Paul Cezanne, whom some call the father of modern art, believed that color, line, shape and form were as important as the actual subject of a painting. Fayetteville artist Jonathan Starling is a strong believer in that idea as well.
“I strive for that kind of painterly look in my paintings,” said Starling, a Fayetteville native, whose current exhibition of travel photography is hanging in the Leonard G. McLeod Gallery in the offi ces of Up & Coming Weekly.
Starling, who was handed his fi rst camera by his aunt when he was in third grade, has spent his life studying colors, lines, shapes and forms. He learned the art of looking at life in those terms through a lifetime of looking behind a lens.
“I’ve always loved photography,” he explained as he sat surrounded by his work during a recent interview. “I’ve been shooting ever since my aunt gave me that camera, so I ought to be really good by now.”
During his childhood he spent time learning his camera, and at the age of 16, he got his fi rst 35mm fi lm camera.
“I really loved that camera. I enjoyed it, and then I decided that this was a lot of fun,” he said. Although Starling waited until his 20s when he was working retail to actively pursue his passion, it was never far from his mind.
“I wanted to do something that would really allow me to be my own person,” he recalled. “I found that in photography. It allowed me to start my own business, and I’ve been doing that for the past 25 years.”
During those early years, Starling shot portraits, weddings and babies. “And I still do that,” he said. “But I’ve been able to branch out and do some commercial things and some artistic things.”
He’s also been able to translate his passion into teaching. He not only teaches professionals new tricks, he also teaches photography in the adult education program at Fayetteville Technical Community College. In his classes, he preaches his beliefs about light, form, color and shape.
“I’ve always looked at things differently,” Starling said. Maybe it comes from looking at everything through the lens. “I’ve always had an awareness of light, color and shadows. To me, that’s what makes my work different is my ability to see those subtle differences. I’ve tried to teach my students to look at the world that way, too.”
Starling’s world has also been shaped by his heritage, the son of an Italian mother, he has always had a strong interest in his family’s history. In recent years, he began to plumb the depths of that history, and sought to gain dual citizenship in his mother’s homeland. The process took four years, much longer than he had thought.
“You wouldn’t think it would take so long to gather documents from your family over the last 100 years, but it did,” he said.
Once he established his lieneage through his grandfather, an Italian fi sherman from the village of Molfetta, he applied for and gained dual citizenship.
“I don’t think it’s an unpatriotic thing to do,” he said. “I did it to honor my grandfather, and having the dual citizenship will allow me travel and work throughout Europe if I choose to.”
The act of receiving the citizenship was an impetus to travel to Italy for an extended time, although Starling needs little encouragement to travel. Last year, he spent the month of August traveling throughout the cities and streets of his ancestors. While there, he found that Italy is a country alive with color.
“Italy is full of modern cities will and old feeling,” he said. “It is vibrant. I remember sitting in a 2,000-year-old building and thinking, ‘Wow!’”
As he wandered through the countryside, his camera at hand, he met warm people, who he realized were no different than his neighbors in Fayetteville.
“People have the same wants. They have the same love for their children. They want to love and enjoy life. That’s worldwide, everywhere I’ve been. We have the same common interests,” he noted.
While in Italy, Starling often found himself wandering through the streets until the early morning hours. “Rome is so hot in August, so I spent my time out at night, and the streets were full of people, it really helped me look at things differently,” he said. “The colors there are so unique, and there are so many of them. It’s history and its ancient,” he said. “I wanted to capture that.”
Starling did just that. You have only to look at his photographs of villas surrounded by sunflowers or bridges over Venetian canals to step back and breathe in the heart of Italy. But he doesn’t want it to stop there.
“Next year, I hope to lead a photographic safari of sorts throughout Italy,” he said. “I’m trying to put that together now.”
The trip, designed for amature photographers will not be the usual tourist trip – see Italy by bus. Instead members of the group will walk the ancient streets. They’ll meet the locals, eat great food and see Italy through the eyes of one of its newest sons.
If you’re interested in becoming a member of that group, you can contact Starling at his office. Or if you simply want to bask in the colors and light that comes from an artist with a passion for his subject, stop by the Leonard G. McLeod Gallery to while away an afternoon.