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When he retired in 1988, Chuck Sabatino and his wife moved to a home they had built among desert boulders, and Sabatino turned his attention to painting. Soon he was creating small still life images of Native American objects, especially old pueblo pottery. Every piece sold right away and the market began requesting larger works.
Over the years, Sabatino has acquired an extensive personal collection of pottery from the pueblos of New Mexico and Arizona, which he combines in various groupings for his paintings. He has studied the history of pottery-making at such pueblos as Zuni, Acoma, Santo Domingo, Cochiti, San Ildefonso and Santa Clara. And to increase his understanding of the centuries-old craft, he has learned to build and paint hand-coiled pottery himself.
Today, his bright, roomy studio is almost always the site of two or three paintings in progress. He mixes his own material and applies layers of paint in very thin oil glazes. This painstaking technique, along with a chiaroscuro-style emphasis on light and shadow, yields a rich luminosity – almost as though the paintings are lit from within. At the same time, a warm palette of amber, gold and browns contributes to a sense of timelessness well suited to the subject.
“All the west is those colors. It’s the warmth of this part of the country, and I’m trying to bring that out,” the artist observes. Then he chuckles and adds, “Friends of mine who are also artists sometimes tease me and give me a tube of blue or green paint. I use it for beads.”
Indeed, Sabatino has become adept at depicting tiny beads as he increasingly adds artifacts and objects from Plains Indian culture to his compositions, including beaded moccasins, arrow bags, war shirts, dresses and painted shields. These provide a diversity of texture, color and visual and historical interest and offer fresh new challenges for the artist.
“I don’t want my work to be photo-realism. I always want people to see my hand in it,” Sabatino reflects. “But I always want it to be better.” Not so perfect that it appears to be a photo, yet with so much depth, solidity and realism that, as a collector recently told the artist, "it almost seems you could toss your car keys into the pueblo bowl."