Shelter Island Artist and Ferry Captain is Charting the Course for her Future

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Jodi Bentivegna at work in her "studio space" at the Southampton Arts Center earlier this year.

By Kimberly Brown

Carefully sketching in her studio space, 28-year-old Jodi Bentivegna let her long brown hair fall to the side as she nudged her glasses to look up and greet Southampton Arts Center (SAC) patrons. This was way back on February 9, and the young artist was excited to debut her work at one of the largest art museum’s on the East End. Bentivegna leapt out of her seat, eager to show interested visitors her many drawings posted on the center’s wall.

Fine lining and colors of blue watercolor luminesce through the drawings’ frames. Other paintings remain black and white, illustrating jagged human bones and spines.

Bentivegna’s work is part of “Takeover! 2020!” an exhibition conceived and curated by SAC’s artistic director, Amy Kirwin, in which 10 East End artists are invited to become artists-in-residence by occupying the museum and using its galleries as studios for several weeks.

The show was originally scheduled to run only through April 12, but due to COVID-19 and the abrupt closures that shut down the state in mid-March, SAC opted to keep the exhibition in place through July 12. The galleries are now, once again, open with guests welcome into the space, provided they are wearing masks and observing appropriate social distancing rules, of course.

At Bentivegna’s workspace, visitors will see creations inspired by tarot cards, dark art and body horror — a subgenre where the “horror” focuses on biological functions and has themes of transformation, parasitism or disease.

Jodi Bentivegna’s “Santa Rosa, December 2019.” Watercolor, 5” x 7”.

“I sort of use drawing the cards as a way to incorporate chance into my work,” Bentivegna said. “I really like using the archetypes that come up to try to tell a story.”

When she’s not busy painting, Bentivegna works as a captain for the South Ferry, the boat which plies the waters between North Haven and Shelter Island. Most days, she can be found up in the captain’s nest creating her drawings with paper and markers.

“If I’m captaining, then I can draw when we’re sitting in the slip,”  Bentivegna said. “A lot of the stuff I brought to the Southampton Arts Center was made on the ferry.”

While she seems to have successfully managed the balance of work and art making, it took Bentivegna some time to reach this point in life. Growing up in a cul-de-sac on Shelter Island, Bentivegna is used to small town life. Located down the block from her childhood home was Klenawicus Field, a big grass airfield that is infrequently used, and there, she found a peaceful space covered with tall grass and chirping birds. Bentivegna recalls her childhood days at a pond that resides next to the airfield. During the middle of spring, she would watch the painted turtles hatch at this pond as they erupted from the sand.

“When you’re little, it’s so special having little animals around all the time,” Bentivegna said.

Her hometown was close-knit, providing Bentivegna with a lovely childhood and a sense of familiarity she said. Friends she made stuck with her until graduation. While attending Shelter Island School, Bentivegna’s passion for art sprouted from a thought and blossomed into reality, guided by her art teacher, Stephanie Needham-Ceriani. Not only was she Bentivegna’s biggest inspiration, Needham-Ceriani also happened to live down the block from Bentivegna as she was growing up.

“She was very encouraging, artistically,” Bentivegna said, “She’s someone who will make the space for you to sit down and be creative, which is half the battle I think.”

Jodi Bentivegna with tarot cards at Southampton Arts Center. Jessica Dalene Photography.

Bentivegna’s interest in tarot began when she was first introduced to the cards while in high school and exploring a flea market. She already had a deep sense of fascination with occult magic and Bentivegna’s interest in tarot soon translated into her artwork.

“I have this one deck and it’s very art deco with heavy lines and watercolor inside,” Bentivegna said. “Everything sort of looks like a stained glass window and I find it unbelievably gorgeous.”

Although Bentivegna was interested in becoming an artist from a young age, she also wanted to pursue other career paths too. Becoming a bat biologist was one of her main interests as a child, but while attending SUNY Geneseo in upstate New York, Bentivegna stumbled upon an introductory anthropology class. After finishing up the class at the end of the semester, the idea of becoming a bat biologist soon transformed into becoming an anthropologist.

“Anthropology is so cool. It’s such an interesting way of seeing the world,” Bentivegna said. “It teaches the sense of absolute relativity that I don’t think you get in other fields and really acknowledges how porous reality is, based on who’s observing it.”

Bentivegna admitted that some of the classes involved in her major were difficult, but one of the biggest challenges she faced while attending college was simply adjusting to life in Geneseo. Used to tiny Shelter Island, Bentivegna found herself flustered being surrounded by large numbers of people. After graduation, she returned to Shelter Island only to find that many of her childhood friends had veered off and moved away. Though the cost of living in Shelter Island had increased over time, Bentivegna was lucky as she found a rental house for a good price so she could stay in her hometown.

“There are very few of us living here now, which is kind of sad,” Bentivegna said. “It’s just become pretty unfeasible economically for most people. There have been times when I wanted to buy a house and have a family here, but now it’s so different than when I was growing up.”

Though there may not be a lot of anthropology jobs on the East End, fortunately, Bentivegna’s expertise in the field served as an inspiration for her artwork, as she began to incorporate body horror into her pieces.

Bentivegna decided to post her pieces on Instagram to get some exposure. In the beginning, she had only sold drawings and did small commission pieces such as painting pet portraits. Never did Bentivegna think she would get much farther than that — until she was offered a spot in this year’s “Takeover!” exhibition at SAC.

“Jodi was introduced to me last year after she took a sketching workshop with ‘Takeover! 2019’ artist Scott Bluedorn,” said Kirwin.

Impressed by her work, Kirwin offered Bentivegna a spot in the 2020 show right then and there.

“I love that she sketches so beautifully and keeps it pretty simple,” said Kirwin. “She has a really unique aesthetic and a depth to her work.”

Prior to the March shutdown, Bentivegna’s work also happened to make an impression on the patrons who visited her studio space at SAC. She was able to sell a few pieces for more than she had ever gotten for her work in the past.

“Seeing that I could get $200 for a piece felt very empowering,” said Bentivegna, who now has new confidence in her work and her ability to continue pursuing her chosen field. “The hardest thing about being an artist, in general, is self-doubt. It can really kill your practice if you let it go too far.”

“TAKEOVER 2020!” Artists-in-Residence runs through July 12 at Southampton Arts Center, 25 Jobs Lane, Southampton. Participating artists include: Jodi Bentivegna, Michael Butler, Isadora Capraro, Franco Cuttica, Esly Escobar, Melinda Hackett, Erica-Lynn Huberty, Dinah Maxwell Smith, Miles Partington, and Kerry Sharkey-Miller. For more information, visit southamptonartscenter.org.

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