By Kassie Parisi
CLIFTON PARK — A local artist has returned to his calling after more than 30 years.
Frank Coletta, who is originally from Brooklyn but now lives in Clifton Park, became enamored with art during the second grade. One day, Coletta noticed that the student sitting next to him had drawn a picture of flowers growing in a windowsill. That sparked what would become a lifelong passion for creating art.
“Ever since then,” Coletta said, “that’s what I wanted to do.”
Soon after, Coletta began to take every art class he could. But his family, who placed a huge emphasis on athletics, worried about how Coletta would be able to make a living as an artist. According to Coletta, his family thought he was “nuts,” and that artists were destined to starve for the sake of their work.
So, upon graduating from high school, Coletta went to SUNY Oswego and played sports while there. But after a only a year at that college, he made a switch to SUNY New Paltz to pursue art. And that’s where he met his wife.
After college, Coletta moved to Clifton Park. He taught high school art classes for the Shenendehowa Central School district from 1971 to 1975, after a teaching stint on Long Island.
Unwilling to exile sports completely from his life, Coletta also coached during his time as a teacher. But then, in another twist, Coletta eventually stopped both teaching, and art, to become a full-time minister.
He studied for two years at the Northeast School of Biblical Studies to prepare for his new vocation. He was a minster at Clifton Park Church of Christ for 35 years. And all that time, his art took a major backseat.
Now, after retiring from the ministry, Coletta has allowed art to once again consume his life. While he said that he doesn’t exactly regret pushing art to the side, drawing for him right now is frustrating, as he has had to relearn old skills that once came easy to him. He fights regularly with blank canvases, and sometimes becomes frustrated when the picture in his head is not what ends up being in the drawing.
“It’s like learning how to walk again,” he said.
Coletta was forced to make a choice that many artists face: working as an artist full time with no guaranteed way to make a living, or find a way to make a living while also fitting art in on the side. But Coletta said that he doesn’t regret that choice.
Teaching art not only gave him the opportunity to have a family, but also to support his family. A big drawback to the artist lifestyle for Coletta was the enormous amount of time and focus an artist has to dedicate to his in order to make a living out of it. With a wife, three children, and full-time job, Coletta didn’t have time to focus solely on drawing.
“You have to literally shut out the people you love,” he said. “It’s hard to pull yourself away from everything else.”
But now that he’s retired and his children have grown up, Coletta has the luxury of dedicating 10 hours a day to a single piece of art, if he wants. Art has once again become a comfort for him, and he doesn’t worry about whether or not his art will sell, though he does do some commission work.
He mostly draws nature scenes, and is happy to spend hours in Vischer Ferry, golf courses, and the Adirondacks drawing whatever catches his eye. His art, which is done in either bright colored pencil, stark black and white pen, or sometimes paint, is usually lacking in human figures.
“I see things, and I stop and say, I have to draw that,” he said.
Coletta, a member of the Southern Saratoga Artist’s Society, works primarily in colored pencils because, according to him, colored pencils give him more control over his drawings than more challenging mediums, such as water colors. In college he learned how to draw bones, and he sculpted using stone, but said that stone sculpting at this point is impractical.
With over 600 pen or colored pencil drawings in his house, Coletta puts painstaking effort into every drawing, fighting a battle to be spontaneous and honest in his work, but also to reinvigorate his drawing skills after pushing art aside for so long. He struggles sometimes to find the visual language or drawing, which he defines as figuring out how to accurately convey the area he happens to be drawing. For example, Coletta said, drawing maple trees is easy for him, but it’s more of a challenge for him to draw palm trees, since there aren’t palm trees in upstate New York.
“Every subject has a challenge, and it’s something new,” he said.
After striving to find a balance for so many years in his life, Coletta continues to remind young artists that allowing a passion like art to add to a life, as opposed to consuming it, is more important than anything.
“I do what I do but it didn’t come easy. It’s a journey you go on,” he said. “I love art, but art isn’t life. It’s part of life.”
Starting in June, Coletta’s art can be found in the Cilfton Park Halfmoon Town Library.