Steve Pennisi owned an advertising agency in Portland, Maine for approximately 25 years, but it wasn’t until he sold the business that he truly discovered his creative side. Or should we say, sides.
You see, Pennisi is today an artist who’s literally uncovered a new form of painting — one that uses, yes, both sides of the paint. The results are so impressive that Pennisi’s body of work was featured in a major solo exhibit this January at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in Fort Myers, and his work has recently been exhibited in the “Florida Contemporary” show at Baker Museum, Artis-Naples, the “All Florida” in the Boca Museum of Art, and the Linus Galleries in Los Angeles.
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It’s a unique technique that Pennisi came upon in 2013 somewhat by accident. “I was peeling paint off my palette and I saw the back side of the paint, and it was beautiful,” he recalls. “It had all the random power of abstract art without any of the hesitation or self-doubt when you’re trying to create something specific. Once I saw it, I thought: how can I capture this?”
It took about a month of experimenting for Pennisi to figure it out. Put simply, he creates his paintings by applying paint to plastic film, works the paints with random items like squeegees, metal strips and cans of air. The paint dries for 24 hours, then the piece is glued to canvas and after waiting another 24 hours, the outer layer of film is removed, leaving just the paint. The bottom “hidden” side is very often used, but if he likes what he sees on the top visible side he lays a piece of film on that surface when it’s wet, and captures that image also, allowing him to use “both sides of the paint.”
He works on numerous paintings of various sizes simultaneously, and often glues 50 to 100 different “pulls” of paint together to create the final work of art.
The results are stunning works of art that are abstract, dramatic, powerful and altogether novel in both approach and outcome. “Why are things in nature so beautiful? It’s because they happen with this kind of randomness. The back side of the paint is almost like the hand of God in a sense, the paint in no way looks labored over, and the halftoning is just pure and beautiful. Sometimes you see a narrative and sometimes they’re just abstract. But as random as the pieces are, they somehow match up to allow me to build a story that appears seamless.”
Pennisi spent the better part of 2015 preparing for his solo exhibit this January, and anticipates his works to sell for $1,500 to $9,000. “I’m very excited at the opportunity,” he says. “I’ve been at other shows, but always with other artists. This is very gratifying and I’ll be able to show a cohesive body of work.”
Now 60 years old and with a 6 year old daughter, Steve Pennisi moved his family to the Fort Myers area to be closer to other family members here and in Orlando — and in the process found a whole new life through his work. “This is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. To pursue my dream, and then to discover this technique — it’s given me my map for the rest of my life. When I’m in the studio I feel as young as I’ve ever been.”
Story by John Sprecher | Photography by Milissa Sprecher Photography