In Our Backyard: At the Oldest Art Gallery in Cleveland, a Celebration of Talent from Right Here in Northeast Ohio

Located across Euclid Avenue from Playhouse Square, Bonfoey Gallery is the only local art gallery older than the Cleveland Museum of Art. Last year, the gallery celebrated its 120th anniversary, which is just as impressive as it sounds in a city steeped deeply in the arts.

Opening this Friday, Oct. 24, its latest exhibition, The New Real, features three Northeast Ohio-based artists — Tony Mastromatteo, Frank Oriti and Michael Zigmond — examining the current state of realistic painting. Over the 120-year history of Bonfoey, the "landscape" of fine art painting has been turned upside down and inside out and there's much to be said about that transition.

"The Bonfoey Gallery selected these artists for our fall exhibition to highlight the strong, contemporary realistic painting in our area," says gallery director Marcia Hall. "All three artists have enjoyed national recognition for their work and have had solo shows and gallery representation in Boston, New York and Los Angeles. We saw this as an opportunity to showcase the high quality body of work that was created in our own backyard.

"This show is further confirmation of the professional art training that is available in the region through various colleges, Bowling Green State University in particular. Frank Oriti and Michael Zigmond are both graduates of the painting department," says Hall. "The exhibition also explores the movement of contemporary realism today through the various subject matters employed by the artists including portraits, children's toys and even Superman. This is a unique opportunity to see work created by three of the strongest realistic painters working in the country."

Oriti received his BFA from Bowling Green and his MFA from Ohio University. He is a recipient of the Cleveland Arts Prize and his portraits were recently exhibited at MOCA Jacksonville's Get Real. Oriti maintains a studio on the third floor of 78th Street Studios. However, due to his success, this show will be a rare chance to view a collection of his work in his hometown. Further, these new works represent an introspective evolution in Oriti's own thought process.

"When I started these paintings I was really moved by this phenomenon of returning back home and dealing with what it meant to be a 24-year-old male college graduate with no plan and not many options," explains Oriti. "And I really wanted that to show through the work. While I've been making these paintings for about five years now, plenty of things have changed. I'm now 31 and have been painting full time for a year and half. I've also moved out of the suburbs and closer to the city. The people I surround myself with who often show up in my paintings have also found their way or made many strides in a direction towards something better — be it a new job or getting married and starting a family. The people who are returning back to Cleveland now are doing so because they want to - not because they have no money and no options like our younger selves.

Zigmond studied painting and drawing at Bowling Green State University. After graduating in 1984, he moved to Boston for a number of years. Over the past 30 years, Zigmond has created dynamic oil paintings on linen. The skill is masterful, but his subject matter has become just as much a part of his mature work.

"I'm often told that my work looks photographic, though my aim has never been to make photorealistic paintings," explains Zigmond. "My work is the product of a combination of direct observation, photo-reference, memory and imagination. What truly fascinates me is light. The inherent qualities of oil paint are perfectly suited to its reproduction. If my work tends toward a high degree of realism, it's merely a byproduct of trying to literally shed light on something."

Mastromatteo is a graduate of Princeton University (BA, Art History) and Water Street Atelier at the Grand Central Academy of Art in Brooklyn, NY. His work is typically characterized by a trompe l'oeil (trick of the eye) with oil paintings that portray items like medicine and candy.

The opening reception is free and open to the public on Friday Oct. 24 from 5 to 9 p.m. Local artist, professor and writer Dan Tranberg will moderate a panel discussion with the artists at the gallery on Saturday, Nov. 8, at 1 p.m. on the topic of "Contemporary Realism Today." The New Real will be on view at Bonfoey (1710 Euclid Ave.) through Saturday, Nov. 29.

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