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Artist Steve Pennisi uses 'both sides of the paint' to expand artistic palette

By painting on cellophane, artist Steve Pennisi is able to use both sides of the paint he is applying.
By painting on cellophane, artist Steve Pennisi is able to use both sides of the paint he is applying.
Courtesy of Steve Pennisi

Florida artist Steve Pennisi is one of some two dozen artists who have work on exhibit in Florida Contemporary at the Baker Museum of Art. Showcasing Florida artists whose work addresses a vast range of thematic perspectives, the multi-media exhibition provides an intriguing look at the innovative images, subject matter, techniques and mediums that exemplify art being created throughout Florida today.

Pennisi developed his unique technique out of a desire to “own something” as an artist. “In my earlier work, what frustrated me was that I knew after awhile where the painting would end up and the rest of the process was just a matter of moving to the inevitable conclusion," Steve reveals. "I wanted to find a way for myself and the viewer to stay open and be continually surprised and engaged.”

Then one day, he noticed that a corner of dry paint on his disposable waxed paper palette had peeled up. Underneath, Steve found just what he'd been searching for.

Through trial and error, Pennisi discovered that he could paint on clear cellophane, and when he glued it to the canvas the film would peel off, leaving only the paint. His years as a commercial printer made this printing approach second nature, and he further found that when he liked what is happening on the visible surface, he could lay a piece of clear film on the wet paint and capture that image too.

The ability to use “both sides of the paint” offers Pennisi a freedom and expanded palette that keeps pushing his artistic possibilities everyday. The paint vacillates between Jackson Pollock-like splashes and spatters to pure photographic Ansel Adams-like halftone effects. By stretching the boundaries of artistic conventions such as illusionistic depth, distinct figure and ground, Pennisi is able to bend the paint the way a musician bends a note.

"The composition is original and brave ... mysterious, aesthetically," states fellow Florida Contemporary exhibitor Veron Ennis, who is also a curator and art critic.

“There’s a dynamic tension between illusionary power and the sheer physicality of the paint," Pennisi notes. "Before I always knew where a painting would end up; now I must trust, push and cajole to end up with a more poetic approximation.”

Pennisi has upcoming exhibitions at both the Alliance for the Arts and the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center. For more information, please telephone Steve Pennisi at 207-318-3080, email or visit

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