Frank Oriti, Painter
2013 EMERGING VISUAL ARTS PRIZE
Frank Oriti’s burgeoning career as a gifted portraitist began when he started sketching superheroes and super-athletes from comic books and magazines in his family’s home. He turned his hand to painting at Parma Senior High School, thanks primarily to his art teacher his junior and senior years, Mike Jaszczak. But he made the decision to “go all in” with art while attending Bowling Green State University. Upon graduating with a BFA in 2006, he made a decision that would later inform his work.
“I didn’t have a plan,” he says. “So, I moved back home with my parents, and that started the wheels turning for the ideas that I am currently using for my paintings.”
The young artist began to ponder the blue-collar world that he had grown up in, especially as he watched his brothers return from the Marines and his neighborhood friends come home from college after they had attempted to escape. He and his contemporaries were left to ponder the questions “What has my life become?” and “What will everyone think of me now?”
He ended up becoming a card-carrying member of the working class when he got a job at a steel mill to pay those student loan bills arriving in the mail. After a year and a half toiling in the mill and observing the interesting people there, he knew he needed to recommit to his art. He enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts in Painting program at Ohio University.
“I was experimenting to see what I wanted to do,” he remembers. “But by the end of my first year, I started doing these portraits with backgrounds inspired by the repetitive and mundane look of the suburbs I had lived in most of my life.” In the intensely detailed renderings of his two inactive Marine brothers and some of his friends who agreed to model for him, he tried to “reveal the connect and disconnect between suburban landscapes and their residents.”
“Frank has a huge investment psychologically and emotionally in trying to figure out this group of people and their place,” says John Sabraw, professor of art at OU. “So he built them layer by layer, technique by technique, process by process into these fully rounded characters.”
After graduating in 2011, Frank found himself facing a disheartening déjà vu: overloaded with dreams and plans to be a great artist but living at his parent’s home and working in a factory. Within a few months, however, he gained representation at the Bonfoey Gallery. When an artist had to drop out of the gallery’s holiday show, Frank was happy to cull some paintings from his MFA show the previous spring. “I pumped out a few more paintings and had a big solo show there in November 2011, and that got things rolling for me in Cleveland,” he says, adding that it led to commissions for portraits.
A few months ago, he started working parttime at the factory, and this spring committed to painting full-time. He no longer lives at his parent’s house, and he has a new studio space on the near West Side, where he arrives early in the morning to take advantage of the stunning sunlight streaming through the east-facing windows. A photographer friend in the studio takes 50 to 100 or more photos of Frank’s subjects, which he then sifts through to select the ones he likes that serve as a roadmap for the oil portrait that he works to “make more realistic than a photograph.” His portraits have been shown in galleries in the Athens, Columbus, and Cleveland areas. After submitting for almost a decade, he finally had his work featured in the MFA issue of New American Paintings last year. Soon after, he sold a couple of paintings that had appeared in the article. More important, the Richard J. Demato Fine Arts Gallery in Sag Harbor, New York, contacted him to schedule a solo exhibition of his paintings that will open July 27, 2013. Sabraw believes the show will be the turning point in making Frank a nationally recognized portrait artist.
“What’s rewarding about painting portraits is the romantic thought that they will be prominently displayed,” Frank says. “Then they will be passed down and held onto for a long time.”