Greg Pinto creates extraordinary art from ordinary recycled household items.ROCKLAND — Conversations with Greg Pinto seldom follow the same direction twice. Wherever they lead, one can tell that the wheels of inspiration are perpetually churning. It matters not what it looks like he is doing; his mind is like a railroad switchyard of criss-crossing tracks – except these trains blast by at Mach 5 in all directions at once and never crash.
Because his creative work also runs in many different directions, it’s a challenge to describe his art, much less park an appropriate keyword alongside it. That’s more than fine with the Vero Beach, Fla. native and full-time Maine resident. He’d rather remain an artistic anomaly than risk being pigeon-holed forever. Pinto is one artist who will never stagnate because of someone else’s inadequate definition.
Outside his Broad Street frame shop, a cloud of massive butterflies sparkles on a windowpane suspended from the porch ceiling. Inside, the usual frame shop stuff is there, but there’s more to this place than pristine matt corners and frame samples neatly velcroed to the wall.
The place is filled with a menagerie of imaginative creatures and oddities that could easily find their way into an Alfred Hichcock/Jurrasic Park/Star Trek flick.
A modern-day mad scientist with found materials, Pinto fashions dragons from plastic dinnerware and partial animal skeletons. He creates schools of bizarre looking fish from thumbtacks, discarded silver plate and gold leaf. Some pieces are so wildly exotic that one forgets about how scary they look.
When viewers of his works connect the dots on the materials used in his sculptures, the light bulb goes on and the perspective changes. They cycle from “Wow, that’s cool,” to a deeper level of interest in the mind that dreamt up the designs using such ordinary materials. Pinto is completely blowing the stereotype, making art with everyday functional items that need a new lease on life.
Above the counter, two dragons compete for air space. Made from animal skeletons, poplar tree seeds, Q-tips, and black plastic spoons hang over his workspace. The larger one has a pink, forked tongue in the shape of an old coffee stirrer. The dragon’s prickly spine is made of black spray painted toothpicks, and his expression is fierce, as if caught in the moment just before flames shoot from its mouth. He is the essence of a dragon, the kind one would love to call a loyal protector and friend.
Pinto is the epitome of “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” Every object he incorporates in his work has already had another life elsewhere. He finds and repurposes dumpster treasures for art’s sake. Even his friends know that if they come across a 30-gallon trash bag filled with plastic forks, to scoop them up and deliver them to his front porch.
“I’m the only guy I know that comes back from the Goodwill store with old Barbie dolls,” says Pinto. “Feels kind of weird, a bearded guy buying Barbie dolls, but they make such good butterfly and Luna moth legs.”
Barbie has come through her metamorphosis. Most women have to get divorced before that happens. Yet here all that was needed was a little dumpster liberation and an open mind.
Lest anyone object to the potential alternate usage of Barbie parts, it turns out that her articulating arms and legs hold up a butterfly or Luna moth with ease. That’s the surprising thing about Pinto’s work. Who thinks of this stuff?
“Greg was always very focused,” says Terry Pinto, Greg’s father. “At 3 years old, he would come with me to a business meeting. He’d bring his Matchbox cars, and play under my desk for hours.”
Focus is certainly necessary when pushing thousands of silver thumbtacks into Styrofoam forms until they shimmer like the scales of a barracuda, or a rattlesnake, or an alien’s mask.
The fish are kooky, odd, certainly not what one would find in the top shelf of the ocean. These resemble the real life fish that hang out in the darkest depths, where only submersibles can dare to go. That’s because running into a real one in the light would be a bit freaky.
Pinto’s school of fish sport quirky fork tine teeth and elegant gold leaf fins. They could be characters in a Burtanesque stop action puppet film.
How did he get here from there?
Terry Pinto has an answer for that. “When Greg was a bit older, he loved model trains. He would build entire towns to look like the places we had traveled to.”
And it stands to reason that such an undertaking would require fairly refined planning skills. It’s tough to be a real city planner, but it must be fun on a smaller scale. A model railroader can manage quite a metropolis if he plans it just right – especially if he’s 8 years old.
Today, Greg is still a huge model railroad fan. He considers it an art form that incorporates an education in art, history, engineering, mathematics, and science together. Pinto doesn’t stick to specific time frames or scales in his model railroad adventures, much less kits. He would rather “kit bash,” i.e. combine elements from everything that inspires him and make it into one creation. Just in case any friends from another planet want to visit, there is a space port in his model railroad empire.
Truly a kid at heart, Pinto dares to imagine what he can do with every material he finds. Everything inspires him; he’s quite skilled at entertaining himself. Boredom is not a word in his vocabulary.
Someone gave him a head form that was once used for a wig. Pinto fashioned a pair of rams’ horns out of Styrofoam and attached them to the head. Then he started pushing thumbtacks into the horns, and voila! Dragon Con, here we come. Looking at them, one half expects to hear “Greetings Earthling” at any second.
Not to be outdone with doll parts and plastic ware, Pinto is also an expert at repurposing cardboard.
“Cardboard is the unsung hero of commerce,” says Greg. “It’s easy to overlook, but it’s so much fun to work with.” He scavenges, hordes and collects it; cuts, and shapes and shaves it into varying heights and lengths. Then he arranges the pieces into textural collages reminiscent of Middle Eastern designs, and surrounds them in a deep shadowbox frame. He was originally inspired by the way light filters through the layers of corrugated cardboard, but that is virtually impossible to replicate in a frame.
Visitors to the show of Pinto’s work at Michael Good Gallery on Main Street are drawn in by the creativity. He almost dares them to ask about it, because he enjoys blow people’s minds.
“These sculptures are made of things you might use everyday,” he says. “Want to guess what they are?”
Only a select few say “thumbtacks” on the first try.
“I was impressed with his recycling finesse,” says Avi Good, owner of Michael Good Gallery in Rockland. “I like Greg. He has a great outlook on reusing things creatively. I respect that.”
Good was drawn to his work after hiring Pinto to frame some prints for the gallery. No doubt, the wonderland menagerie of oddly cool weird looking creatures intrigued and delighted Good enough to invite Pinto to show his work and see what happens. Already, several works have sold. Certainly, that gut feeling worked in everyone’s favor.
Pinto’s show will be up through September at Michael Good Gallery, 499 Main St. in Rockland. The gallery is open all week, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., through the summer. For more information, call 594-2580.
Pinto’s frame shop, GPI Framing, is located at 149 Broad St. in Rockland. For more information, call 594-0999.