To call art a family affair with the DiBernardos would be an understatement.
On Sunday, painter Vena DiBernardo’s abstract landscapes and figurative imagery shared the walls of the Carnegie Art Center in North Tonawanda with artwork by his daughter Vanessa and his sons Van and Jon.
The occasion was the opening of the exhibit “Relative Lines.” A large crowd filled the gallery on the family patriarch and retired Williamsville East art teacher’s 80th birthday – and first exhibition.
“Dad’s never wanted to exhibit his work. He’s about as close to the Dalai Lama as you can get,” said oldest daughter Luanne DiBernardo, a writer and filmmaker who instigated the family exhibition.
“I’ve been on him for 15 years to do this. I’m probably the family promotion manager,” Luanne DiBernardo laughed. “He agreed, but said not to make a big deal about it.”
The impact DiBernardo has had on his children’s artistic development was evident in their own artwork – and in their loving words for their father.
“The greatest artist I’ve ever been inspired by I was born with,” said Van DiBernardo, a former shoe designer.
“He gave each of my siblings, including myself, a different piece of the DNA puzzle, and they all have strands linked to the others,” said Jon DiBernardo, a former graphic designer and current restaurateur. “My sister is more painterly, I’m more about lines, my brother, composition – and when you put it all together you can see how it all falls.”
Vanessa DiBernardo said her father gave her the confidence to be an artist – and the sense of humor to go with it.
“One of my favorite quotes from my dad was, ‘People expect you to be eccentric. Don’t let them down,’ ” she laughed.
Vena DiBernardo moved to North Tonawanda from Italy at age 2. He and his artistic children all graduated from Buffalo State College. He also graduated from Cooper Union in Manhattan with architecture and fine art degrees.
Vena DiBernardo said he was gratified to share an exhibition with his children, but he otherwise shrugged off any significance about his own work.
“It’s nice to see people who will come out and trust their inquisitiveness or curiosity, and let them see things that kept my interest until I finished them and moved on,” DiBernardo said.
“I didn’t want a one-man show yet. Maybe there will be one, and only one, posthumously, when they look at my collective work, because then you can say I’m finished. Until then, I’m not finished. I still have a few things bouncing around that I want to get out.”
As museum-goers and well-wishers filled the Carnegie Art Center, the gallery’s executive director, Mary Simpson, said she appreciated how DiBernardo’s love of art had come full circle in the 1904 building that he visited as a child.
“Mr. DiBernardo started looking at art books in this building when it was a library. So to have this show here today, with his entire family, is amazing,” she said.