Misguided Adorations, repurposes vacant Italian street shrine alcoves as slyly subversive altars to consumer culture and maps of their locations with Florentine marbling. Created during her sabbatical in Florence, Italy this photographic series documents Sangastiano’s luminous art-installations created from low cost consumer goods, including soft drink cans transformed with pin-hole tracings and glow-sticks.
From Coney Island, to local carnivals, and the boardwalks along the Jersey Shore, these leisure locations capture the prominent pasttimes and performative traditions of Americana. The seaside and boardwalk games of the Jersey shore were an integral part of her youth and her interest in sideshow began with Coney Island when she painted her first sideshow banners twenty years ago. These paintings capture amusement and performative traditions that struggle to survive as leisure interests shift with technological advances and natural disasters.
“Mommy, Mommy, I want to shoot the terrorist,” squealed an excited young boy, as if that statement uttered with glee, held the same weight as ordering ice cream. Without fully understanding the true weight and meaning of his statement, the boy ran across the boardwalk perpendicular to us, looking for an empty trigger to wrap his tiny finger around, while my soon-to-be-deployed fiancé and I stopped and stared.
Is this a harmless way to let off some steam post 9-11 in a deeply wounded area?
Can I find similar carnival stands elsewhere in NJ, NY, the tri-state area, east coast, west coast?
The more I thought about this, the more questions that were raised. A few months later, post-deployment, this image haunted me and hence the motivation to paint the image as documentation.
Regardless of your position about the war, war dehumanizes on both sides. This dehumanization is a necessary survival skill when confronted with life or death. In the painting, the dehumanization is symbolized by the robot-like dangling legs and feet and the paint smeared faces on the targets.
The size of the painting allows the viewer to step away from the scene at hand, mimicking my original position on the boardwalk. This distance allows the viewer to step away from the situation and to simultaneously witness the inescapable incongruence of the scene. The man sitting next to the ATM, which was added during the painting process, is the only figure to show some emotion to contrast with the indifferent facial expressions among the group.
When I revisited the scene to snap a few more photos, the name of the stand changed to “Shoot The Guido.” Society, even without war, can also dehumanize by reducing individuals or groups to crude stereotypes and labels.
A hand grenade lands inside an American Military HMMVW (humvee) turret, explodes along with all of the ammunition inside and the ensuing fire engulfs the entire vehicle, only leaving in its aftermath the scattered pieces of molten metal and a solider without one of his hands. Surrounding rocks fuse into the molten metal creating a new form that is entirely unlike the original armored vehicle or the wholly intact human body. Silverpoint, as a drawing medium, and the destructive event are both inerasable. As the series progresses, a sense of whimsy emerges from the new forms as unexpected imaginary figures appear, again transforming the chunk of metal, rock and hand.
Circo Americano and Orfei Circo are just two of the most well-known and long running family-owned circuses in Italy. I saw several of their shows in different cities and went behind the scenes to watch them practice. Quick sketches and photographs documented the fast movements of the performers and animals. The shifting light and shadows, often forming geometric shapes, both reveal and conceals.
Painted letters and hand-cut vinyl letters on panel honor the typographical geneaology of graphic design with tightly cropped, iconic signage of Coney Island and carnivals.
In 2007, Sangastiano took her first old master painting workshop in the quintessential Renaissance capital of Florence, Italy at the Angel Academy of Art. After several summers of painting workshops, she spent one year living in Italy and attending the Angel Academy full-time during her sabbatical to learn the drawing methods of the masters. This fundamental drawing program is based on 19th century French ateliers coupled with a contemporary twist on classical realist painting.
These collaged maps of Florence, Italy rely on randomness and invention to create new paths, textural patterns, repeated typography, and the emergence of imaginary creatures tied to the shapes seen while working on my classical drawings at the academy.
These intimate watercolors depict the everyday patterns, objects, and textures connected to the locations where I lived in Italy. Patterns in Italy (Series 1-6) was created in 2008 and the Spanocchia Castle (Series 1-12) in 2013 at the start of my sabbatical.
Toni-Lee painted my first sideshow banner in 1996 for Coney Island's Sideshows By The Seashore and her senior honors undergrad thesis was based on the history and painting methods of the sideshow banner. This early form of advertising continues to be the standard form for sideshows and performers today. From historical documentation to social commentary, these images depict museum commissions, private commissions, and related printed poster design using the aesthetics of sideshow. For the complete selection of her sideshow banners, please visit her other website: sideshowbanners.com
Sangastiano's early oil paintings, drawings, and mixed media studies of sideshow, Coney Island, patterns, and portraits
Toni-Lee Sangastiano is a contemporary painter whose work examines the carnivalesque. Her interest in this theme began as a child on the boardwalks of the Jersey shore, later fostered at Fairleigh Dickinson University by Professor Marie Roberts and Artistic Director Dick Zigun of Coney Island's Sideshows by the Seashore. Toni-Lee is now one of the leading sideshow banner painters in the United States.
Her paintings, mixed media and installations include exhibitions at the Yale School of Art, Robert Hull Fleming Museum, Shelburne Museum and Tate Modern, London.
Toni-Lee earned an MFA in studio art at Montclair State University and lived in Vermont for fifteen years, where she became a Professor of Graphic Design. She also studied classical drawing and painting at the Angel Academy of Art in Florence, Italy with Michael John Angel and Martinho Correria, and she most recently earned a Ph.D. in Visual Arts: Philosophy, Aesthetics and Art Theory, from the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts.
She currently lives in Virginia with her spouse and is a Digital Media Specialist and Assistant Professor of the Practice at Georgetown University.
“Among the deftest painters is Toni-Lee Sangastiano… .” Mark Jenkins, Washington Post