointment ahead of time. The gallery has set up a virtual tour of the exhibit on its website.