Frank Oriti knows the hardscrabble crowd. Lined faces, puffy eyes, tattoo sleeves and searing yet cloaked gazes that seem to say ‘Things haven’t been that great. Life may not turn around.’ Still, all may not be lost for those that fall beneath Oriti’s artistic gaze.

The portraits Oriti’s makes of family members, friends and people from his Ohio neighborhoods firmly portrays each person as he or she stands. Oriti's portraits freezes each person in their present-day set in front of an obscured past with a future where deterioration is certain.

Each of Oriti's subjects is purposely "aged” to project them into the future and to visually accentuate the hardships each has borne, said Oriti. The point is not to romanticize a blue-collar life, the middle class from which he comes from, the difficulty of a Hometown return born of necessity, or a rough re-entry into civilian life from the military. Yet, all of these circumstances and more feature prominently for his subjects.

"'You can't go home again' wrote Thomas Wolfe," said Oriti. "It's true. Even if you do, it's not the same place that you left. Things change. People change. The people in these portraits are living this."

Still, Oriti's portraits are not depressing or hopeless. The artist imparts each person with a quiet dignity and beauty. Oriti hopes viewers feel connection and reflection to their own life and to the journey we all take: a journey where every part of life isn’t joyful or easy and times when difficult circumstances are borne, and hopefully, overcome.

The portraits are Oriti's way of honoring each person and the way their live is unfolding, he said. The paintings are labored over and the backgrounds coaxed into expressive fields of white and gray to symbolize the past. The person's prior life is the force that created the person and whose remnants are like a lingering dream that can barely be remembered.

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"Jimmy" by Frank Oriti. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches. Courtesy RJD Gallery.

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"Stead Fast" by Frank Oriti. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches. Courtesy RJD Gallery.

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The relationship between the person and experiences born from individual decisions is accentuated through Oriti’s artistic choices. The subjects are rendered in realistic detail that often emphasize the eyes and a facial expression teeming with subtle emotion.

People in his paintings are willing participants, said Oriti. They agree to pose and choose the clothes they wish to wear. The random similarity in their choice of dress makes the works contemporary and a time piece for life lived right now, he said.

“People kept showing up in t-shirts and sweatshirts,” said Oriti. “I didn’t ask anyone to dress a certain way. I’m not making a statement and it’s not a uniform of any kind. Some people in the portraits are professionals and don’t wear t-shirts or sweatshirts for their daily life but that’s what they choose to wear for their portrait.”

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"Without" by Frank Oriti. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 15 x 15 inches. Courtesy RJD Gallery.

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Most of the portraits are male. Their gender is more a function of circumstance than of artistic statement. Since focusing his paintings to portraits, Oriti began this path by asking those he knew well from childhood or from college. The choices also served to enhance the first body of work the young painter has embarked upon: a series of paintings that examines the culture of blue-collar and middle class individuals who return to the hometowns and neighborhoods they sought to escape.

“Each portrait reveals the connect and disconnect between suburban landscapes and their residents,” said Oriti. “They also seem to present questions like ‘What has my life become?’ and ‘What will everyone think of me now?’

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"Summer Help" by  Frank Oriti. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches. Featured in "Modern Painters," July.

"Summer Help" by Frank Oriti. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches. Courtesy RJD Gallery.

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For his first series, the backgrounds revealed ghosts of cookie-cutter houses to impart faded memories and ideals held by the person portrayed, said Oriti. What remained is the realization that the homecoming may be permanent and another opportunity to begin again elsewhere may not materialize.

The series was responsible for Oriti winning the 2013 Cleveland Arts Prize in the Emerging Artist category. Oriti had recently received his MFA in painting from Ohio University and had only been painting full-time for three months when he received the Cleveland Arts Prize. The award came with a $10,000 purse allowing Oriti to continue painting without worry, he said. On the heels of his award, his solo show at RJD Gallery in Sag Harbor opened on July 27. The show remains on view until Aug. 22.

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"The Other Side" by Frank Oriti. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 inches. Courtesy RJD Gallery.

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The exhibition contains some of the paintings from the original series plus works made as Oriti begins to move away from a specific set of experiences to the broader idea of that everyone has a past that informs the present and impacts their future.

While the portraits in his first series retain visual vestiges of Cleveland-area neighborhoods, the newer works are backgrounds of pure abstraction where implied memories swirl obscured. The works continue to be rendered using acrylic on oil with multiple layers of glazes. People are flush with life, realistically painted, and have faces marked by experiences and aged beyond their present. These works also include a field of expressive white and grays painted to conjure a meaningful visual composition, said Oriti.

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"Heavy Fab" by Frank Oriti. oil and acrylic on canvas, 39 x 25 inches. Courtesy RJD Gallery.

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The works are rendered with acrylic on oil. Manipulating the paint and explore the materials to achieve the finished compositions are important to the young painter. His portraits may contain some reference to the historic military paintings he loves and the "old school tradition" of paintings.

It was during his MFA program that this realization crystalized and Oriti set his focus on making portraits that are contemporary yet refer to a respected and established tradition of portraiture--especially military portraits and the level of detail used to capture the person and the uniform that represented their branch of service.

“I've always been attracted to portraits, " he said. "I love these paintings first, those in an Old School tradition of Military Portraits....It's exciting to me."

The connection between Oriti's portraits and the historic Military ones may only be a loose one. For now, Oriti is content to follow his painting muse wherever it leads while continuing his commitment to creating portraits that are layered with paint, detail and plenty of care from the artist.

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Painting by Frank Oriti. Courtesy RJD Gallery.

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Painting by Frank Oriti. Courtesy RJD Gallery.

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BASIC FACTS: "Frank Oriti" remains on view through Aug. 22, 2013 at RJD Gallery. The gallery is located at 90 Main Street, Sag Harbor, NY 11963. www.rjdgallery.com 

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© 2013 Hamptons Art Hub LLC. All rights reserved.

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