PHABRIK Magazine

Art from the Heart

By Tracey Ellis

September 2014

 

Hidden away in a subtle corner of South Florida lives an artist who wears his heart on his sleeve. So, it is only fitting that he is known for his creative artwork featuring hearts. Meet Salvatore Principe: an artist extraordinaire who is a creator, sculptor and painter, as well as an entrepreneur, wine label designer, fashion designer, home décor designer—and much more.

 

Abstract, modern designs of the ever-lasting symbol of love are dotted around Salvatore’s studio in every colour, shade and hue. How many hearts can one man paint? The answer is infinite when each one is created with sentiment and spirit, each stemming from the inner depths of the artist’s personal journey of heart-rending as well as heart breaking experiences.

Salvatore’s Signature Heart Collection began as a tribute to his mother, whom he lost to cancer. “She had such a big heart, and was my biggest support system. I wanted her to live on through my art, through my heart,” he described.
His dream to “paint the world with love” began with hearts painted freehand on canvas in natural, muted tones. Soon, he started experimenting with colours and shades, and backgrounds and textures, giving each heart its own distinct style and impression.

Though each heart Salvatore paints is different—some with a thin outline and bold colours, others that are more curvaceous and abstract, washed down with watery, pastel hues, and still others with heart-warming, simple sentiments, such as ‘Live Through Love’—they are all imbued with the same notion: that we all have a heart, and each is shown in unique ways.

Salvatore’s Heart Collection was an instant success, attracting buyers across the world, including celebrities and art collectors. At auctions, his original pieces have accumulated into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. More than just a beautiful piece of art, these “heartworks” touched many people on a deeper level. This inspires Salvatore to spread his ideals of love and positive energy in everything he does.

Salvatore’s first favourite artist was Robert Rauschenburg, the American painter known for working with non-traditional materials who helped promote the pop art movement. Other artists whose influences trickled into Salvatore’s work include Jasper Johns, de Kooning, and Franz Klein.

Even before he began his trademark Heart Collection, these artists helped shape Salvatore’s inclination to create abstracts and three-dimensional art. “I get overwhelmed if I’m in a corner with few materials. I need to have a whole play land of them: papers, metals, wood, wire, rope, small objects, anything. I built a sculpture table where there is a constant flow of random objects I’ve collected to use in my art,” explained Salvatore on his ‘anything goes’ attitude with artistic materials.

Without any formal training, Salvatore’s art career began untraditionally in the dark recesses of iconic Studio 54 in New York City, when he was only 19. Working around the rich and famous, he mingled with some of the most creative icons of our time, artists including Mick Jagger, Calvin Klein, Valentino Garavani, and Andy Warhol.

Salvatore described those days as a “party in an adult candy store.” Being around famous people who had no limitations made him realise that art is also limitless. Everything he saw in the club was art in some form: pliable and interesting, all with a potential to be transformed into something creative and expressive.

Soon, his visionary traits and ambition led him to a position of a light technician at the club, allowing him to tap into his creative energies with the aid of illumination. “Lighting up the dance floor in spectacular ways fills up the soul,” he said. Watching people dance and move with the music and light every night inspired him to create illuminated light sculptures on the dance floor by experimenting with filter gels and projectors. “Lighting is everything,” he explained, “You can illuminate anything with light and bring it to life. Lighting equals life.” This luminary inspiration has stayed with him today in his studio loft, an artist’s haven of painted canvases, sculptures, and eclectic furniture, all magically lit up to create a groovy lounge vibe, like somewhere you would find in the trendy New York or Paris, but very discreet and by invitation only.

Each month, Salvatore hosts a social gathering in his loft for friends and clients to come view his latest work while enjoying wine and canapés. He loves engaging with people, interacting with them in a relaxed atmosphere, and often paints or creates art during his socializing. Through these events, Salvatore combines his latest venture, wine, with his art in the most appealing way.

“Wine is an art form,” he remarked, “it activates imagination, spurs conversation, and brings people together.” Always the entrepreneur, he explained that he decided to try printing out some of his artwork on labels and attaching them to wine bottles just to see people’s reactions.

