Frank Oriti salutes family, friends and hometownon canvas: Cleveland Arts Prize

Frank Oriti salutes family, friends and hometownon canvas: Cleveland Arts Prize

Frank Oriti

Visual artist Frank Oriti, 29, is shown in his studio on the West Side of Cleveland. (Lisa DeJong, The Plain Dealer)

Three months ago, Frank Oriti established himself as a full-time artist. Two months ago, he won a Cleveland Arts Prize as an emerging artist in the visual arts.

“It’s pretty crazy how things have worked out,” says Oriti, a Parma-born painter who can hardly believe his good fortune.

“I was ecstatic about finding out — speechless rather. It’s quite an honor, and the more people I meet, the more prestigious I’m learning the honor is.”

Oriti, 29, sees the arts prize as a show of confidence and an inspiration to continue what he’s focused on in recent years: portraits of brothers and friends.

Gaze at an Oriti painting, and you notice something beyond the people. The white backgrounds reveal the faint outline of houses, which have become the signature in Oriti’s art.

“Painting those houses and then working them out with white paint is my way of trying to erase this personal history or these places I’m now returning to and to start anew,” he says. “But what happens is, the ghost of the images winds up showing through the white paint.”

The subjects in Oriti’s oil-on-acrylic paintings — painstakingly constructed, starting with 15 to 20 layers of glazing — come from “blue-collar backgrounds, the same class of people like myself,” he says. As a youngster in Parma, he was brought up by parents who nurtured a strong work ethic.

His love of art began early. Enchanted with images in comic books and sports magazines, Oriti made drawings that impressed his parents enough to sign him up for art classes offered by the city of Parma.

But it wasn’t until experiences in college and elsewhere that he decided art would be his life’s work. He studied briefly at Kent State University and Cuyahoga Community College before receiving a degree in painting and drawing at Bowling Green State University.

After graduating, he worked in a steel mill in Cleveland “long enough to make me realize I needed to go back to school,” says Oriti, who went on to earn a master’s degree in painting at Ohio University.

Things soon unfolded quickly. On the day in 2011 that he moved back to Northeast Ohio, the Bonfoey Gallery in Cleveland called about representing him. Several months later, Bonfoey invited him to exhibit his master’s show during the holidays to fill in for an artist who dropped out.

“I think I was an easy fix for that show,” he says. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind since then.”

He doesn’t exaggerate. As the result of his work appearing in the periodical New American Paintings, Oriti was engaged to show 12 of his portraits at the Richard J. Demato Fine Arts Gallery in Sag Harbor, N.Y., starting July 27.

And now, the Cleveland Arts Prize.

Oriti, who lives in Lakewood, maintains a realistic attitude about his vocation, even as he looks forward to new artistic adventures.

“It’s always exciting when a painting will sell, but you never know when the next one will sell,” he says. “It’s kind of hard to play the game. But I’m trying to roll with the punches.

“Winning the Cleveland Arts Prize was something. It means I can sustain myself as a full-time artist.”

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