Her art comes from within

Tuesday, March 22, 2016 11:49AM

She can hear it beating.

Micella Statuto presses the stethoscope to her chest and listens. She listens to her heart, beating, inside of her. She listens as it thumps, that life-giving organ, the same one that nearly killed her when she was born.

She’s a Catholic girl with roots in Sicily, and her faith and heritage shine through as clearly in her artwork as they do in the tattoo of Jesus on the cross that adorns her olive-skinned arm, peeking out from her shirtsleeve as she gestures to make a point. Her faith’s been tested — a few times, in fact — but she always seems to return to the fold.

You’ll find a crucifix or two in “Desperation,” one of the paintings she’ll exhibit at the Jaffrey Civic Center starting Friday night. In fact, you’ll find three, lining the horizon of a vast blue ocean, a Golgotha in the afternoon sun. A skeleton — still, smooth face somehow contorted in agony — offers prayers to the heavens, where arrows pierce a bleeding heart.

“People think my skeletons are about death,” Statuto said. “I think skeletons are more about life. Without the skeleton, we’d just be mush. It’s our structure. It’s what holds us up. If you don’t have a skeleton you really don’t have anything ... That’s a human being at the core. That’s everybody. There’s no color, there’s no race — we’re all made out of skeletons.”

A doctor’s daughter, Statuto briefly considered a career in veterinary medicine, and the anatomy textbooks in her sunny painting nook might suggest an almost clinical interest in the inner workings.

“The way the mind and body work together is fascinating,” she said, in between squawks from the pair of tropical birds bobbing on her shoulder. “When you’re going through a breakup, you can actually feel a pain in your chest. You actually feel like your heart is breaking. It’s very profound.”

Statuto’s felt heartbreak in a more literal sense than most. She was born with a transposition of the great vessels in her heart and was not expected to survive infancy. But, a hole in one of the vessels actually saved her, allowing the blood to oxygenate. Now, she’s got a significant murmur, but she’s alive, and retrospection on her tumultuous entrance into the world gives her inner strength.

“I don’t take anything for granted,” she said.

That iron will is in her blood. One grandfather served overseas, got a Purple Heart. The other was a theatrical backdrop designer. As the story goes, he refused to use red paint on an image of Jesus on the cross, opting instead to slit his hand and apply his own blood.

Each painting Statuto creates is a bloodletting, her own emotion pouring out on the canvas, raw and real. Sometimes, what issues forth is too personal for the open market.

“I have a hard time parting with paintings,” she said. “because they’re expressions of how I was feeling at the time.”

When she’s had a chance to process, and the emotion loses its immediacy, she can let go of the painting.

Take “Fractured.” A woman, back exposed to the viewer, Her skin is cracking, cracked, open, raw, and in the void — a green tree, budding and flourishing.

“Yes, there’s pain going on, but underneath there’s growth,” Statuto said. “There’s always a message of hope.”

She’s been happy to embrace hope, and faith, as of late. After returning from college to discover a dear childhood friend had overdosed and died, she was struck by the tragedy of the heroin epidemic. To that end, she’s donating a portion of the proceeds of her amethyst jewelry sales ­— amethyst is the “sobriety stone,” she said — to a drug rehabilitation facility.

“I just don’t want people to go through what his parents are going through, what his friends are going through, what I’m going through,” she said.

There’s been plenty of sunshine recently, as Statuto works towards her teacher’s certification, having just completed a stint student teaching in Zelda Alibozek’s art classroom at Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School. She found rejuvenation in the classroom, soaking up all the kids had to offer with their innocent, no-filter approach to life, all the while pushing them to be themselves and discover their potential.

“Art is all about expressing yourself, and I’m not just teaching art, I’m teaching life,” she said.

Statuto’s “Eclectic- A Retrospective Exhibition” opens Friday night at the Jaffrey Civic Center, with an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. The exhibit kicks off the Young Artist Spotlight series, which will showcase the work of local young artists under the age of 30.

“I’m honored to be recognized and I’m honored that they chose me,” Statuto said. “I hope to be a force to reckon with in educating children, and art. I want them to be able to fully express themselves and figure out who they are.”

The exhibit runs through April 7.

For more information, visit www.jaffreyciviccenter.com. To see more of Statuto’s artwork and jewelry, visit her online shop at www.facebook.com/littleblackburd.