Franco Cuttica uses fire in all of the senses. He feels its heat and smells its burn. He hears its roar. He sees it bring his imagination to life. And he even cooks Argentinean barbecue over it.
But on a recent Thursday morning, the artist had stepped away from the flames and turned his eyes toward the water, watching the waves crash from his modern villa in Punta del Este, Uruguay.
That night, he would visit CAMPO, a nearby artist residency, and pick up his torch to create a live fire painting before discussing his work, including his signature, life-size driftwood horses. One now lives in the South American country, joining a herd that can be found across the world — from Japan to his native Argentina to his home on the East End, where he returned on Tuesday.
There, Cuttica would immediately head over to the Southampton Arts Center (SAC), setting up for the Saturday night opening of “TAKEOVER 2020!” alongside nine fellow artists — as he moved from one residency into the next.
“There’s really something special about artist residencies and I think they’re blooming more and more in today’s world,” Cuttica said. “I think the traditional sense of being an artist, in the past, is to be more independent and to have a gallery represent you. You live a more solitary life as an artist. But the artist residencies are really special in that you get to mingle more, interact, socialize and make the connections yourself, rather than the galleries. So I’m super, super excited for Southampton. I feel very honored to be part of it.”
For 10 weeks, the artists will each take over a small space in the galleries for individual pop-up studios — containing personal items that both comfort and inspire them to create — while collectively contributing to a creative think-tank during the second-annual residency that is open to the public, explained creator and curator Amy Kirwin, artistic director of the Southampton Arts Center.
“Last year was just the most inspiring, satisfying, gratifying experience — not just for me, but for all the artists involved,” she said. “They all grew and tried new things, and the public loved it. It was a very exciting couple of months of watching work progress, meeting artists and the artists meeting new people, and working with each other. It was an experiment that we didn’t know what to expect and the whole process couldn’t have been more delightful. They were great guinea pigs.”
In addition to exhibiting completed pieces, works-in-progress will also be on view at all times at SAC — as will the artists in action.
“Everybody who’s involved has to understand and agree to this experiment and know while they’re working here, they will be interrupted and they should be expected to and be welcoming of interaction, and that’s just part of this whole process,” Kirwin said. “As a result, it helps them come out of their shell. A lot of artists are used to being alone and working in seclusion, so it really helped people last year — especially the more shy ones — to better sell themselves and promote themselves and work out that loner-ness.”
By sheer layout, Miles Partington won’t have a choice. With only fellow-artist Dinah Maxwell Smith as a buffer, he is front and center — second from the entrance of the Southampton Arts Center and a dramatic departure from his studio garage in Southampton, the sculptor said.
“I’ve done some work in front of people and I really enjoy that,” he said. “I like the performative aspect of working in front of people. It’s just a very different thing. Usually you’re very by yourself when you’re working and it’s just a very different experience to do it around people.”
Cuttica will find himself in the back-most gallery — poised to be “the party room,” said Kirwin, who intentionally paired him with fellow high-energy artists Esly Escobar and Isadora Capraro.
And he already has big plans for his space, outside of bringing his work, tools, favorite pieces of furniture and a photo booth for visitors.
“I’ll also make a very nice coffee area, maybe have a little espresso machine,” he said. “I love cooking and food, so I’ll always most likely have food for everyone. I’m gonna bring it! I’m gonna definitely make asado, which is barbecue, but it’s the Argentinean style over a wood fire.”
Whether he is cooking or painting, working with fire forces Cuttica into the present moment, he said. There is no room for error, “or else the whole house burns down.”
“I have to be very focused because if I burn something too much, there’s no going back,” he said. “It always brings me back to the present moment. It’s a meditative tool. Making horses, when I’m out looking for driftwood, I also have to be very much in the present moment, looking for the right pieces, the right movement in the wood so that, later, I can form the horse in the right way. While I’m making the horse, I have to be very connected with the material so the expression of the wood unifies with the structure and the form of the horse.”
Pinning down the more abstract ideas within his lifelike work will be the focus of his “TAKEOVER 2020!” experience, he said, while also contemplating his future and the artist residency he aspires to create on his 40-acre property in Riverhead.
“There’s a lot, I think, that goes into my work that I’m still learning about,” he said. “I’ve always been a more physical force, and my intellectual side has always been something I’ve been working on. It doesn’t come as naturally.
“I would say I’ve been recently gearing down on more of my concept and why I do things, and I’m pretty slow with it so it comes with time,” he continued. “I think I’m gonna learn a lot from this Southampton art residency experience, and a lot of not only work will come out of it, but it will teach me a lot more than I’m beginning to really foresee.”
“TAKEOVER 2020! Artists in Residence” opens Saturday, February 1, with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Southampton Arts Center, and will remain on view through April 12. 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.
An After (Dance) Party with DJ Mister Lama will follow the opening from 8 to 10 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 631-283-0967 or visit southamptonartscenter.org.