Frank Oriti's paintings are studies in contrast. Every detail of the figures in his portraits is intricately, lovingly portrayed. But the loosely rendered, experimental backgrounds are bleak and ghostly abstract landscapes.
Oriti depicts the people he's known since childhood as blue-collar protagonists, gazing stoically or perhaps with a hint of aggression. Many are former Marines and friends, some from a Cleveland steel mill where he worked between undergraduate and graduate school. Their lives, experiences, and state of mind are the backstory behind these portraits. Resignation and disappointment are etched into their faces.
Suburban houses appear faintly in the background- often the subjects' childhood homes-a visualization of the attempt to “whiteout” their longing to achieve the American Dream after failing to escape their hometown. By erasing the history of these characters, Oriti discovers they no longer really belong in that space where the ghosts of those memories remain. But they have accepted their situation and must start anew, with an understanding that they might never leave.
He paints the protagonists and backgrounds in distinctly different ways to accentuate their connection and disconnection to the past. Oriti documents the changes facing middle class America, particularly those in their mid-to-late twenties, through these tales of hope deferred. Their faded memories and ideals are common with this cyclical experience.
Before his career breakthrough, Oriti often felt the same smoldering desperation as he maintained a day job while struggling with his art. In one sense, these paintings are a form of self-portraiture with the universal theme of homecoming found in Homer's Odyssey and James Joyce's Ulysses. His paintings create another world, a second chance for each character to discover a new sense of self among the relics of the past.
Born in 1983 and raised in Parma, Ohio, outside of Cleveland, Frank Oriti earned his BFA in two-dimensional studies from Bowling Green State University in 2006. He returned to his hometown and worked at a Cleveland steel mill while painting in his spare time. He earned an MFA in painting from Ohio University in 2011 and won the Cleveland Arts Prize Emerging Artist Award in 2013. Oriti's work is represented by The Bonfoey Gallery in Cleveland and the Richard J. Demato Fine Arts Gallery in Sag Harbor, New York.
Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.