Galleries : Rocco Vitelle: Right Time, Right Place
Oak Bluffs artist Rocco Vitelle is ready to put rumors to rest and answer the question plaguing many of his fans: Who is the ragdoll, that small carefully rendered little figure that, although tucked away, routinely appears in his ornate illustrations?
"The ragdoll is me," he confesses. "It all started about 10 years ago when I was doing a piece, and just couldn't get it finished. After hours and hours of pining over this thing, I was exhausted. In my delirium, I felt like a ragdoll, so that's what I drew to finish the piece and it worked. Ever since then, I've been adding this little self-portrayal to all of my work. It's a way of saying that art owns me."
A child-like curiosity for looking at the world translates to all of his paintings, its inspiration evident in Mr. Vitelle's complex cartoon-like designs and colorful pantones created in detail, mostly with felt-tip markers, colored pencils, and pen and ink. "I was pretty much raised on Walt Disney, Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry," he says.
Photos by M.C. Wallo
For the past nine years, Mr. Vitelle has been creating and displaying his illustrations all around the restaurants and shops on Martha's Vineyard. "I came here on vacation for the first time back in the summer of 1999, and something about the vibe of this Island just sucked me in," he says. "I had to live here, so I went back to New Jersey, quit my job, packed my stuff and was back on Martha's Vineyard within 10 days."
Mocha Mott's in Vineyard Haven was the first place to take note of Mr. Vitelle's imaginative style in May 2000. The coffee shop continues to feature his work in its monthly rotation of art showcased on its walls.
"Ben deForest from Balance saw my stuff there and asked if I would hang some of my work in the restaurant," Mr. Vitelle says. His work can also be seen at PJ's Deli in Edgartown, the Sand Bar and at Jabas Gallery in Oak Bluffs, where he works and sells originals and prints of his artwork.
"I would love to have my work shown in a gallery in New York or Boston, but I do have to say, that living here on Martha's Vineyard, you have this incredible contrast in your day-to-day routine, based on what time of year it is," Mr. Vitelle says. "If I lived anywhere else in the world, I would not have the convenience of being able to dedicate so much time to artwork. I look forward to the winters here."
While Mr. Vitelle favors the picturesque and organic environment of the Vineyard, size restraints of his large format paper typically keep the 35-year-old artist in the small studio inside his Oak Bluffs home. "But if I want to sit and sketch some ideas on a pad, I'll go out to that giant tree in West Tisbury, across from where Humphreys used to be," he says. "It's such a great spot - I actually got the idea for a children's book there."
Mr. Vitelle has just started working on a new piece, exploring borders meant to resemble stonework from the Baroque period. He also hopes to find the time this winter to write and illustrate a children's book.
"I love the art I've seen on this Island, and feel like this is such a great place for artists, musicians, and poets alike to be inspired," Mr. Vitelle says, citing friends and fellow artists such as Virginia Clark, Margot Datz and Richard Lee as examples. "The only inconvenience I struggle with is the limitation of art supplies available, but that's easily remedied by ordering online."
For Mr. Vitelle, Martha's Vineyard's quiet winters are highly anticipated. Taking a cue from his childhood favorite, Alice in Wonderland, Mr. Vitelle plans to hole up in his studio and get to work. "I'll never forget seeing that movie," he says. "It made me realize that anything is possible. I can create my own little world if I want. That feeling is so liberating to me."
Andrea Kasprzak is a regular contributor to The Martha's Vineyard Times.