Alex Wolff: This is Alex Wolff of Long Island Portfolio. I’m here with artist Steven Calapai. And just to set the tone for everything, you should know that Steven is a friend of mine. I’ve known him for about five years. We worked together on a charity called Pink Tie where we were raising money for different children’s and other cancer-related issues. And I’ve also done some work alongside Steven where he was promoting different artists and musicians. A couple of times what we did was a very large disco revival with 10 acts, original disco stars and Constantine Maroulis. And so, we all know right now that I’m here because Steve’s my friend.
Steven Calapi: Absolutely.
Alex: But at the same time, I’m here more so because Steven is an artist. About six months ago, I think it was, he added something to Facebook called A View of Windows on Our World, and I started to see all these people posting art. I put some more art up there myself, and then Steven started posting photos and different types of art. And I’ve always known Steven was an artist. He’s an actor, talent management person as well as commercial real estate and a few other things, the list goes on. I had no idea, even though I’ve known him for five years that he’s been doing art. He doesn’t like to talk about himself but he’s doing me a favor so…
Alex: Steven, welcome and congratulations on your nomination as a featured artist in Long Island Portfolio magazine.
Can you tell us a little something about your road to getting here?
Steven: That’s a tough one, I’ve done so much. The businesses I own, you know. The art is my whole life, it’s everything I’ve seen, everything I’ve done. The reason why I’m doing the art was basically because of what happened during COVID. It was just time to get it out there, and I wanted to change some people’s lives and make their lives better, and it worked just like the View From The Windows Of Our World FB page.
Alex: How did COVID change what you were doing with your art, because two years ago, you wouldn’t even speak to me about this.
Steven: No, and it was always there, even two years ago. I just thought it was time and a lot of people were telling me that my art was very inspiring, and there were pieces that I sold that were private pieces, and I received very positive feedback. It changed the way people’s moods were. And that’s something we always talk about that was very important to me, was to show people that life isn’t always doom and gloom, and that through art, you could take your mind away from the bad things in life. And it worked, and it’s still working.
Alex: Very cool. I knew you used both color and shape in your art. There’s a lot of graphic stuff that is not on the wall at the moment. I do want to get one example. Is this is modifications to a motorcycle?
Steven Yep. I placed each element. There’s a lot going on in here. There’s skulls, there’s flowers. I placed each individual piece in here. This was about 34, 35 hours of work, matched elements to the bike, changed the color of the bike, brightened up the wheels, made everything really pop, put a lot of red in there, and just a really interesting piece. And I had a lot of guys from Harley-Davidson that wanted it but this is going to a very special place and a very special person in Las Vegas for a great cause. And of course, the one that we’re sending is not this actual one. This is actually my own piece that I’m keeping for myself, but the one that we’re sending out is 40 x 60, it’s tremendous. It’s a really big piece, and it’s going to be in this certain person’s showroom. I really don’t want to say too much until it’s out there.
Alex: Thank you, I just wanted you to show that your breadth goes far beyond the paintings behind the wall when it comes to your art, and also, you have a piece sitting up here. Can you grab that as well?
Steven: Just want to be careful with that. This is interesting. I sculpted this… I’m not really going to tell you what I sculpted this skull out of. It’s kind of a secret, but this is fireproof glass. This will never burn. This piece will never burn. If it’s in a house fire, it will never be destroyed. I placed each individual piece on this, another really long project of mine. It took almost three days, and it weighs about 15 pounds. And I don’t want to sell it, but my agent is really bothering me to sell, so I might sell it and make another one for myself.
Alex: I just wanted to share an example of one of your sculptures as well.
He’s like Hamlet, my alter ego here.
Alex: At last, pure Yuric!
Alex: You mentioned the art has been going on since I’ve known you, which is five years, but actually it’s been going on way, way longer than that. Where’s the beginning?
Steve: Yeah, absolutely. Probably as early as I can remember. Preschool, kindergarten, finger paint, which I still do today. A lot of the stuff that I created, believe it or not, I do with my hands and not a brush. Actually, which one did I do with my hands, not a brush? This one. There’s almost no brushwork in here other than the outline. A lot of it’s all my hands. Started in pre-school. When I was 12 years old, it got really strong for me because my parents had split up, my father had left. And I got really into myself and I started using pens, Bic pens. I would buy a whole bag of Bic pens, they’d be gone in three days and just doing stuff like this with the Bic pens. Can we see this one? Can I show this one?
Alex: Yes. I don’t have the whole thing in here, but we could put… I’d like to put that one in the article.
Steven: Yeah, that’d be great. This is actually… My passion is here, too. This is how I started. I started just doodling and shading and self… I’m totally self-taught, I’ve never taken an art class in my life. And so I started doing this and I must have had about 300 or 400 done on paper or whatever I could find, even an envelope. My mom was so mad because I was taking envelopes and I was making art out of them, and she didn’t know what art was. She’s like, “What is this? This is terrible.” And I’m like…
Alex: And actually that’s become, I think they call them Zen tangles now, where people are starting with the pens and then filling them out, and they put ’em on everything from the back of their hand to their sneakers to large drawing canvases.
