MAHOPAC, N.Y.— Mahopac artist Jason Bellantoni works with acrylics, but it wasn’t too long ago that he worked with oil...motor oil.
The 1991 Mahopac grad has spent most of his life making a living as an auto mechanic. But about seven years ago, he made a radical career change that even the most audacious Las Vegas odds maker would never have predicted: He turned in his wrenches for a set of paint brushes and set his sights on becoming an artist.
This month, Bellantoni, 42, will have his first show in which more than one of his pieces is on display. The show, titled, “Soul of Existence,” will be held at Studio Around the Corner, 67 Main St., Suite 101, in Brewster and is sponsored by the Cultural Arts Coalition. It will run every Saturday, noon to 2 p.m. till its closing on Sunday, March 26. It features 11 of his acrylic paintings, some of them in custom frames that Bellantoni created from old wood pallets.
“I am freaking out a little,” Bellantoni confessed. “But it’s very exciting.”
Bellantoni, who is also an accomplished photographer, was inspired to begin painting by a former girlfriend, Kristine Pupo, in 2009. He had always been an automotive mechanic by trade, working at area car dealerships, private shops and for a Westchester bus company, until a back injury sidelined him.
“Kristine got me into it. She was a longtime painter and introduced me to it,’’ he said. “I had never really drawn anything before. For me, it was always about the cars. I really liked working on muscle cars. But when I met Kristine, I got started.”
Bellantoni never took a class or had any formal training. Because Pupo used acrylics, that became his medium of choice as well.
“My initial fear was that I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said. “But as I got more and more into it, it became more relaxing and I got to the point where I was really enjoying doing it.”
He started out doing traditional landscapes and that eventual lyled to a more abstract approach.
“I find my inspiration through nature,” said Bellantoni. “I look for different shapes [found] in nature. It’s also what’s going on with me at any given moment. It’s an outlet for me to express my emotions. I don’t just sit down to paint; I get inspired to paint. When it hits, it hits and it comes in waves. I could do a month’s worth of paintings and then take a few months off. Some people go to the gym or do yoga [to relieve stress]. I paint.”
It’s not that Bellantoni’s DNA is totally devoid of artistic creativity. His father was a photographer. His love for the arts began at a very early age while watching his father in the darkroom create and develop his photographs.
Although the majority of his work is abstract using acrylics, he is always looking for new mediums through which to express his unique style. He is currently working with resin and fluid techniques where you add different media together such as glazings, which are added to paint to create different effects.
“Through the movement of the paint, my goal is to take the viewer on a visual journey and to connect with my work on a deeper inner level,” he said.
Bellantoni said he began to believe he could make it as a painter about two years ago after he joined the Putnam Arts Council (PAC) and began receiving positive feedback from his peers.
“That kind of validated me,” he said. “It’s nice to have friends and family say it’s good, but when respected artists say ‘wow,’ it made me think I could do this and switch careers and dedicate more time towards it. I knew it was at least worth investigating.”
Bellantoni said he received encouragement from a group called Connect, a collection of artists from PAC who get together to talk about art.
“I wasn’t sure about it at first, but it was very comfortable and it was an open situation,” he said. “I knew it was something I could survive doing. I was instantly welcome in the group. They provided feedback and guidance and constructive criticism. [PAC] became the first place I ever showed a piece.
Bellantoni sold his first piece at a PAC show.
“It was pretty amazing,” he said of the experience. “It was a cartoon-style rendering of a cardinal. I painted it in memory of my father who passed in 2014. They say a cardinal is a representation of someone who has died. [Selling the painting] was, even more, validation that I was going down the right path. My jaw dropped when I saw the little red dot on the painting (which indicates a sale). I was absolutely blown away. It was definitely awe-inspiring.”
Bellantoni credits PAC member Dawn Willis with getting him the Studio Around the Corner show.
“She introduced me to the people over there and pushed for me to have the show,” he said.
Bellantoni has now set up a studio space in Peekskill where he does much of his painting.
“It’s not a storefront; it’s in the basement of another well-known artist,” he said. ”I am trying to get it so it’s display-ready where people can look at my work and buy something if they want.”
With his first solo show now under his belt, Bellantoni has even bigger aspirations.
“I would love to have a show at a gallery in Manhattan,” he said. “That is definitely on the vision board.”