When Antonio Bandini was 15 years old, he enrolled in a watercolor painting class in his hometown of Livorno, Italy. One day his teacher approached him and expressed a desire to enter one of his paintings in an art competition in Milan. Bandini was interested, but concerned. When would he get the painting back? The teacher explained that if he won, the painting would not be returned to him and, when he had completed it, the painting was collected by his teacher to be sent off to Milan for the judges' appraisal.
This posed a serious problem for the young artist. You see, the painting - a watercolor rendition of flowers in a vase - was a gift for his mother and he couldn't have the judges keeping it in Milan. So he snuck back into his classroom, removed the original canvas of "Fiori per mamma" and completed a quick reproduction of it in about forty-five minutes for the teacher to enter in the competition. The original painting hung in his mother's home until she passed away last year.
The reproduction that was sent to the competition won first place.
Since then, painting has always been a part of Bandini: "I was always painting; I painted through university," he said. "There were a few people who collected paintings from young artists as an investment, so I was giving my work to these people and I would buy food and books at the university.
[But] I couldn't live off of paintings. So I was studying to do something else. My major [in university] was in accounting...So that's what I did for the rest of my life. But I was always painting on the side."
In 1979, Bandini moved with his wife to the United States to begin a life together out here.
"Living in Italy for American kids like Marty who are so outgoing and so free," Bandini explained. "She had so much to give to others...Italy wasn't the right place for her, especially my hometown, which was very conservative...And one day, we decided to come to the United States. Now, I was very concerned about myself because my language - I was not speaking English. I was already 33 years old; I had to start all over, basically."
The initial culture shock of moving to a new country, with a new language, overwhelmed Bandini at first, however, and he returned to Italy alone, staying there for one year. He returned for what was originally intended to be a month-long visit and turned out to be his final, permanent move to America. Together, he and his wife made a life for themselves first in Los Angeles, then in San Francisco, Reno and eventually relocated to San Diego in 2005.
Bandini has already launched one exhibit in San Diego - "Arte Toscana" at the Lyceum Theatre Gallery in Horton Plaza. It opened in November 2013 and ran for three months. He has since opened his own private gallery at NTC Liberty Station. He opened his gallery doors to the public for the first time on Feb. 7 as part of NTC Liberty Station's "Friday Night Liberty," a monthly event held at Liberty Station's Art and Cultural District which allows the public free entry to all art galleries and studios to meet with the artists personally and view their work.
"At a certain point," Bandini said. "There were so many people here, you couldn't see the artwork."
Ultimately, though, art is a passion for Bandini, not a source of income. "I don't need to sell these paintings to survive. From time to time people come up here to take a painting and that's very nice...I don't have to [paint], I just like to do it."