By Joyell Nevins
Mission Hills artist utilizes genetic condition
Concetta Antico, “The Color Queen,” paints what she sees. Her work explodes in bright color and nuances of shade. But unlike many artists, she does not paint with her imagination or the ‘colors of her heart,’ so to speak. Antico paints direct depictions what she sees with her physical eyes.
While the average human eye can see up to 1 million colors, due to a fourth receptor and a multiplied illuminance factor, Antico’s eyes can see up to 100 million colors.
You can view a selection of Antico’s work at “Sacred Spectra,” a special showing in her Mission Hills home — what she calls the “essence of me in the essence of me.” The event will be held at 6–9 p.m. on Saturday, April 7.
The official term for this collective genetic mutation is tetrachromacy. Although Antico may be referred to as an X-Woman or “superhuman” she is quick to point out that it’s not merely her physicality that has made her successful.
“I just worked like the dickens,” Concetta Antico said. “Set your goals, make your plan, stick to it. Stick with what you love, but you gotta work. There’s no substitution for that. Luck came very late in my career.”
Antico calls herself a visionary. Over the course of her life, this Australian-born artist has owned a studio, taught thousands of students, opened a retail fine-art salon, conducted art tours, and developed an art program for the YMCA. She even endeavored to create a “private parlor” creative center years ago, before community workspaces were popular. Even though not all of her projects have succeeded, Antico has never let failure keep her from trying.
“Even if it failed, did it really fail? Did I learn from it? What mark did I have?” she continued. “We’re not always going to win, but that’s the Aussie thing — give it a go, or you’ll never know.”
Antico’s latest project is The iN Gallery, a space in Barrio Logan with fellow artist Irina Negulescu. Both women have been contemporaries for more than 20 years and are now collaborating in a business format as well. Antico noted that the duo sees an emerging arts scene in that area and wants to be a part of creating an arts district. Like Antico, Negulescu explores the richness and variety of color in her work.
Antico grew up in Sydney, Australia. Her mom passed away when she was 12 years old, and after her dad remarried, home life became increasingly difficult. Antico left at age 16 with $3 in her pocket, a small suitcase and “nowhere to go.”
She couch-surfed for a few weeks, before getting a full-time job with a “very kind man” who had nine children of his own. He helped get Antico set up in a furnished apartment, and that’s when she went to work. Antico’s odd jobs included bartender, house cleaner and retail seller. And all along, she kept painting — and dreaming.
“I remember waiting for a paycheck, and I didn’t have any food, and I couldn’t even buy a sandwich,” Antico said. “I didn’t eat for a day, but still I had a dream.”
To Antico, dreaming and pride in oneself are essential qualities, not just for an artist, but for life, period. We must recognize the beauty around us and in us, she said.
“My grandma came from the [Great] Depression era. But even when she was poor as a church mouse, she always put her lipstick on, always polished her shoes,” she continued. “It’s about pride. Pride in yourself, and pride in your environment.”
Antico said that she jumped on a plane and came to California in the early 1980s. She met someone from Los Angeles, followed them to San Diego and discovered she loved the new city. Decades later, Antico spends half her time in San Diego and half the time with her husband and two children in Australia, where they own and run a historic venue in Byron Bay.
Even as a child, Antico could paint the rainbow. She saw color and light where no one else around her did. But it wasn’t until 2012 that she learned there was a genetic reason and name for it.
Learning about her condition started with a comment from an art student, who mentioned that she might have a “fourth receptor.” A customer, who was also a doctor, also noted “there’s an alchemy in your work that I can’t explain.”
The customer-doctor later sent her articles about tetrachromacy. Antico started reading and realized a lot of qualities listed in the articles applied to her.
When she emailed the article’s authors, also in the medical field, she received a reply within 20 minutes. As luck would have it, the authors just happened to be doing a documentary on tetrachromacy with a Japanese television company who were only in the states for a week. The film crew came out to San Diego and included Antico in their story.
Since then, her popularity both as an artist and scientific miracle has exploded. Antico has been featured in a myriad media, including the Huffington Post, BBC, BuzzFeed, Discovery Channel and New York Magazine. She’s also been the subject of studies at UC Irvine and Harvard University. Through all the hubbub, she’s still painting what inspires her.
“I have a divine gift and a passion to paint,” Antico said. “And I want to document the beauty of our world.”
To attend her home showing in Mission Hills, RSVP on the website to receive the private address.