The Fading Sounds of Nature

The painted woman stood composed of natural hues connecting her with the earth. One hand carefully draped over her heart, the other clutching a fragile flower as if she were trying to preserve every petal. The monarch flew beside her, a symbol of her rebirth and reemergence.

This woman is forever memorialized in Jeremy Caniglia’s “The Fading Sounds of Nature,” an oil painting that headlined his URGENCY 2 EXTINCTION solo exhibition with IX Gallery in 2019.

Jeremy Caniglia is a figurative painter and illustrator. His work typically portrays the human condition and the natural world in highly emotional and traditionally unsettling ways. The paintings he creates depict eerie representations of mortality.

“I feel there’s a lack of empathy nowadays,” Caniglia says. “We’re losing focus of who we are as humans. We’re only here for that short sliver of time. I’m really trying to portray the human condition at its very core.”

However, the friendly and soft-spoken man behind the art doesn’t come across as someone with a talent for capturing the darkness that comes with the nature of existence.

Even though Caniglia’s work is internationally recognized, he draws on his roots for inspiration. He grew up in Omaha’s Little Italy neighborhood in a house designed by renowned architect Thomas Rogers Kimball.

Caniglia recalls he and his family attended mass at St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church also built by Kimball. Instead of focusing on the service, Caniglia lost himself in the intricate details of the historical structure.

“When I was in church, I truly felt like every part of it was an artistic piece,” Caniglia says. “Then you come out of the building and you emerge to the architecture on the streets and homes. I just loved the old homes, they’re not cookie-cutter houses, not every home was the same. I felt there was craftsmanship to each home. It was really beautiful to grow up in.”

One of Caniglia’s influences, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was an Italian painter in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Similar to Caniglia, he became famous for his jarring characterizations of religious observations of both the physical and emotional aspects of the human condition. When Canigilia first saw Caravaggio’s paintings, it brought him straight into the emotions of the dramatic scenes.

“Caravaggio really captivated everything for me,” Caniglia says. “He took the painting to a new level. I felt the emotion pouring out of that scene. It would be the equivalent if you saw an accident and you felt scared but you want to help the person. You feel for all the people in the piece. It’s hard for a lot of people to understand but it’s a form of method acting that I can relate to. It taught me a lot about life.”

Kathe Kollwitz is another artist who sways which way Caniglia’s brush strokes will go. Her artwork reflected her experiences as a witness to both World Wars which robbed her of her son and grandson. Staying with the theme of Caniglia’s influences, Kollwitz manifests the human state in the same compassionate but unnerving account.

Overwhelmed by suffering and the abundance of loss she faced, her work showed the lives of working people in face of famine, poverty and war. She employed this through etching, woodcut and lithography creating powerful visual rhetoric in her finished works.

“Kollwitz understands the breath of life,” Caniglia says. “In her scenes, she is showing you what a gift we have in our children. We have to preserve them for the next generation and make their lives better. It’s not about being self-centered but other-centered and Kathy Kollwitz does that so well. Her message got out and for me, it opened up doors to new artwork that I do.”

Some art historians believe Kollwitz would have been phenomenal had she been a painter, but Caniglia doesn’t believe that to be true.

In Caniglia’s own research, he discovered Leonardo da Vinci, who most people recognize as a painter, had only done 20 paintings throughout his life. However, there are potentially up to 5,000 drawings in existence. Caniglia says he realized the public saw more worth in paintings, despite the medium carrying the same impact. Then Caniglia began to lean on the painting narrative to help get his message into galleries and museums.

“I’m a painter and I don’t think that always has to be the main choice, but for some reason, people see value in it,” Caniglia says. “However, it’s weird how upset people can get in front of a painting for 30 seconds, but they’ll watch a crime show on TV. We are so desensitized to it. That doesn’t make you mad but seeing an artwork that you had to stand in front of upsets you. I find that really odd.”

Caniglia says he isn’t trying to impress anyone with his work. He doesn’t create gaudy and elaborate pieces with the goal of gaining traction. Instead, he focuses on the significance of love, death and rebirth and stimulates the emotional response to those intense concepts.

His paintings have been showcased in galleries and museums worldwide. Caniglia has been featured in several publications such as The Washington Post and CNN. The pieces Caniglia has produced have appeared in over 120 books and movies. Most recently, in 2020, David Weiss, an award-winning director, made a documentary about Caniglia’s life and work.

Today, Caniglia’s artistic message has reached its way into classrooms around the country as he continues his 20-year career in teaching. He is also curating upcoming shows in Colorado and New York.

“Life is so precious,” Caniglia says. “That’s what I’m trying to do in my artwork, make these pieces like little time capsules for those who maybe don’t see it right now, but maybe in years to come, will relate to it. That’s what I hope. Maybe they won’t, maybe they’ll say my ideas were crazy and they didn’t matter. I believe in those who really look and have an open mind. I hope that people will wake up.”