Michelle and Robert Casarietti are new artists on the Sarasota scene who create all of their abstract artwork together — simultaneously.
Robert and Michelle Casarietti built an art career off talent, serendipity and a low point turned on its head.
The year was 2001, and the Casariettis owned and operated a business called Resorting to Art through which they created custom artwork for Marriott Hotels & Resorts. They were on a work trip to the Sonoma Valley Inn when the couple got a call from their accountant on Sept. 11. He told them to turn on the news.
Soon, they were the only people driving on the Golden Gate Bridge, trying to safely get to San Francisco for a delivery they had to make by Sept. 12. They got there — after being checked by security multiple times — only to find that in the wake of the terrorist attack, the hotel had called off the order.
Down thousands of dollars, the couple left, went back to their studio barn in Idyllwild, Calif., and started painting. Soon after, they drove down California 111, and Robert decided to walk into the first printing shop he could find. With plans to hang it from a tree next to the road, he asked how much a sign reading “Art Show Today” would cost — $360. He made a deal with the owner — it was his mother’s birthday, and the shopkeeper thought she might like a floral painting.
“I go into the van and we have a painting of magnolias that we had printed,” Robert says. I walk in with the painting and he says ‘My mother loves magnolias.’ And he prints the sign … By night, we had sold all six pieces and had two commissions. And we’ve been going ever since.”
ROAD TO SARASOTA
Robert and Michelle Casarietti moved to Sarasota right before Hurricane Irma hit in September 2017. Like their post-9/11 experience, they didn’t look back.
The couple, who now create collaborative abstract paintings and sculptures, moved here from Fort Collins, Colo. Their original plan was to come down and spend winters in Sarasota, then go back to Colorado, where they have a place in the small mountain municipality of Frisco.
“We were going to stay there and do shows and catch up on artwork, but we fell in love with Sarasota,” Robert says. “We don’t want to leave.”
The couple has lived and worked everywhere from Palm Springs, Calif., to Denison, Texas, where they were founding members of an artist colony and the Denison Academy of Fine Arts.
Two years ago they did their first Florida art show in Hollywood, then another in Sarasota, and their adventurous spirit started calling.
“We were walking down the street (in Sarasota), and she turned to me and said, ‘Honey, I could live here,’” Robert says of a conversation with Michelle.
Not long after returning home to Colorado, they had a friend over who asked if they had any plans to sell their house. They told her they didn’t want to deal with real estate people, and she made an offer on the spot. Robert told her it was too much money, so she decided to do some research and get back to them.
The next day she came back and said they were right not to take her original offer, because the house was worth another $5,000. They took the offer.
“I looked at her (Michelle) and said, ‘I guess we’re going,’” Robert says.
They made the deal before looking for a new place in Sarasota, so they turned to Craiglist to see what was available. One day Robert was on the site, left to get coffee, came back and found the perfect home — which hadn’t been listed 10 minutes earlier.
He called the seller and liked what she had to say, so they asked their friend living in Sarasota to take a look at the property. They liked what they saw from the photos and he said it was a solid house, so they bought what is now their home and studio in Park East without seeing it in person.
THE PERFECT PAIR
Michelle and Robert Casarietti have been painting together on the same canvas for the past 19 years, but after sitting in their living room for an afternoon, their enthusiasm is more easily compared to that of two 20-somethings just starting their careers.
“Every day there are new surprises and adventures in the studio,” Michelle says.
Much of this has to do with not only their raw, unconditional love for one another, but their diverse backgrounds that brought them to painting, and consequently to each other.
Michelle has a BFA from Colorado State University, where she studied environmental design. Robert was first a costumer in Hollywood, Calif., where he worked on several major feature productions. He applies much of this experience to his painting technique, Michelle says, and between that and her art school experience, they’re the perfect team.
Before fully diving into painting after his costuming career, however, Robert was a businessman who painted to relieve stress.
“I was literally a closet painter,” he says with a laugh. “I had a closet behind my office … We had 300-some employees, and my only sanity was in my closet, so I’d go in and paint.”
Friends and family loved the work, he says, so he starting giving pieces away as Christmas presents. Little did he know where that would lead, several galleries, cities and years later.
PAINTING IN PARADISE
The Casariettis have quickly adapted to the easygoing Gulf Coast lifestyle, but they’re also keeping busy. They’ve joined the Sarasota Opera Guild and Jazz Club of Sarasota, the latter of which has already asked Robert to be on the board of directors.
He hasn’t decided if he’ll take their offer — he has another creative calling consuming his time for now.
Most of the work the Casariettis produce is custom, and they say their clients include everyone from friends and family to movie stars and sports figures. People like the work, they say, because of the calming effect it elicits.
“The goal is to create a serene piece,” Michelle says. “Very ethereal and relaxing so people aren’t hit in the face with the artwork when they walk in.”
This emotion comes from both their technique and their inspirations, which include travel, people, nature, music, good food, sunrises, sunsets and each other.
There are 15 to 20 layers of acrylic paint on each of the pieces they build, which adds depth and makes it possible to see different colors if you bend down and look closely. As soon as there’s natural light on the pieces, Robert says, the feeling changes.
But what makes the couple’s work unique is that they create all of it together, with four hands on the same canvas.
“The most rewarding part is the creation of something so beautiful together,” Michelle says. “We will still look at some of our paintings and will be amazed that we did that.”
Robert says the bonding aspect of painting together translates into a more spiritual artistic experience for both its creators and viewers. Some people have been so moved by the work, they’ve taken one look and broken into sobs.
But just like any attractive piece of art, this doesn’t come easy. Michelle says the couple’s biggest challenge is allowing each other to express their individual selves on the same canvas. They must follow their own vision while being careful not to destroy any parts of the painting that the other considers particularly special, and that get can pretty tricky.
However, just like all the other obstacles they’ve faced, they don’t let anything get in the way of their finished product. And throughout the process, Michelle says the couple is constantly learning by doing.
But one thing they picked up on right away is how blessed they are, both artists agree.
“It’s been a journey, man, and I married this magic lady,” Robert says. “I’m so lucky — it’s just been this wonderful life we’ve had.”
Correction: The print version of this story stated the incorrect name of the company the Casariettis owned in 2001.