Story by Cody Mills
Photos by Yueh-Mei Cheng
Not every artist gets a chance to shine or to be seen. One could go an entire lifetime with no publicity and no interest in one’s work from outside patrons. One Finlandia University student has found himself lucky enough to answer when the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) came knocking. He is Copper Country native Dominic Fredianelli.
PBS came to Dominic to include him in a documentary they are filming about the changes veterans go through. It really has to do with the interesting chain of events that Dominic has experienced over the last year fighting in Afghanistan. Now that he’s back, his art has been granted a special outdoor spot on the south wall of the Finlandia’s Jutila Center.
On Thursday, September 2, the International School of Art and Design held a reception for the public unveiling of Dominic’s graffiti mural that depicts the changes he has gone through. There were approximately 120 or so spectators, including a PBS film crew. We talked with Dominic after the opening, and from our interview we offer his own words:
“This Is How I Grew Up”
The mural represents my life. It starts with my most recent experience which would be going to Afghanistan in 2009. The first word in the mural is “soldier” which I thought was appropriate to how I was living during that time. I transitioned [in the mural] into an Afghan civilian to bring the viewer to a sense of where we were and what we were dealing with. The next word is “changed.” I think the biggest change my young life has had to go through thus far was preparing my mind for war.
My first year here at Finlandia before I was deployed, I ended up dropping out. I did this because I was going to train every other month downstate, coming home for a month, trying to hang out with my family and friends, trying to get everything in order. School for me in those last few months before leaving, fell right off my list of priorities.
Being deployed with seven of your friends that you’ve known your whole life and all of a sudden you’re going…there were worlds of pressure that undoubtedly were on each of our backs. The word “change” in the mural transitions into a teenage kid with headphones, iPod, and a beer. I was trying to portray my life before I left [for] Afghanistan, as well as my high school days. I was trying to portray that being military is very serious, and being not military is, well, not serious. The word “boy” is right next to the teenage figure. This is how I grew up. I was always a small town boy with big dreams. I just wanted to get my message out there.
The word “boy” then transitions into my name, Dominic. It is followed by a very young child. He is wearing a miner’s helmet which is a shout-out to where I grew up on Quincy Hill in Hancock. The kid is holding a hockey stick because hockey was a big part of life up here in the Copper Country and especially in my family and throughout school. I also made the character in the mural shooting a squirt gun. I thought it was ironic that while being so young you play a lot with that kind of stuff like squirt guns, cap guns, and not knowing you’re actually going to be in the military. That’s the whole mural in a brief description.
“Who Needs Labels?”
I still feel that I am liberal, but who needs labels? I didn’t go to war to kill people or to fight for America, or even to fight against Afghanistan. I am not really anti-war or pro-war, but I am anti-war situation. Being put into a situation knowing you’re going to war is much worse than being there. When I found out we were going I actually started to tell myself that I was going to use this experience for art and motivation.
“I May As Well Introduce Graffiti to Hancock”
My first try at this project was actually digital images printed on a canvas and then painting over them, kind of like a mixed media. It wasn’t really working for me at all so the school told me I could have this 120 foot wall behind the Jutila Center and I guess I thought I may as well introduce graffiti to Hancock. Spray paint is very fast to work with so I could cover a lot of ground in a short time. Graffiti is still very new to me as I’ve only tried to do a few pieces on walls in like abandoned buildings and such. So I took this opportunity to create a message but also to gain techniques and concepts like playing with backgrounds, knowing how the paint sprays, and how to control it. This has been a learning experience for me. This was the big step for me into the graffiti world and I expect to continue to learn with this new art and take it to another level. [I’m] Kind of glad I did this because I have got a lot of ideas to bring back to the canvas work [for which] I don’t have to deal with Mother Nature like I do outside.
“I Want to Be Hyped Up”
Art students know how to release themselves to the world. They don’t hide in their own shadow which is hard sometimes. To be personal through art you have to explain your life. The media doesn’t really get to me at all. I’m more worried about talking in front of thirty people than I am in a one on one interview. I take it as a learning experience, you know. If I can deal with this then I should be able to do it again in the future, and it’ll be easier next time. Like I said, graffiti is still new to me so I expect to do a lot more and improve more. I guess right now, in my young career, I want to be profiled, interviewed, and hyped up. A lot of artists don’t get opportunities like that. I hope people stay interested in my work.
“A Twelve Foot Canvas Is Going to Look like A Piece of Paper”
I post a lot of my work on Facebook. I am planning on starting a blog this semester. I have a lot of planned projects this year and hope to knock a lot of them out. I really haven’t had much to post but lately that’s been picking up again. Finishing this huge mural is a big confidence booster, so a 12-foot canvas is going to look like a piece of paper. That should help me out.
“I just want to thank the community.”
I’ve learned so much here from love to war and it’s become a very powerful place. Also thanks to the school and community and supporting veterans for keeping an open mind with my artwork. I know graffiti is frowned upon based on its short history. The more people you can get to see that you are trying to share stories through art and creativity the better.