Colored pencils were Venti's first art materials as a child and, in 50 years of investigating almost every medium available to artists, a Sarasota landscape artist has come full circle.
If ever Art Venti realized he was destined to be fascinated with art and drawing and be led on a path toward becoming a prominent artist, it was at the age of 5 while watching a syndicated TV series from the 1950s.
Learn to Draw, popular from 1950 to 1955, featured 15-minute drawing lessons from art instructor Jon Gnagy and encouraged children to purchase an art kit that included a book, sketching paper, drawing pencils, sketching chalks, and one laptop drawing surface.
Glued to his family’s black and white television in New York City with his drawing kits, Venti began an early love affair with colored pencils that would span nearly 70 years and include being named a Top Five Finalist in a juried art exhibit by icon Salvadore Dali for the 15-year old’s creative rendition of the Mona Lisa.
Now, the 72-year old Sarasota transplant still holds his colored pencils in hand, but his art has exhibited and sold nationally and internationally over the last 30 years, including a $5,000 cash buy in the 1980s from a San Francisco financial and real estate mogul who was wowed by a drawing called “Time Continuum.”
Art lovers will appreciate his work at an upcoming exhibition at the Art Center Sarasota Sept. 2 - Oct. 2 when his work is featured in “Probable Realities” - large-scale, vividly colored, dream-like underwater landscapes on paper using…..what else? Colored pencils.
Venti says the inspiration behind his surrealist techniques came from Dali and other well-known artists “who explore the mysterious worlds that lurk just beneath the conscious mind.” The result is intensely detailed, amorphous shapes evoking dreamscapes of swirling ribbons, or underwater plants that bring forth a sense of wonder and awe. His work ranges from small, light sketchy areas of fragile, almost translucent, wispy lines and shapes that are barely there - to the main area of the canvas covered with intense, dense layering. Areas are often drawn over several times with minute pencil lines, sometimes in two or more different colors.
To understand how Venti’s creative mind juices flow is to revisit his childhood. While children his age played with building blocks, Venti, 5, created an elaborate diorama of an Egyptian city (“I swear I was Egyptian from a past life,” he says).
“Where did you come from?” asked his parents.
At age 12, he built yet another elaborate diorama of prehistoric dinosaurs roaming through an idyllic landscape in New Hampshire where his parents owned a summer family farm. The local newspaper featured his diorama on the cover of their publication, praising the young, budding talented artist.
At 15, Venti built a custom bed loft in his room to accommodate a desk underneath for sketching. A year later New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller met the high school sophomore after he won a statewide safety poster contest.
His creations continued to blossom throughout his adolescence, and after earning enough money from a newspaper route, he bought a poodle for his mother as a gift and enthusiastically built a modern dog house. That same year he built a treehouse so he could see the landscape from afar and marvel at how beautiful the world. He experimented with oil paintings and sculpture as well, expanding his interests, including learning how to play the guitar and writing original music.
In early adulthood, Venti continued his passion for playing the guitar and formed a musical group that played at local weddings, bar mitzvahs and special events, though his key passion remained art. In 1978 he moved to California where he found himself in a “California Dreaming” frame of mind, a big fan of “all rock groups of the era. I loved the eclectic music.” he says. He remained in San Francisco and southern California for 38 years before taking a detour to the UK with his British wife, Jen, now his wife of 40 years. Venti said he bought a return "Ticket to Ride” (a big Anglophile and major fan of the Beatles) and headed permanently to Sarasota Florida.
Today, Venti smiles when he thinks about his artistic transformations through life, and is grateful to “beauty first,” when he picks up one of three hundred colored pencils that he says help him to create art “that accesses a deeper conscious in the eyes of an observer. They have to relate to it and at the same time use their imagination.”
While art has a positive side when it comes to all landscapes, Venti says it pains him to see “the darkness” that he describes by pollution. “I revisit all the pristine environments I appreciated when I was young, whether it was the ocean, a pond, a marsh, and I see it has all changed and isn’t the peaceful, clean environment I once knew."
"My exhibition, Probable Realities, gives viewers “a tranquil veil. A sense of peace, and a safe environment. The world needs that right now.”
After leading a whirlwind life spanning thousands of geographic miles, the couple were inspired to settle in Sarasota because of the weather, the music, art & culture. “Sarasota has helped to inspire me and connect with my spiritual side. When one is in a warm climate, we stay active and don’t shut down in the cold winter months,” citing the long, cold winters in New York.
A true “60’s guy” who loved everything about that era, Venti says he wants to continue living his dream here in our inspiring, ever evolving community.
“Sarasota Dreaming, that’s me.'' For Art Venti, life has truly come full circle.
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