Ellen Piccolo: 'Working The Waterfront' And Beyond
"It brings so much into your life," says Rockaway resident and veteran artist Ellen Piccolo, when discussing the importance of art. And she wholeheartedly believes that statement, diligently honing her craft for many years. A 22-year veteran of the New York City Public School system as a Park Slope elementary school art teacher, Piccolo spends her free time working on artistic projects. Recently she found beauty in the hardworking tugboats of New York harbors; the oil on wood renderings of the boats instilled with the beauty of the ever-changing waterscapes.
Piccolo's collection, "Working The Waterfront," debuted at the Prince Street Gallery in SoHo on Halloween, with an opening reception that was held on November 2. The commanding presence of the sturdy tugboats is reflected in various harbor scenes. She noted that she's always been fond of boats, particularly tugboats. Many of these recent paintings are smaller scenes, a quick sketch in the life of a tugboat. Others are large, four by four foot works that stretch out across a wall, allowing the viewer's eye to wander across the muted hues of gray, blue and maroon. Some paintings take a few days or months to finish; a larger work can take upwards of two years to complete, which explains the average of three years of development for Piccolo's collections.
The painting process is solely Piccolo's own. Walking along the waterfronts and down to the docks, she spent months snapping pictures of tugboats in action. The photographs are then tacked up by her easel, and she works from them to gain inspiration. Sometimes she changes the background or the colors to fit her vision.
Piccolo would also visit lumberyards and choose wood for her larger works, treating them at home with paint primer. When she works with canvas, she stretches and fits it, allowing the paint to blend on the smooth surface. Working primarily in oil paints, Piccolo says she likes the feeling of the oils sliding along canvas and wood, capturing vibrancy and richness in color.
Piccolo has always felt a connection with the Rockaway peninsula. Growing up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, Piccolo would visit Rockaway's beaches with her family and bike over the Marine Parkway/Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge to sketch and paint. Later in life, she would drive her car armed with large canvases to the secluded beaches of Ft. Tilden, where a ranger gave her permission to park in the restricted site and paint, using the side of her car as an easel. Eventually Piccolo moved to the Rockaways on a quiet Belle Harbor street, becoming a full-fledged member of a community she has loved and utilized for so long.
Rockaway is a constant source of artistic inspiration for Piccolo. She found beauty in the buildings of Ft. Tilden. Through her paint strokes, Piccolo brought the abandoned barracks to life. "It's like a different place that transcends time," she says of the quiet desertion of the fort grounds. The stark buildings are painted in shades of wheat and sunbaked white, offset with lush, overgrown shrubbery.
Piccolo's tidy basement studio also reflects another recent passion: sewing. A back wall of top-to-bottom shelves house neatly-stacked fabrics in a full color spectrum. Piccolo taught herself to sew after being inspired by a neighbor's quilting hobby. Piccolo enjoys working with the fabrics, piecing the material together to create scenes that could be on a canvas. An example of one of her sewing endeavors, a tugboat chugging along quilted waters, hangs on the wall of her workspace. It was an entry in last year's Rockaway Artists Alliance exhibit, "Sewn and Thrown," that highlighted the artistic uses of fabric and other materials.
Piccolo not only paints for herself, but shares her passion and skill in a classroom setting, nurturing future generations of potential artists. And Piccolo will continue to enjoy her work as an artist, always looking to what will inspire her next. Whether it's quilting, Rockaway landscapes or scrappy tugboats, Piccolo is always discovering creative avenues. She's thinking about taking another trip to Italy, another source of artistic inspiration, but perhaps she might find inspiration right in her own backyard.
Piccolo's collection "Working The Waterfront" will be on display through November 25, 2006. The Prince Street Gallery is located on the fourth floor of 530 West 25 Street in Manhattan, with gallery hours from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. For more information, visit the gallery's website at www.princestreetgallery.com or Piccolo's website at www.EllenPiccolo.com.