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Fine Arts Alumnus and Grandson of RMCAD’s Founder Talks Family and Process

Three-hundred and twenty-one graduates threw their decorated caps into the air at RMCAD’s 2024 commencement ceremony, bidding farewell to their alma mater. The ceremony served as a bittersweet conclusion to hundreds of unique stories that began at RMCAD. One such story is of Paul Onorato. An alumnus of the Fine Arts program, Onorato has a particularly unique relationship with the college. As the grandson of Philip J. Steele, RMCAD’s founder, Onorato is the successor of Steele’s creative dream. The young artist shared his experience honing his craft at the college his grandfather built and how finding his creative process at RMCAD deepened his connection to his family.

Neurochemical Network by Paul Onorato
Neurochemical Network by Paul Onorato

As you can imagine, Onorato grew up in an exceptionally creative environment, surrounded by a family of artists. He reminisced about spending much of his childhood at his grandmother’s house – which served as an “artistic hub” for his mom’s side of the family, the Steeles. “I was incredibly fortunate to grow up around other artists and have such a supportive family, so I have always known I wanted to be an artist too.” The young artist’s desire to stay near his family paired with his love of art inspired him to enroll at RMCAD. He was overjoyed to join the vibrant art community his family established. Seeing the work of his late grandfather, Philip J. Steele, scattered around the RMCAD campus, provided Onorato insight into his lineage’s creativity. 

“Although I didn’t get to meet my grandpa, I feel like he’s with me all the time,” – Paul Onorato

Pursuit of Positive I by Paul Onorato
Pursuit of Positive I by Paul Onorato

In the vein of Philip J. Steele, Onorato tried his hand at illustration, “I grew up doing a lot of traditional illustration, like black and white technique, and some watercolors.” However, Onorato admitted that “painting has always been tricky for me.” Nevertheless, some of Onorato’s most difficult works are his most inspired, such as “Neurochemical Network”, which helped build his confidence when it came to painting. Throughout his time at RMCAD, Onorato learned more about his style and himself. As a student, he capitalized on the exposure to the many mediums that the Fine Arts program at RMCAD gave him until he eventually “fell in love with printmaking.” The calm, almost tedious process of carving prints and pressing the images proved therapeutic for Onorato. 

“A big part of my happiness is tied to making art.” 

It wasn’t until later in his career as an artist that Onorato realized he didn’t need to agonize over his art to create something he was proud of. Printmaking had taught him that art was about the outlet for expressing himself, not the resulting work. Letting go of perfection and instead following his passions was one of the most important lessons Onorato learned as an art student. It’s the making that matters. He elaborated, “Yeah, you want to make amazing work, but sometimes the amazing work isn’t something you present.” 

Pursuit of Positive II by Paul Onorato
Pursuit of Positive II by Paul Onorato 

Just two days before walking across the stage to receive his diploma at graduation, Paul Onorato was in attendance at the 2024 Legacy Awards. The award celebrated the continued contributions of his family to the college since its foundation. As the alumnus said goodbye to RMCAD, he confessed that he has much to learn before becoming the artist he hopes to be someday. Nevertheless, it’s the process, not the product that Onorato is focused on, a revelation apparent across the Steele family’s work. Discovering his unique creative process helped him connect with Philip J. Steele and the artists around him. “I like feeling that connection with my family!”

Looking to start your legacy?

If you want to make a mark and leave your artistic print on the world, learn more about RMCAD’s Fine Arts program or read Rolling with it Printmaking 101.

Many of the quotes in this story have been edited for brevity and clarity by the author, but retain the significance and purpose of the original speaker.


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