Export artist tapped to create painting for borough’s summer celebration
John Santoro of Export was a little taken aback when a member of the local historical society approached him to commission a painting representing the borough’s past, present and future for the third annual Export Ethnic Food & Music Festival.
“This is completely the opposite of what I do,” said Santoro, 72, who grew up in Swissvale. “I paint kind of crazy.”
A quick peek into any room of Santoro’s home can confirm that: nearly every wall is covered with his brightly colored paintings. In one, wild streaks and splatters of paint nearly obscure the shapes of two vintage cars. Another has a motorcycle somewhere beneath the frenetic splashes of black, gray and pink.
“Jackson Pollock was my idol,” Santoro said. “I saw a magazine article about him when I was 10 years old and he just inspired me.”
After doing some painting in high school, Santoro stopped for nearly a half-century, encompassing a 20-year career at U.S. Steel as well as a stint as the owner of the former Tobacco Road shop on Route 22.
“I started back up painting about 12 years ago,” he said. “I saw the (biopic) movie where Ed Harris plays Jackson Pollock, and all these memories flooded back.”
Those memories inspired a flood of creativity that continues to this day.
Historical society member John Nagoda, who commissioned the painting, calls Santoro “Picasso.”
“We’re having a grand opening for the (Westmoreland Heritage Trail), and so we wanted to commission a piece acknowledging that,” Nagoda said. “The guy has a lot of talent and it’s great to have someone like that in town.”
Santoro’s painting, on a 3-by-4-foot canvas, is still a work in progress, but many of the borough’s hallmarks are front and center in primary colors: the restored caboose that marks the entrance to Washington Avenue; the former Master Auto building, where Santoro lived in an upstairs apartment for several years; a coal miner’s helmet hanging on a fence post hearkening back to the borough’s days as a coal town.
“I tried to make it sort of a one-panel comic strip,” he said. “I decided to do as close to a ‘reality-based’ painting as I could.”
Historical society member Melanie Litz said Santoro’s painting will be on display at the group’s booth for the festival, which will be held from noon to 8 p.m. Aug. 17 along Washington Avenue.
“We have a pretty interesting band line-up this year, we have some fun vendors coming in and we have the (next phase of the Heritage Trail) opening,” Litz said. “I think the trail ribbon-cutting in particular is very symbolic of the revitalization of the town and its business district. It’s a continuation of good things that have been happening in Export.”
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .