"In The Studio With:..." is a weekly feature that takes us into the private creative spaces of emerging artists to discuss their work and career.
Paul Catalanotto is an accomplished abstract painter who has worn many hats during his career. Today, he balances his artistic practice with running an art gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
His work recalls such artists as Gerhardt Richter, but is tied to the fresco technique of painting in wet plaster as the renaissance masters would have done. The effect is a vibrancy and luminosity that make his paintings appear to be lit from within.
Anthony Philip Fine Art: You have been a freelance Illustrator, fine artist, skilled tradesperson, and now gallerist in your career. As an artist how has each role informed the other?
Paul Catalanotto: My current artwork is a culmination of all that I’ve experienced in life but mostly it stems from the wall finishes I created for architects and designers catering to rich and famous clients. I just had to untether my plaster medium from that world, where every wall had to match a pre-approved sample, and set us free in the art world.
The skills I learned as a tradesperson helped in the building of the gallery but while I’ve helped run Art in Construction and started my own successful company, Timeless Plaster, nothing has really prepared me for running a gallery...I’m basically doing that by the seat of my pants.
APFA: What drew you initially to this technique of painting in fresco as a contemporary artist? And could you briefly explain the process of creating a painting in this medium rather than oil or acrylic?
PC: Unlike old world frescoes which involves pigment brushed on over the freshly troweled plaster (lime), I add tints directly into the plaster and apply it with trowels and other plastering tools. I like the action and physicality of using a trowel, it allows me to become more like a force of nature on the medium. I build up layers, wet over wet to create the magical moments that when I’m applying new layers I’m also exposing what lays underneath. You can’t do that with a brush.
Ever since I started working with plaster 30 years ago, I wanted to create works of art with it but it is a very difficult medium to master and my skills at the time were severely lacking.
APFA: How did you originally conceive BLAM gallery, and how has it metamorphosed in the year that you've been open?
PC: We started out as a bicoastal collective with a sister gallery in LA. BLAM stands for Brooklyn Los Angeles Merge. We showed some of their work here and vice versa. In order to subsidize the cost of the space, I built walls that swing open and close in ways that allow me to use half of it as my studio space when the gallery is closed Monday through Thursday.
We found it was much harder to run a collective in Brooklyn than LA, mostly due to our high rent. Most artists were unwilling to pay the full amount needed to run the collective here so I also wound up subsidizing the gallery with sales of my own artwork. Moving forward, I’m now running BLAM with my daughter Nina, who has shown her amazing curating skills in our March-April exhibit “Midnight Mass” which is about club culture past and present from around the world. We'll probably do much less exhibits then the nine we put on in our first year. I found I need more time and space to work on my own art, but we are excited about the freedom we’ll have to curate the type of art and themed shows that we want to see.
APFA: From what or where do you find inspiration for your paintings? Are they an exploration of what the materials can do, or are you attempting to present some narrative or representational element into the work?
PC: Both. It’s an exploration of the material through scientific analysis which allows me to create my own universe in ways that follow natural processes. First I set it free from the restricting world of architecture basically letting it show me what it can do. By studying it as opposed to controlling it I found an order into colors physical influence on the medium. I use this order to help the plaster mimic the arrival of color as light by using high energy primary and secondary colors. The mixing of these colors on the board and the order they are arranged in give me something real, something physically formed in place. I’m imitating the process of how everything around us becomes what we see in that particular moment instead of just rendering the final result of that moment caught in time. My main goal as the artist is to catch these moments between what I call, “The struggle to exist and the flow toward nothingness.”
If you would like to find out more about Paul and his art, please visit his website here: http://www.paulcatalanotto.com
For information about BLAM gallery, check out their website here: https://www.blamprojects.com