BY TAMMY SCILEPPI
Her bags are packed and she’s ready to go.
Long Island City-based artist and fine arts educator, Clare Stokolosa, is returning to her favorite Tuscan hilltop town in Italy, which overlooks a picture-worthy valley with breath-taking vistas of rolling hills and mountains.
She says the color and light are inspirational for painting.
“I was introduced to Cortona, a magical place, and I have not stopped going back. It has changed over the years, as many more people speak English and there are more tourists, but it still holds its magic,” said the Astoria native whose grandparents came from Naples.
Stokolosa sketches as she observes people and places in NYC, here in Queens, and over in Italy. This theme connects her beautiful artwork.
Sketches are enlarged to larger than life-sized pieces then painted in watercolor. “I do what is called plein air painting, working on sight in watercolor (her classical style), outdoors,” she explained. From her Studio 34 LIC space, she creates those large watercolors, as well as oil paintings. (See images of her painting Italian landscapes and scenes of people in the piazza).
Talking about her “NYC Faces” series – paintings of people in transit in and around the city, on the subway, LIRR and other public spaces – the artist said, “I paint sites that connect Queens to Manhattan, such as the 59th Street Bridge [https://youtube/tGwO6xbwWfM?t=1]. I often paint bridges and pathways because they lead to places and journeys.” She used to cross that bridge daily, on her way to Art and Design High School and Hunter College for her degree in Fine Art.
So, what’s the connection between Queens and Cortana? “I see them both as a part of me and the path my life has taken,” said the Bayside resident whose LIC studio is part of a complex (with a gallery where her artwork was showcased), where many artists work in a variety of mediums.
During her first trip to Italy, Stokolosa studied art in Tuscany then painted in Florence. “What better place? I fell in love,” she recalled. “A few years later, when I just started teaching art for the Board of Education in Queens, I had the opportunity to study Italian in Cortona. I was still going to Hunter and saw a posting about the trip.”
The lucky creative spends a few months during the summer and fall in Cortana. “The people are kind and have open hearts. There are beautiful surrounding towns. You can go to Florence, Perugia or Lake Trasimeno for a day trip. The fields are filled with sunflowers in the summer,” she said.
Her solo show, “Passegiando per Cortona Estate 2019” (“Walking through Cortona”), takes viewers on a tour of the town and surrounding landscape. New linear paintings and a retrospective of classical panoramas mark the way, with scenes of iconic churches, friendly cafes, restaurants and people you meet along the way. “In Italian, they say, ‘Ci vediamo in giro,’ which means, ‘I’ll see you around town,’” Stokolosa explained. Viewers can experience the peace and quiet as they stroll in the park and look out over the valley.
Her work will be on display at Palazzo Ferretti on the main street in Cortona at Via Nazionale 47, from July 25 through Aug. 4.
“The Clock Tower” above the steps of Commune di Cortona, the town hall in Piazza della Repubblica, is the painting she chose to represent the show. “It’s a gathering place on summer evenings where people take a seat on the steps and enjoy a gelato and chat with friends,” Stokolosa noted.
“Besides places, I like to paint people and how they interact with each other and their surroundings. I paint the large meeting places from the piazzas of Italy to the transit hubs of New York, as documented in my ‘NYC Faces’ series. The buildings, the vistas, are both familiar views to me, and both hold a warm spot in my heart,” she added.
There are similarities between the 59th Street Bridge painting, “Crossing Over,” recently on display at the Plaxall Gallery in LIC, and another work titled, “Piazza,” which will be on view at her Cortana exhibit.
“I was honored to be invited in 2017, to become a member of The Circolo Culturale Gino Severini di Cortona, a group named after Severini, the internationally acclaimed Cortonese painter. My work is also on display at Galleria Nazionale in Cortona, Via Nazionale 4. While painting in Cortona I became connected to a gallery in town called Galleria Nazionale, where I met Gian Maria Cosignani, the director, and began exhibiting my work and continue to do so,” Stokolosa noted.
A creative who feels that art is her way of contributing to her community, has watched Queens and Cortana change over the years. “Both hold a certain sense of a community and small-town feel,” she said, adding, “I am social and love people, yet as an artist, I love the solitude of my studio as well as the calm of a beautiful day outdoors and getting lost in a painting. I can do both in Cortona and in Queens.
“Creating works of art is, was and always will be my vehicle of self-expression, and being an artist forms the core of who I am as a person,” Stokolosa continued. “And Edward Hopper’s quote captures my sentiment – ‘If you could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint.’”
View her NYC Faces series solo show in September, at the Studio 34 LIC gallery.