Gianna Damico has always had a fear of heights.
Yet, she spends her free time rock climbing 50-foot walls.
“In the weirdest way, that gave me the adrenaline that I kind of crave,” Damico said in a recent interview with The Spectrum. “I remember going home [after rock climbing for the first time] and I wanted to do it again. I was excited.”
Damico, a senior biological anthropology and fine arts major, has always faced challenges with enthusiasm. She lives boldly and confidently, according to those who know her.
The same adrenaline rush she felt while rock climbing also gave her the “energy” to speak to a crowd of 4,600 people at UB’s Accepted Students Day in 2019. This event allows prospective students to learn more about the university and showcases some of UB’s most exemplary students.
And Damico is nothing short of an exemplary student.
Damico has a résumé that would impress even the most accomplished student: she’s a presidential scholar, pole vaulted for UB’s Division I track and field team, is interning at the non-profit vascular medicine innovation center Jacobs Institute, studied abroad in Italy and has been a student ambassador for the Honors College, to name a few of her many accomplishments.
Hadar Borden, director of UB’s Blackstone Launchpad, where Damico works as a graphic designer, says she is amazed by Damico’s tenacity and achievements.
“She’s what I call a renaissance woman,” Borden said. “She’s got this unique gift of being strong and embracing so many different academic areas.”
Damico’s success is not born from sheer luck. Many factors have contributed to her determination to make the most of her university experience.
She isn’t just driven by the prospects of doing something daunting; Damico also handles her busy life with precision and rigidity.
“I’m the type of person that has every 30 minutes planned out in my day a week beforehand,” Damico said.
Damico’s full schedule motivates her to never stop striving. Her constant stress pushes her forward and allows her to expand her interests to any hobby or challenge she finds.
And when she does expand to these new opportunities, she does so with boldness.
George Hughes, UB’s painting program head and Damico’s mentor, says he experienced this boldness for the first time when he met Damico in his Painting and Popular Culture class during the fall 2019 semester.
“It was one of the most striking experiences,” Hughes said. “I gave the final assignment [for the course] and during the critique, someone said that the class didn’t have enough time to finish it. And Gianna said, ‘No, it was doable.”
Hughes says this moment stands out for him because of how assertive Damico was and because of her readiness to resolve issues without being asked.
This same boldness is reflected in Damico’s artwork.
Damico says she prefers oil paints and likes to create works that are big and colorful.
One of the largest pieces she’s ever created is a 4 ½ x 6 ft. painting of her fiance, titled “Intimate.” The piece was created for her BFA senior thesis and allowed her to work in a level of detail that reflected the subject’s intimacy.
“I wanted to focus on one thing instead of making a series of paintings,” Damico said. “I kind of just [wanted to] have [“Intimate”] as a statement piece, where you walk in, sit down on a bench, and look at this thing because it’s so big.”
Still, more than just her willingness to stand out against the crowd, Damico’s ability to create connections, both in life and in art, has propelled her success.
This ability is especially apparent in Damico’s “Distortion” series, a collection of abstract portraits that “bring internal body functions (the circulatory system and metabolism, for example) to the surface through the use of planes of vibrant color creating a simultaneous movement with that which is under the skin,” according to her artist statement.
The series is a perfect marriage between Damico’s concentrations in general studio art and biological anthropology.
“It’s a rare gift,” Hughes said. “She’s able to see linkages in places that look divergent. She’s able to bring them together; that’s a unique skill.”
“Distortion” is currently on display at the Project 308 Gallery in North Tonawanda. The oil painting exhibition will be available for view on Tuesdays from 6-8 p.m., through March 16.
Art isn’t the only medium where Damico is able to bring together the people she interacts with.
“Every student that would walk in [to Blackstone Launchpad’s office], she welcomed,” Borden said. “All the student assistants in the office all bonded. I didn’t even realize that there was such a community, even outside of our walls.”
Connections like these are important to Damico, especially as a way of providing support for her ambitions.
Damico cites her middle school and high school experiences as having spurred her deep dive into the world of art.
Her eighth grade art teacher, Jason Dorofy, played a significant role in her life, as he continually supported Damico in her artistic endeavors while also teaching her in the eleventh and twelfth grades.
“He was so passionate to help his students and to help me,” Damico said. “He’d go above and beyond to meet me at extra times or to do something outside of school that I might be working on.”
Dorofy helped Damico sell her art at different festivals in the summer of 2019, including at the Corn Hill Arts Festival in Rochester and the Canandaigua Art and Music Festival in the Finger Lakes.
Damico says that attending Victor High School, located just outside of Rochester, influenced her interest in art. The school has “great materials and resources” for the arts, Damico says.
Now, far from the likes of middle school or high school, graduation from UB is on the horizon for Damico.
Damico is spending her time preparing for a promising future in wedding planning and electrophysiology.
“I’m so excited to see what she’ll accomplish and contribute to our crazy world,” Borden said. “She’s ambitious and I think she’s brilliant and has a really good heart. She’s going to solve some problems in our world.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is The Spectrum's second profile of Gianna Damico. The first one, from 2019, can be found here.
The arts desk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kara Anderson is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum. She is an English and Spanish double major and is pursuing a certificate in creative writing. She enjoys baking chocolate chip cookies, procrastinating with solitaire and binging reality TV on the weekends.