ONTARIO -- Tony Sansalone wants to capture the soul of his subjects when he draws. It's why he exclusively draws people he knows.
"My goal is to get someone to guess or wonder who the people are," said Sansalone, a 2018 Ontario High School graduate. “I’m trying to capture a flattering likeness and also a soul.
"I think it can only be successfully done if somebody actually knows the person."
Sansalone is a senior at Bowling Green State University, where he’s majoring in studio art with a focus in drawing and painting. He's currently working on his senior thesis, but that hasn’t stopped him from seeking opportunities off-campus.
Four of his charcoal portraits were recently accepted into juried exhibitions and are on display at five exhibitions across North America this month.
“These exhibitions are really exciting for me because they’re not college exhibitions," Sansalone said. “I’m going up against professionals and it's very humbling and exciting to have my work showcased next to these people.”
One work, an oversized portrait of his father, is featured in both an in-person and virtual show.
The piece is part of a trio of larger-than-life renderings that won "Best in Show" at the Mansfield Art Center's May Show earlier this year.
Sansalone said he wanted to create pieces that overwhelmed the viewer, like an elephant in the room.
“I wanted something to be the center of attention,” he said of his eight-foot drawings.
The portrait of his father is displayed in person in the Lore Degenstein Gallery's 12th annual Figurative Drawing and Painting Exhibition at Susquehanna University in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. The free exhibit opened to the public Nov. 6.
The piece is also part of a virtual art gallery in Snoqualmie, Washington. The gallery received 219 entries from 124 artists; 60 entries from 53 artists were ultimately selected.
"Mt Si Artist Guild 2021 Juried Virtual Art Show” is available to view for free online.
Joe Sansalone said it's a little unusual and humbling to see his likeness displayed across the country, but he's proud of his son's accomplishments.
"I always knew he was a pretty good artist growing up," he said. "He always liked to draw cartoons.”
Tony's favorite work is an accompanying portrait of his aunt.
“This was the very first one that I did of the large scale,” he said. “It’s an interesting process that I love and want to keep on chasing.”
“It was a challenge for me that evolved into what I’m currently working on," he added. "It was like the flame that started the fire.”
There's also some humor behind the piece. Sansalone's aunt is a good sport, but she doesn't like her portrait. Unfortunately for her, its best-in-show status meant the piece was used heavily in advertising for the May Show, appearing on billboards and in news articles.
“It became this running joke because she hates it,” Sansalone said.
Sansalone’s portrait of his aunt was accepted into the “Throughlines: A Contemporary Drawing Exhibition” show at the Indianapolis Art Center in Indiana. The show opened Nov. 4 and will run through Dec. 17.
According to the center’s website, the exhibition “highlights the world of drawing today and the richness found in the wide variety of techniques, styles, and aesthetics involved.”
The remaining pieces on display are also family portraits, but on a totally different scale.
A second portrait of the artist's father as well as one of his niece are both just eight by eight inches.
Both are part of Sansalone's senior thesis. He hopes to create between 50 and 60 of the tiny portraits by this spring.
A portrait of Sansalone's niece Mila was recently accepted into an online exhibition organized by Gallerium called Children 2021.
Sansalone’s miniature of his father, “Joe” is included in "Chasing Ghosts VI: Piercing the Veil through Remembrance, Legacy & Beyond” in Portland, Oregon.
The show opened virtually about two weeks ago.
Sansalone said there are advantages and disadvantages to virtual art shows, which sprung up early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID has created an interesting dynamic because it opens more avenues for people to see your work," he said. “I kind of have mixed feelings on it because you'd rather have your stuff in person where people can see it.”
Nevertheless, it opens up more opportunities for artists who don't live in major cities.
“A lot of people don’t have the resources to upend their life and go live in Manhattan to go sell their work," he said. "You can be a practicing artist anywhere now.”
So far, Sansalone's work has been inspired by his relationships, something he learned to treasure growing up in an Italian household.
"One value that I learned is that family is pretty important and so I try to showcase that through my work," he said.
"We’re loud, the neighbors yell at us. We eat together every Sunday, we talk with our hands," he said. "I hate to say it, but it's very stereotypical.”
After graduating from Bowling Green, Sansalone hopes to attend graduate school and continue honing his skills.
Now that's built a solid foundation of technical knowledge, he hopes to come up with a deeper, more worldly conceptual grounding for his work.
“I want to keep learning," he said. "I'm not done.”