By Hollie Deese
Photography by William DeShazer

Ten years ago Anthony Fazio’s life was almost unbelievably different than it is today. A firefighter from New Jersey, he was more accustomed to going into burning buildings than buying art supplies. But a shoulder injury on the job forced him to reevaluate everything.

“I had a few surgeries and had nerve damage in my fingers. In hindsight, it was almost a release, where I was free from my whole life and structure,” he says. “A firefighter, an EMT, corrections officer working in a jail — going from that to art, it just suddenly all made sense to me. It was like it was always what I was supposed to be doing. In reality, I’d been an artist my whole life — painting cars, painting houses — I’d just never thought it.”

Art was not totally new to him. His grandmother was a fine artist who created landscapes and portraits, and she had Fazio drawing at a very young age. And his parents always supported his creativity, because they never doubted his success at anything he did.

“You would have to ask them, but they know whatever I put my mind to I’ll figure out,” he says. “Art didn’t come easy, but I think that mentality got me to where I am now with my art career.”

Fazio moved to Nashville in 2017 based on growth potential and crane count after he spent some time in Colorado regrouping from his injury. He got involved in the arts community right away, even doing a few gallery shows before pulling back to refocus.

Artist Anthony Fazio in his studio.

“Any growing city needs a strong arts community,” he says. “I think that’s the foundation where everything is built. I just realized I wanted to explore myself as an artist and see how I could grow.”

There are multiple sides to Fazio as an artist — the large-scale, black-and-white pieces that he does primarily for designers and home staging; the thick, layered colorful abstract pieces that are never really done until they leave his possession; and the landscape photography that is the antithesis of the abstract.

“The photography came because I wanted to remember exactly what I was seeing in Colorado. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen,” he says. “That’s why I don’t do realism paintings. I can see the ratio of your face and the different points and planes and values. And for me, if I don’t get them just right, it doesn’t work.”

But it is the abstract pieces in wild contrasting colors where Fazio finds himself working most, filling his small Midtown studio with canvas upon canvas. Some canvases will get 30 or more layers before he is happy with them, and he documents each layer with a picture before adding more and more and more.

“Art — it breathes and grows,” he says. “My productivity definitely prospered during the isolation of quarantine. It just made me grow in different styles that I had never grown before. Creating something that has never existed before, and that has meaning behind it, is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my entire life. You’re putting something together that has never been shown to the public or anyone else — or even to yourself.”

That would be a lot of pressure for a less confident artist, but the first responder deep inside Fazio thrives on it.

“I love pressure,” he says. “I don’t know how to think or how to be without pressure. Going into burning buildings or jail cells, it’s the unknown. Art, for me now, it’s like the unknown of your subconscious. I have no other choice but to paint; I don’t feel right unless I put my hand on multiple paintings a day. I have to get it out of me.”

Post pandemic, Fazio appreciates just how much 2020 did for his art and what he was able to achieve, alone.

“If you look into art history, you have to be high-risk,” he says. “You have to take that gamble. You have to be able to put it all on the table and believe in yourself to be like, ‘I got something.’ Anybody could just coast through life. Anybody can find something that works. But we are in a once in a lifetime moment, and artists need to take advantage of this pivotal time in history.”