Tony Naponic I Painter I Draftsman I Writer (b) January 16, 1954 I (d) July 24, 2003
Tony Naponic died unexpectedly in 2003 at the age of 49, leaving behind a body of artwork – paintings, drawings, books, poems, and short stories – that deserves to be reconsidered today in its entirety.
Naponic was born in 1954 in Adamsburg, Pennsylvania, a small town outside of Pittsburgh. His father was a coal miner, and he had four sisters. After spending two years in the art department at the University of Pittsburgh, he moved to Kansas City where he received a BFA in 1974 in painting and printmaking from the Kansas City Art Institute.
Even as a student, Naponic became quickly known for his supremely confident works, notable for their scale, exuberant paint handling, and quirky narrative content. Within a few years he had one-person exhibitions at the Charlotte Crosby Kemper Gallery at the Kansas City Art Institute, the Douglas Drake Gallery in Kansas City, and the Zolla/Lieberman Gallery in Chicago. His work was included in numerous group shows at such venues as the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and a Landfall Press exhibition in New York City.
Ten years after moving to Kansas City, Naponic received an artist’s grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He then moved to New York City, where he continued to exhibit with the Douglas Drake Gallery in NYC, and was included in such group exhibits as a traveling show of prints organized by the Museum of Modern Art. He eventually moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and was living in New York when he died of congestive heart failure.
Although Naponic’s art was strikingly original, it also resonated with the international painting zeitgeist of its time. Before the term “neo-expressionism” was coined, Naponic was actively engaged in creating the sort of out-sized, aggressive painted canvases that were emerging from Germany by artists such as Georg Baselitz and Anselm Kiefer, in Italy by Sandro Chia and Francesco Clemente, and in the United States by Julian Schnabel, Eric Fischl and Malcolm Morley. Unlike the European neo-expressionists whose imagery was political and mythical in nature, Naponic’s figuration was more American, as it was deeply personal and embedded with identity issues.
The numerous short stories, poems and books he created simultaneously, most of which have never been seen or exhibited, also revolve around personal narratives that range from the fantastical to the sexual.
The decade prior to his death, Naponic began to paint abstractly. It was unfashionable to do so then, but once again his art prefigured a painting movement that is now very much in vogue. Naponic’s late work looks better now than ever.
Plans for a retrospective exhibition of Naponic’s art in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2014, are currently underway.