DDHS alumni makes worldwide news with controversial piece

Delavan-Darien High School alumni Tony Matelli has been a part of controversial art before, but never to this degree.

Tony Matelli

Tony Matelli

The Class of ’89 graduate, now a professional artist based in New York City, has a piece on outdoor display that’s causing a stir on the campus of the all-female Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

His realistic Sleepwalker statute, an underwear-clad bald man, has some of the college’s students asking administration to remove the piece from its outdoor location near the building that houses the art gallery containing other works by Matelli.

The controversy has caught the attention of media outlets across the country, and even as far away as the United Kingdom. 

Matelli's "Sleepwalker" statue. (Photo submitted to the Janesville Gazette.)

Matelli’s “Sleepwalker” statue. (Photo submitted to the Janesville Gazette.)

“I think it’s great that students are getting engaged to write and think about it,” Matelli said in an interview with the Boston Globe. “I think if everyone spends time with it and keeps their heads cool, a lot of good will come of it. It’s good for art in general, not just the piece, because art is open and designed to solicit responses, no matter what they are.”

Those upset by the statue say it can be a trigger for those who have experienced sexual assault.

“Everyone brings to a work of art their own interpretation, their own history and their own baggage,” Matelli told the Globe. “I think people might be seeing things in that work that just aren’t there. I think that those people should think through that and work through it and get to understand the work a little better, and also understand their feelings a little better. I just don’t see that in the work. I think they’re seeing something that’s just not there.”

Matelli’s earliest artistic controversy also involved a pant-less figure, although this time he was the subject in a high school class project.

In an interview with the Janesville Gazette, Matelli’s former art teacher Tony Vidas, who retired in 2007, recalled how Matelli once modeled for a friend’s photo series titled “A day in the life of a boy and his guitar.” One of the photos showed Matelli’s naked backside as he got in the shower with a guitar, the Gazette reported.

Vidas was asked to take the photos down, but a compromise was reached when the photo was edited with a piece of black construction paper, the paper said. The artist included a statement on the censorship.

Vidas thought it was a great learning experience that included dealing with the politics of art, the paper said.

Vidas also recalled Matelli painting mostly colorful abstracts in high school.

After graduating from DDHS, Matelli studied at the Alliance of Independent Colleges of Art in New York, received a bachelor’s of fine arts degree from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, and a master’s of fine arts degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan.

Matelli had positive things to say about the impact Vidas made in his career choice.

“He was a big influence on me,” Matelli told a Gazette reporter. “He was an art lover, you could tell. He had a great way of teaching art.”

To see more of Matelli’s work, visit his website.

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