In no way does Joseph Santarpia strive to emulate Jackson Pollock.
Their processes are simply similar, he says.
Inside his studio at Stony Brook University, the second-year master’s student lays a slice of PVC panel, or organic fibrous paper, on the floor. He fills small bottles with color, and preps his horizontal canvas with a clear solution before the action begins.
Focused and measured, Santarpia leans over the canvas, making his first line. Once it hits the surface, it immediately starts to spread, unabsorbed by the plastic or paper. He quickly decides what to adjust before going in with a brush, or another bottle of color.
He only has a few minutes for each move — because, unlike Pollock, he is not throwing buckets of paint.
Santarpia is using highly unpredictable alcohol ink.
“It’s part gravity, part my hand trying to control and move the ink as it controls itself,” he said. “It’s almost like my decisions unfolding right in front of me, in real time.”
The process is enlightening, he said, and one of the ink washes that came from it, “Violet II,” won him top honors in East End Art’s seventh annual national show — aptly titled, “INK.”
“Within this restricted theme, there are many horizons to explore,” juror Sara De Luca said. “It’s difficult for artists, sometimes, to get out of their comfort zones because they’re so versed in the one medium they do. Once you get to explore and be free, and let go of conventions, you see how you can actually expand your horizons. I think that’s what you get from looking at the show.”
Of the 200 coast-to-coast submissions, the owner and director of Ille Arts in Amagansett selected 38 pieces that fit into the confines of ink media, including ballpoint, fountain pen, printmaking, Sharpie, India, and even tattoo — any and every form, except desktop printer ink.
“You could have an ink drawing, you could have an ink wash, you could have a tattoo,” she said. “I discarded works that were not made in ink, that’s the first thing that happened. And then I try to think out of the box in terms of what ink could mean. It’s easy in terms of the process itself, but deciding which works are number one and best in show is never easy, because it’s completely subjective to my eye and to what I think is visually
and literally most consonant to the theme of the show.”
Pennsylvania-based artist Kristin Moger won first place with her hand-drawn micron ink “Hello,” followed by “Siccus Planta 5,” a soft ground zinc etching with encaustic by Oak Beach artist Dawn Daisley, and “Lone Cedar,” a monotype by Southold-based artist Bob Mueller, in third place — with Santarpia’s “Violet II” as Best in Show.
“It’s about the beauty of printmaking and, especially, the beauty of the new alcohol ink medium,” according to East End Arts Gallery Director Jane Kirkwood. “People are gonna come away saying, ‘Whoa,’ even the people who were here. I had some people helping me today mark the sides, and they said, ‘This alcohol ink, wow. How do you do that?’ It was eye-opening, and this medium is new to a lot of people.”
De Luca said Santarpia — who will also exhibit two additional alcohol ink pieces in the show — was a clear standout, particularly “Violet II.”
“It was really unusual but also very beautiful,” the juror said. “It just spoke loudly to me about his ability to explore new ways of making art with the given theme of ink, and going abstract. You have to be a very skilled artist in a classical way in order to be a good abstract painter. I think he really accomplished that, and I see a lot of positive energy out of the work.”
The Farmingdale-based artist was first introduced to alcohol ink three years ago, he said. Working with it, he was forced to be present and reactionary, “completely zoned in on what the ink is doing, and moving around the paper, watching it very intently the whole time I’m working,” he said.
“I kept seeing what the material could do. It was so new to me, and it didn’t feel very controllable,” he said. “What kept me interested in the material was that it wasn’t requiring me to control it to make something beautiful or worthwhile. It was doing that in its own way as I was trying to work with it, so that’s what stuck with me. It’s free. It’s much more loose than other traditional materials.”
A representational artist at his core, Santarpia first married his paintings and collages to the ink wash and, at times, still combines them. But now, he has realized the ink’s full potential, he said, and has turned his attention toward it alone.
At least for now, he said.
“For comparison, they’re each in a league of their own. They do different things for me,” he said. “I wouldn’t want just one because when I’ve done a lot of representational work, doing the abstraction and ink washes is refreshing and it’s seeing artwork in a new light — and once I’ve done that a lot, I can switch back to representational work and get the more extreme technicality or a really hard and fast idea across, more symbolically or technically in terms of having to make the painting or drawing. I don’t feel necessarily complete with just one way of working.”
The seventh annual national show “INK” will open with a reception on Friday, August 3, from 5 to 7 p.m. at East End Arts, located at 133 East Main Street in Riverhead, and remain on view through September 19. For more information, call (631) 727-0900 or visit eastendarts.org.