Daniel Graves had the makings of an artist since the age of three, when he began drawing. But it wasn’t until he was 15 and saw Rembrandt’s self-portrait at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, that he decided to become a realist painter. He was so moved by Rembrandt’s painting that he not only wanted to become an artist, he also wanted to create art that would deeply affect people by touching their souls. He eventually came to Florence to learn more about realism, whose humanistic beginnings were developed during the Renaissance.
Daniel left upstate New York to study painting and anatomy at the Maryland Art Institute. After graduating, he came to Florence to study etching and painting with Richard Serrin at the Villa Schifanoia Graduate School of Fine Art. Upon completing his graduate studies, he, along with his then-wife Laura and infant son, moved to Minnesota to study at the Atelier Lack and teach etching. While in the United States, they missed their life in Florence and in 1977 made a bold decision to return.
Making a new life for themselves in Florence was challenging because neither had a job or fixed income. Daniel’s dream was to be a full-time artist. In order to survive, he painted and etched every day and Laura sold his etchings in front of the Uffizi. During this time, he also studied realism with Nerina Simi, whose father, Filadelfo Simi, has paintings on display in the Galleria d’arte Moderna di Palazzo Pitti. People from all over the world came to Florence to study with Ms. Simi, who was one of Pietro Annigoni’s colleagues, so it was an ideal choice for Daniel, as well.
About six years later, things changed for Daniel and his family, and life in Florence became less of a struggle. A gallery in New York took an interest in his paintings, which allowed him to stop etching and focus more on painting. In 1983, he co-founded an atelier program with Charles Cecil and he began to teach again. Then, in 1991, Daniel struck out on his own and established the Florence Academy of Art (www.florenceacademyofart.com), a technical realist art school based on the academies of the nineteenth century. The school’s focus is realist drawing and oil painting, and, Robert Bodem, a former student, returned to Florence in 1998 after completing graduate studies to establish its sculpture program. The academy welcomes students from 24 different countries around the world. Between 80 and 90 percent of the graduates of the three-year program end up working as professional artists, painters and sculptors.
After the academy saw a great influx of Swedish students, Joakim Ericsson, a co-director of the painting program, returned home to open a satellite school in Sweden. Between the two schools, about 120 students study at the academy each year. Daniel’s next goal for the academy is for it to become an accredited institution. For the moment, the school is affiliated with the Laguna College of Art in California.
Daniel has dedicated his life to traditional realist painting and is still in pursuit of creating art that will profoundly touch others. With his academy, he helps artists realize their dreams of becoming realist painters: ‘This tradition [of realism] is a pedigree. If you learn it, you can teach it.’ Although he is the director of the Florence Academy of Art, he teaches one day a week and continues to paint-for himself and on commission. Five American galleries currently represent him: two in New York and one each in Boston, Los Angeles, and Charleston, South Carolina. He also exhibits his paintings around the world.
After living in Florence for over 30 years, he says, ‘I’m here for the beauty and the quality of life. I couldn’t afford to live as richly as I do with as little money anywhere else in the world. Frustrations arise, but the country’s art, beauty, and culture make them disappear.’