Faces of the Young, Rust Belt Dilemma

Cleveland painter Frank Oriti was featured in the New York Times last week because his portraits of young Cleveland-area adults are being featured at a gallery in the Hamptons. By Cleveland standards, being featured in the New York Times and showing your work in the Hamptons means you made it, or really by anyone’s standards. I had never heard of him until then though, but I’m oh so glad I did.

Oriti, who, the New York Times pointed out, once

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worked in a steel mill, has taken to painting portraits of his friends from Parma. I think he’s captured something pretty interesting here, looking at young adults from this place, facing uncertain futures, and the way they present themselves.

Here’s the way he described it on his website:

This body of work examines the culture of blue-collar, middle-class individuals returning to the hometowns and neighborhoods that they originally attempted to escape. Each portrait reveals the connect and disconnect between suburban landscapes and their residents, while also presenting questions such as “What has my life become?” and “What will everyone think of me now?“

Conveying portraiture against the repetitive quality of the cookie-cutter houses that surrounded this social group is my effort to present the faded memories and faded ideals that are so common with this cyclical experience. The sentiments about this homecoming are represented by facial expressions that mirror a psychological state of “settling;” an acceptance that they have come back to a place that they will possibly never leave again.

They remind me of people I know who grew up in the same places.

I don’t know, this just struck me as very perceptive. Everything is so fraught right now for young, working-class white people. The people in the portraits look tough, but they are extremely vulnerable.

Too bad these paintings are going to become some status symbol for rich jerks who vacation in the Hamptons, but that’s sort of what successful modern art always becomes.

–A.S.

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