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Tony Pro, "Mother's Love," oil on linen, 24 x 18 in.

Tony Pro: "My Life So Far"

A leading figure in contemporary representational painting, Tony Pro is the subject of a mid-career retrospective exhibition opening this weekend that charts the artist's journey to profound self-discovery.
The Kwan Fong Gallery of Art and Culture on the campus of California Lutheran University, where Tony Pro is a resident professor of art, opens a retrospective of Pro's artwork this weekend. "Paintings by Tony Pro: My Life So Far" opens on November 23 and will remain on display through February 8, 2014. An opening reception will be held the evening of November 23, beginning at 7 p.m.

Tony Pro, "Last Train Home," oil on linen, 33 x 66 in.

A native of Southern California, Tony Pro (b. 1973) earned his B.A. in graphic design from California State University, Northridge, while pursuing independent drawing education with noted illustrator Glen Orbik. Though he built on this arts education, Pro is largely self-taught as a painter, and he has leveraged his ability into a distinguished career as a contemporary realist.
A defining moment in Pro's career came in 2005, when he won Best in Show at the 14th Annual Oil Painters of America Annual Juried Exhibition for "Mother's Love," one in a series that will be represented in "My Life So Far." Pro is a Signature Artist of the California Art Club, an honorary member of the America China Oil Painting Artists League (ACOPAL), and a founding member of the Novorealism movement, to which prominent realist painters Jeremy Lipking and Alexey Steele also belong.

Tony Pro, "Mother's Love II," oil on linen, 30 x 20 in.
"My Life So Far" will survey Pro's paintings over the last 10 years of his production, in which figurative painting looms large. For his inspiration in painting, Pro has looked to the expressive artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, and Joaquin Sorolla, as well as a group of French Naturalists that includes Émile Friant, Jules-Bastien Lepage, and Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret. Perhaps his largest influence, though, comes from much closer to home.

Tony Pro, "Vita e mortem," oil on linen, 16 x 12 in.
Visitors to "My Life So Far" will have the unique opportunity to see Pro's work paired with four paintings by his late father, Julio J. Pro, M.D. (1929-2013), who passed away earlier this year. Julio Pro was a recognized wildlife painter, frequently featured in the renowned "Birds in Art" show, and represented in the permanent collection of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum. It was a long-held dream of Tony's to share gallery space with his father, though he never expected it would happen in the present exhibition.
"This was a planned show that was in the works about two years ago, shortly after I came on faculty at Cal Lutheran University," Pro explains. "The curator, Dr. Michael Pearce, and I had come up with a plan to show new works of mine and have it be a grand exhibition of major works. All was going well up until I lost my father five months ago, and I changed forever. My thoughts about what is important in art and in life had changed vastly, and my decision on who I want to be and what I want to do with my work changed, for the better.

Tony Pro, "Carnivalesque," oil and 22-karat gold leaf on linen, 18 x 22 in.
"My father was a great man, but not in a 'prideful' way. He was great because he did great things, changed people's lives, and even saved lives on a daily basis, but he never boasted about it. He was the most humble man I ever knew for the amount of things he accomplished in his life: music degrees, mastery of the piano, theater, military service, medical school, to name a few. All along, never boasting about what he did or how 'important' he was."

Pro continues, "I started my career in art with a string of good fortune, and I began boasting, as I was a trained designer/marketer. Boasting was my specialty because I thought I had to. I felt my art was more about boasting, and I wanted to change the world with my art, but that's not what it's about anymore, and it took my father's death for me to realize it. I always wanted a show with just my dad and I -- The Pro Boys -- and after he passed, I didn't want to do this show anymore. I spoke to Michael Pearce about it, and I let him know that the only way I wanted to do this show was to make my dad part of it, and we did.

Tony Pro, "Her Day Out," oil on linen, 24 x 18 in.

"The paintings are pieces of mine that go back 10 years in my 20-plus years of painting. They are mostly pieces from my personal collection that mean more to me than their price tag. Paintings of my wife and children, family, places I have been, and things that I have dreamed. There are a few pieces from my new Western work signed with the mark of the 'Big Spider,' which is my father's honorary Hopi Indian name, my dedication to him, and to my upbringing around the Old and New West. This show is about where I have been and the things that have touched me."

For Pro, a certain element of his subject remains constant no matter what the scene represents: "The first time I met Richard Schmid and showed him pictures of my work, sitting in his kitchen, he said to me, 'Everything you paint is a self portrait.' I will never forget those words as long as I live, and this show of works represents my self-portrait. It's who I am and who I want to be."

Tony Pro, "Self-Portrait at 40," oil on linen, 30 x 24 in.
Appropriately, "My Life So Far" will mark the public unveiling of Pro's official self-portrait, which took over three years for him to complete -- not because of the work's complexity, but because of the depth of self-reflection it required. "I know who I am now," says Pro, "and it feels good, and I have my dad to thank for it."
To see more work from Tony Pro, visit

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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