It worked. Prestige Wine Group wanted his art and name attached to their wine imported from California, Italy, New Zealand, and Argentina. They created a special edition wine collection sold in various supermarkets across the United States that display Salvatore’s Heart Collection on the labels, making the bottles themselves works of art.
It has been an impressive artistic evolution for someone who initially struggled to make a start in New York City. Nightclub life eventually took its toll on Salvatore, and he longed for a change to something more fulfilling. He wanted to contribute positively to the world, and to do this, he felt he had to reinvent himself. “I had this overwhelming need to create,” he described, “to escape this party life that was bringing me down.”

One sleepless night, Salvatore decided it was the time to make a change. “I lay in a very still place and asked for help and guidance. Whatever it is I choose, I want to love it. I want to be an artist,” he recounted.

In that moment, Salvatore felt some anxiety because he didn’t know what kind of artist he wanted to be. He remembered, “A voice inside told me to relax; it will come. Everything in front of your eyes that you can see is material you can create with, there is no limitation. I opened an imaginary box in my mind, using anything I could see to create. That was thirty years ago, since then I have been creating nonstop.”

Salvatore took to the city streets in New York for inspiration and raw materials, collecting items from the trash and transforming them into artistic sculptures. Using paints and glosses, he turned cardboard into abstract metallic-like sculptures that reflected the grit of the city fused with its cosmopolitan beauty. This creative recycling led him on the path to artistic success.

New York’s streets and buses became his mobile gallery. He took large and bulky sculptures on the bus with him that caused people to take notice and interest. “I’d have a six foot sculpture next to me on the bus and people would talk to me. I’d talk back to them as if I was delivering it somewhere. I would look for office buildings and various places where I thought I could display my art,” he related.

This clever form of subtle self-promotion led him to Bergdorf Goodman, Manhattan’s most prominent department store, to present a proposal to dress their windows. He won a three week contract, which propelled his career to other department stores and led to exhibits with shops such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Tiffany Jewellers.

“You have to make your own trail if your art can’t be in a great gallery to sell. You need to know how to sell it. Learning a little bit about business enabled me to be more enterprising,” he observed.

Salvatore’s self-made trail led to his aunt’s in South Florida, a place to reflect after his mother’s death in the early nineties. “I saw there was an opportunity to do what I do in more space,” Salvadore recalled, “It was easier and cheaper there. The recession was at its height in New York, I had just lost my mom, what was I going to do?”

Trading the harsh winters of New York for Florida sunshine, Salvatore fulfilled his lifelong dream and opened his own gallery, the Heart of Delray, in the trendy beach town south of West Palm Beach. Not only an art gallery, the Heart of Delray was also his studio and later, a local hangout for the creative and artsy crowd that lived there.

“I created a gallery that brought people together. I would lure people in with music, food and wine, giving them an experience of the artist first hand,” Salvatore described. Unlike the quiet, stuffy galleries in big cities, his was an open, welcoming venue for people to browse, drink wine, socialize, and, most uniquely, meet the artist himself and watch him at work.

The Heart of Delray contributed to the launch of the creative arts district in Delray with its progressive approach. After nine years, Salvatore moved his gallery to the Pineapple District, where his Signature Hearts Collection became a symbol of the town. He continued there for three years before moving closer to Boca Raton.

Today, his studio is far more understated. Off the beaten path with no large signage out front, it would be difficult to surmise that the artist’s studio existed in the industrial area of town, nestled between Boca Raton and Delray. However, Salvatore prefers it that way.

As an established artist with a revered, celebrity clientele, his work is sold by reputation and word of mouth. His art is exhibited in window displays of renowned department stores across Florida, such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales.

Further, Salvatore has merged fashion with art to create his own clothing line, Heartfelt. Using models as his canvas, it is creative venture in which his art is printed directly onto clothing, resulting in chic, wearable and fashionable pieces. A collaboration with Katherine Kin of Marc Jacobs, the Heartfelt clothing line is a colourful mix of eighties funk and retro pieces such as strapless dresses, crop tops and miniskirts.

Salvatore’s next step is uncertain, but flooded with potential collaborations and endless visionary ideas. He has his eyes on textile designs next. He mused, “I see a furniture line, more fashion, candles, perfume, stationary, bedding, home —the options are endless to combine with my art.”

As an artist who is never static and an opportunist who has a constant desire to keep reinventing himself, Salvatore’s not likely to stay still for long. But wherever his path leads next, hearts are sure to follow.


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