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Profiles in Persistence: Peter Paolucci '21

A photo of Peter Paolucci

For Peter Paolucci ’21, art is cathartic. Watercolor, charcoal, ink. Sometimes oils. Drawings that look explosive. Paintings that play with color and light. He gives them titles like “Anxiety” and “Hope” and “Overload.”

Paolucci, who is upfront about being on the autism spectrum, sometimes struggles to talk with people. That isn’t a problem with his artwork.

“Art is kind of a way for me to express things I can’t really say in words,” he said.

Paolucci, 25, will graduate from the University of Southern Maine this spring with a Bachelor's of Fine Arts in Studio Arts, with a concentration in drawing and painting. He’d always loved sketching and doodling as a child, but he originally enrolled in USM for a completely different love: computer science. He had planned a career in writing programs and software.

“After the first year, I wasn’t really feeling the same passion I did for it before,” he said. “I ended up going undecided for about a year or two. I first started taking some electives. I started kind of drifting toward studio arts and the media studies program.” 

College was a rough adjustment at first. He was uncomfortable, had few people to talk to. He wasn’t performing as well as he’d expected in classes, which lowered his self-esteem.

“I feel like I only really started to dig myself out of the rut in the past couple of years,” he said.

Art helped. In USM’s art program, Paolucci found faculty and classmate support both for his art and for the unique challenges that autism presented. His artistic influences — often anime — were taken seriously, without the stigma that he feared he would encounter in academia. And when one of Paolucci’s professors noticed his struggles with depression and spoke to him about their own experiences, he found the courage to try therapy for the first time.

“I feel like I’m starting to get into a good place,” he said.

After graduating from USM Paolucci hopes to work within Portland's arts district. He would also like to start a side business centered on fine arts exhibition.

He’s started looking at studio spaces in Portland so he can have a dedicated place to create. He won’t be able to focus on his art full time immediately after graduation, but someday it will be his career.

“That’s my hope,” he said. 

Overload, 2021, Oil Pastel and Gouache on Paper, 15x11 in. "This piece is part of a series I made for Advanced (Drawing & Painting) II, and it was partly influenced by Kiki's Delivery Service, a 1989 Studio Ghibli film directed by the famed Hayao Miyazaki," Paolucci said. "It was the first anime I ever watched back when I was 5, and the story touches on our passions and self-doubt."

"Anxiety" by Peter Paolucci

Anxiety, 2020, Charcoal on Paper, 11x17 in. "The piece was made for ART 352 — Experimental Drawing during the spring semester. If I remember correctly, this was a project about exploring what it is like to be in a body. I had the thought of interpreting some emotional and mental states I had experienced up to that point," he said. "This drawing is a representation of how my brain feels whenever I'm under intense stress, whether it be from social interaction or whenever I have a lot on my plate."