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After hiatus, artist shows new paintings at The State Theatre

by on February 22, 2018 9:12 AM

STATE COLLEGE — “Beauty in Darkness” is what artist Ben Saggese calls his latest series of paintings, which feature bright, colorful scenes painted on a sharply contrasting black backgrounds.

“It represents anything — work, struggle, flowers, nature — that can bring beauty into the darkness that is going on in the world today,” Saggese said.

Some works from this series, as well as other new paintings by Saggese, currently can be seen in an exhibit hanging in the lobby of The State Theatre in State College.

Saggese knows a little bit about beauty emerging from darkness. A lifelong painter, the 60-year-old was forced into a two-year hiatus when his struggles with COPD made it impossible for him to create his art.

“I was dying every day,” he said. “But one day I was watching ‘Ellen,’ and an actor was on talking about doing his first movie in awhile, and he said, ‘I took a three-year hiatus.’ And instantly, it clicked: ‘I’m not done, I just had a hiatus for two years!’ And I jumped out of bed and started painting.”

That was on July 26, 2017, he said, and he’s painted 265 paintings since then.

“As long as I am sitting still, I am good. So I get up in the morning and start painting at 6:30, and I don’t move for the whole day. Sometimes I paint from 6:30 to 2, sometimes until 5,” Saggese said. “I don’t leave my house. I don’t usually go out in public because my lung doctor advised against it.”

Saggese grew up in Munson, and has been painting for as long as he can remember. He exhibited at his first professional show at the age of 15, where he was awarded first place. He went on to study at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, where he said he did not exactly fit in.

“Everything they did was commercial art, no painting. After two weeks there, I asked, 'When do we start painting?’ and the class laughed at me,” he said.

He decided to stick it out there because he was told commercial art was where the money was. His first job out of school was working for an animation studio, painting clouds for Warner Brothers’ Road Runner cartoons.

Saggese said, “All I did was paint a cloud for two weeks. I said, ‘This is not for me.’ And I quit.”

So he returned to Munson, where he now lives with Minerva, his wife of 33 years, in an old Methodist church that they converted into living space and an art gallery. Many of his paintings have a religious theme.

Saggese taught at the Clearfield Arts Studio Theatre and at his gallery for 19 years. He has also taught art to inmates at the State Correctional Institution in Houtzdale. He has won more than 150 awards and has exhibited in galleries across the country and in Mexico, where he met his wife. He said he is especially grateful to have a loyal following of local collectors who have kept him going over the years.

But, he said, “Sales are not my goal. I love to share the work. That’s why I do it.”

Saggese’s exhibit at The State Theatre can be seen through Wednesday, Feb. 28. He also has upcoming exhibits planned at Mount Nittany Medical Center, Bellefonte Art Museum and The Joseph and Elizabeth Shaw Library in Clearfield.


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