About a year ago we attended a lecture by an extraordinary local artist named Greg Perillo. He spoke about his childhood growing up in Greenwich Village. His father would fire his imagination with stories of cowboys and Indians, and Greg began to use his God-given talent to draw scenes of the Old West. The only drawing paper he could afford were the brown bags in which he carried his lunch to school. When his teachers began to notice Greg's talent, they encouraged him and supplied him with clean, white drawing paper for which he was so grateful. (Can you imagine even the poorest kid growing up today being so happy just to have drawing paper!)
Greg's family moved to Staten Island when he was a boy. He spoke of what "the Island" looked like in the 1940's, a rural, sparsely populated place whose open fields and low hills made the perfect playground for a boy smitten with cowboys and Indians. Greg's father, being a pragmatic Italian-American, began to find "regular" jobs for Gregory, and talk him out of this crazy notion of becoming an artist. Greg worked to please his father and to help the family financially, but he never stopped drawing and painting. The young Perillo enrolled briefly in art school, but played hooky and joined the Navy in 1944, serving for two years on the U.S.S. Storm King. On one leave, he went home with a Navy buddy to a ranch in Montana where he first spent time with Native Americans.
Back in New York, Greg married and began attending evening art classes. In 1950, the couple headed West, and in Sedona, Perillo met William Leigh whose work Perillo had seen at the Grand Central Galleries in New York. Leigh had a studio in New York, and Perillo began visiting him there and spent the next five years, until Leigh's death in 1955, studying with him. In the 1970s, he began making sculpture, ultimately creating nearly thirty pieces. After Leigh's death, Perillo began selling his work in earnest, especially through his association in the Hudson Valley Art Association, galleries in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and the Wally Findlay Galleries in New York.
What struck me about Mr. Perillo's remarks were his sense of modesty and the joy he clearly felt when discussing his family and Italian-American roots. His art is a romanticized rendering of his love affair with the Old West and its inhabitants. Greg's realistic technique and sense of color bring his subjects to life. On viewing his paintings and sculptures, one almost expects them to move, as if being viewed through a window. He is a remarkable draftsman, and teased abstract artists a bit in his lecture as turning to that school of painting only because "they couldn't draw worth a damn." Troubled by America's treatment of Viet Nam vets returning home, Perillo created a series of 40 oil paintings called "The Vietnam Soldiers: The Unsung Heroes." They’re based in great measure on what the artist learned from a New Jersey friend, Charlie Loccisano, who saw action in two Vietnam tours of duty.
Here's what bothers me. We have a gifted artist like Gregory Perillo living among us on Staten Island. His award-winning work is known throughout the art world, and hangs in museums across the country. Do I see Greg's story being told on television, maybe to inspire young people to follow their dreams of becoming an artist? No, I see "Staten Island Mob Wives", idiot women whose claim to fame is being married to local hoods. Shows like these not only denigrate Italian-Americans and hold up terrible role models for young women, but also take up valuable air time that could be used to celebrate men like Gregory Perillo.
SEE DATES ABOVE RIGHT FOR OTHER POSTS FROM "BRAINDROPS". ALSO, READ MY OTHER BLOG: SPALDEEN DREAMS