Entering the ‘Shadow Galaxy’

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First Posted: 3/18/2014

It’s a lone tree swaying next to a colorful pond.

It’s a glimpse into the ocean and the creatures of the depths.

It’s a mountainous terrain that ends in a body of water, with a sun and seemingly several moons hanging above it.

Quite simply, it’s enamel spray paint, an artistic medium Tom Sorresso excels at and takes to the next level, as evident in the paintings currently being shown at his exhibit “Shadow Galaxy” at the Widmann Art Gallery at King’s College. On March 21, patrons can meet Sorresso at a “Meet the Artist” reception from 6 to 8 p.m.

The 24-year-old Hazleton resident has been a “space painter,” as his trade is known, going on 13 years now. It all began during a summer visit to see his father sing on the Seaside Heights, N.J. boardwalk.

“He said to me, ‘You’ve got to see this guy, see what he does,’” Sorresso said of his first encounter with Cosmo Kid, a spray paint artist who did live performances. Sorresso was immediately taken with Cosmo and wasted no time in beginning his own journey in working with spray paint. He asked his mother for a $100 worth of spray paint in different colors that summer.

“She had a lot of questions for me,” he said with a laugh.

The young artist spent all the time he could painting outside until the temperatures dropped. He thought he was doing well until he visited Cosmo the next year and was pulled up on stage.

“I did a very, very horrible show,” Sorresso said. “But for as bad as it was, I continued to paint, and I think he respected me for that. Then I just started showing up every day and he started teaching me.”

Spray paint artists work on any non-porous surface, though the main canvas is poster board because it’s “easy to apply and take paint back off” it, according to Sorresso. He said, however, he can do anything from skate and surfboards to walls, ceilings, and cars.

“Spray paint is very organic,” he said of the medium he uses to create. “It comes out like water. When you pick up whatever you put it on, it drips; it’ll take the shape of anything. It’s also a lot less about putting it on than it is taking it off.”

Sorresso said he applies layers of different colors and uses various tools and methods to pull and shape the layers.

“I might use something like paper, which has a natural grain. Crinkle it up a bit, create texture.”

Spray paint artists employ the use of many tools, such as palette knives, sponges, paper towels, and circular objects like bowls, lids, and buckets, to name a few.

Sorresso said a good quality studio piece takes a half hour to 45 minutes, a feat considering most spray paints dry in 12 minutes, though it depends on the humidity of the room. However, Sorresso can keep the paint wet by hitting it with some clear paint.

“I tend to stay away from things that are gimmicky,” Sorresso said of the pieces he produces. “I like to think of my work as… I’m doing it as a world without people, or a world in which a great change has occurred. There’s a feeling of vast landscapes that are barren of any signs of life outside of what you see.”

Sorresso took the stage name Shadow and still does live performances, though his goal now is to get his work into galleries. The way he views what he does differs from many other artists, who solely churn pieces out quickly during live performances.

“I’m not so concerned with speed,” Sorresso said. “I like to take my time with each piece that I do. Some artists produce only 20 to 30 pieces, hundreds of times; it’s like mass-producing artwork. Some of my pieces come out similar, but I can honestly say I don’t have any of the same exact pieces floating around out there.”

Sorresso called space painting “very competitive,” considering it’s not just a form of art, but at times a form of entertainment. The number of painters in the field has also grown.

“There are more and more every year,” he said. “When I started, no one knew what it was, which was great because people were really surprised when they saw what I did. And now, there are kids popping up everywhere that are doing it. That’s OK, though, because I just look at their work and tell myself that now I need to step my game up, and I can also learn from them because they might be bringing a new style and technique.”