Mia Tarducci is an oil painter working out of the 7800 Susquehanna building in Homewood. Her spacious studio is filled with sunlight, paint, and paintings. Mia is also a co-founder of The MINE Factory at the 201 N Braddock building.
Often times when we meet with artists for the first time doing these interviews, there's a lull of awkwardness at the beginning. Not so with Mia. We had barely dropped our belongings before jumping into a tour of the studio, a conversation about her current work, and even an introduction to the space where she shoves paintings when she's mad at them. The energy of her personality pairs well with the energy present in her most well-known paintings, an energy that must be boundless for her to have four children and still be as prolific as she is artistically.
She's opening a new show called Marked at Union Hall (above Bar Marco) on April 13, 6-9pm. We hope to see you there!
Where are you from?
Newport, Rhode Island
What neighborhood do you live in now?
Why do you choose to make art in Pittsburgh?
I moved here about 18 years ago after college and started a family. I wasn’t anticipating making art in my life as a profession. I come from a family of artists - both my parents are RISD grads, my older brother ended up getting an art degree, my younger brother is a RISD grad, he’s a glassblower.
My older brother and I weren’t allowed to take art classes. My parents are sort of disillusioned artists- not really, my mom is an art teacher. But, I went to Georgetown and studied languages. One of my passions in life is communication. To be able to communicate with people in some way is super important to me. As children, we were always exposed to other cultures and people - we lived in Grenada when I was younger, so languages seemed to be the right fit.
That said, I came here after college, and I had four children. When the youngest one was born, he had a lot of issues in utero. I had to have in utero surgery with him, and he almost died about five times. There had always been some art in my life, a painting here or there, but nothing too focused as I was raising children and doing other things. But after all of that with Jack, I just felt compelled to do something for me. I felt like we only have this one chance to put something out there.
So I started to paint “for real,” I guess, in 2008. Going back to the question “why Pittsburgh?” Because I was here. But if I were to say, not have been here, there are so many good reasons why Pittsburgh. It’s not necessarily a second city yet but burgeoning. It’s affordable, and the art community is so very supportive. I love the grass roots efforts that people are making and that now there’s a lot more communication about those efforts. Ryan Lammie talks to me about his endeavors, and I’ll talk to Dee Briggs about what she’s doing in Wilkinsburg, to Mark Panza in Millvale, and others. There are lots of people doing great things right now. I think that’s always been the case somewhat, but even in the last five years, that’s been amped up. I think, as a result, we’re getting younger artists here, and they are staying instead of fleeing. And I think the quality of the work has gone up quite significantly because when the bar is being raised, people are looking at their own game to see how they can better themselves and their work. For somebody that is looking for a place to create and to be part of a scene that is very dynamic and very supportive, Pittsburgh is a wonderful place to be.
What is your favorite part of being an artist in Pittsburgh?
Quite frankly, this studio, not for nothing. I’m very fortunate to have something like this in any city. I value the non-profits that are supportive of the arts community because this is a non-profit building. They were looking for makers. I know I wasn’t necessarily the type they were looking for. They were interested in small business makers who were going to employ other people. I don’t employ anybody regularly though I do hire studio assistants here and there.
There is a complaint here that there isn’t enough critical discussion, that there aren’t enough people saying things other than, “You’re so fabulous!” But, amongst ourselves, there is that. I have artist friends who come in and say, “What the f*ck are you doing? This is crap.” Or they make suggestions about other directions I could potentially take the work. Good critical conversations are happening, even if it’s not that vocal or public.
What would you love to see more of in the Pittsburgh art scene?
The whole reason I started The MINE Factory was because of the lack of spaces. There isn’t really a viable gallery scene here in Pittsburgh. The closest we had was a former space on lower Butler that doesn’t exist anymore. I started The MINE Factory to help other artists launch their thing because I felt very fortunate in what I was doing. I started painting in earnest in 2008, and by 2009, I had a piece in the Carnegie. That just doesn’t happen. I’ve been very fortunate. I will say I am the kind of person who sees a door even slightly open, and I’m going to go through it. And regardless of what the outcome might be, I see it as positive because you can learn from failure, you can learn from mistakes. You can build and keep growing from all these things. I do put myself out there perhaps more than some others, but it’s worked for me. And I want to give back to the community that has given me so much. That’s why I started The MINE Factory.
That said, I’m not totally sure about its future. The building is under new ownership, some things have changed, and the rents have gone up quite a bit.
I’d also love to see more of an art market in Pittsburgh. I sit on the board of Associated Artists of Pittsburgh and one of the reasons that I felt compelled to do that was because no matter how much people say we need to support the arts, the best way to support the arts is to be a patron. I’m a patron myself; I buy other people’s work. I feel like there are a good amount of artists that do that and support each other through patronage. There’s not a great history of that in Pittsburgh expect for the higher society individuals, who probably had a tendency to go to New York to buy their art.
I think that you can correlate the interest that is growing in local art, especially among corporations, with that locavore sense. People got excited about farm to table, and we had this big culinary boom, and I don’t think you can discount that as a catalyst for the art buying shifting more local now. PNC Bank has several of my works. Children’s Hospital, The Foundry, the Alcoa building, and the Fairmont. I’m really appreciative of that because unless you can sustain yourself, you can’t do it.
What is your favorite music to jam to in the studio?
I listen to Pandora, so I create stations based off of my favorite bands. One of my favorite bands is The Flaming Lips; another is Cake. If I’m feeling very female empowered, I’ll put on some Amy Winehouse. I like a lot of different things. Like I said, I have four children so I’ll discover things through them that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Like Watsky is something that I like. I’m very eclectic in my musical taste.
What other things do you do when you are not making art?
I don’t have free time.
I am a taxi cab driver for my children. I have The MINE Factory, so I do sometimes handle work over there.
One little down time thing I like to do with my kids is watch Bob’s Burgers.
What would you tell artists who are just starting out?
Be careful of the many pitfalls. There are scams out there that will send you emails and try to get you to do stupid things.
I’d say find a community of people that you can rely on and process things with. Make sure you understand the venues and the markets that you are going into.
Be aware that you are a business. You are not just an artist; you are a business. I think that’s super important to understand and I think that a lot of young artists don’t. I say that because, for me, the measure of success is if you can keep doing it. So if you aren’t able to do that because you haven’t parlayed that talent into a marketable entity, then you can’t do it. Unless you get grants and you are a museum darling, which is great. But that’s the rockstar, that’s not the working artist in most cases.
Taking control of your career in your hands is imperative.
We’re also in a time where the brick and mortar gallery scene is not as critical to success as it once was. I don’t have traditional representation. I work with brokers, I work on my own, I get clients that come here, and I have internet representation through UGallery. That site is extremely commercial, and I have to be honest I struggled with that. I really questioned how commercial am I? Do I want to be that commercial? Is it possible to rein some of that in? What’s the balance? I think this comes back to an important conversation to have with younger artists. What portion of your practice is commercial and what portion is really pursuing something that’s a higher concept or something completely different like music or spoken word?
For me, there is work that feels like a higher form than others because of the amount of contemplation that went into it. I don’t know if its true or not, but for me the exploration in doing that did not feel commercial. I did not think it would work in terms of people lining up to want to buy it. I felt like it was necessary for my edification to do it, and also to push my craft forward. When you do disparate work, and you find yourself challenging what you normally do, that somehow folds back in on the work you were doing before, and it elevates the work on the whole.
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