Steven: Yeah, absolutely. It’s pretty wild. It’s a wild piece.
Alex: So that’s going really into your pre-teens and then…
Steven: It was a great outlet for me. I was telling you before, I worked a lot when I was younger. , started work when I was 11, 12, and I still work., almost 24 hours a day. I sleep five hours a night. It was a great outlet. Kept me off the street, kept me out of trouble. And I loved it, it was just a passion for me.
Alex: And for you, you had a transition towards the end of your teens when you started doing some modeling…
Steven: Yeah. [chuckle] About 15 or 16, I had a friend of mine who was doing modeling and acting. He says, “You’d be really great at it,” and I had very long hair at the time, which I actually kept for a long time also. So I got very lucky to do some runway stuff, print stuff, but I was very short. And short models… I was 5’8″, 5’9″, whatever. So short models, don’t get a lot of work. So then I started acting and I did some incredible stuff. I got really lucky, worked really hard at it.
Alex: Sure. What were the couple of projects you did acting-wise?
Steven: I did a show called A Room for Joe with Connie Sellecca, the actress Connie Sellecca. It’s a sitcom. It was good. And Robert Mitchum was in that, too. I was on 21 Jump Street a couple of times, and my agent was the same agent for Menudo and Ricky Martin. And he was responsible for getting me into all that stuff with Jump Street. And I was up for the part of Booker, which is a spin-off of 21 Jump Street, and I didn’t get it, but I did come in the top five. So that was good enough for me, I was real happy with that. I wasn’t disappointed saying, “Oh, I didn’t get it.” I was like, “I did it.” I beat out a thousand people to do it, and that felt really good. Then I kept going and going, and did a lot of great stuff.
My goal was never to become famous; my goal is not to become famous in this, just to prove that I could do it, and if I could inspire people and change, even with the acting stuff, that was important to me. And it worked. So, I switched from that, did a lot with music. I owned a recording studio and started doing managing. I managed Freddie Scott. He did the song Hey Girl, we licensed that with Billy Joel. Billy Joel redid it. It hit number one for him, it hit number one for Freddie and we toured all over. We did shows with Bette Midler, with Van Morrison. That was interesting, because he had a lot of history. See, everything I had been through, all the art, everything, it’s all… Everything I’ve seen, I’ve learned. So that was cool. That was quite the run, but I do want to mention something about the art. The reason why I got so into the art itself is when I was about 15, 16, in and out of the city all the time, going on casting calls, there were galleries everywhere. And that was back when the galleries were really avant-garde, days of CBGBs. And I was playing in bands, too. So, I played CBGBs and then we would sneak into all these clubs and I got to hang out with a lot of famous…
Alex: What did you play?
Steven: I played the drums, a little guitar, piano. Wrote… I still write every now and then. Again, just for me. Actually, this is the band that I was in, that’s one of the things that we did, but…
Alex: And were some of that just the people… Crush, yeah.
Steven: Oh, Crush. I think those guys are still playing now. A great band, and it was a lot of fun. So, I got a great education. My education was in the galleries, was in the nightclubs at night. I got to speak to famous artists and I got to be next to Andy Warhol. He spoke to me, I asked him questions, Van Morrison, so many people. And that influences everything I do.
Alex: It’s just really… It’s beyond cool, and looking from here and then looking at the computer and the graphic work, that this is a very small studio space for such a large art collection.
Alex: That’s good. Where will people see your art if they were to go out today?
Steven: Yeah, they go to my website which is stevencalapai.net. That’s my first and my last name dot net. There’s close to 340-350 pieces there, and everything’s for sale…
Alex: Everything’s for sale. I’m for sale.
Steven: We’re all for sale.
Alex: And how about places in public? You have some places that are already public.
Steven: It’s funny you said that, that everything is for sale because you know who told me that? Andy Warhol told me. He goes, “Everything’s for sale,” and that was important for him because he didn’t want to sell any of his art, and I kind of feel the same way. [chuckle] I want to keep everything, and my agent says, “You can’t keep everything.” We have to sell some stuff.
Alex: No, and at a certain point, everything is for sale, just a question, sometimes the price is so high that no one’s going to buy it. And the stuff that’s nearest and dearest to our hearts, quite frankly, if it’s an artwork and I love it, and someone decides that they have to have it no matter what, we will come to a price.
Steven: It happens. See, I’m not like a lot of other artists in general. See, I’m not like a lot of other artists in general.
Alex: Me, too. It was really nice when I drove up, Steven was actually painting a new piece…
Steven: Which we’ll see shortly…
Steven: Yeah, interesting piece, a big one.
Alex: And he’s got his art studio in his house, and I was able to just come up and he was using a combination of natural light and fluorescent light to really see both the colors and his detail with blocks. I’m always thrilled to see an artist working, especially if it’s a friend. What’s the long-term goal? What’s going on in three, four, five years? Is there another medium that you’re looking to master?
Steven: Yeah, yeah. Well, I cover a lot now.
Alex: You do.
Steven: Yeah. I didn’t even get into what I used to do with the film companies, working with companies like Paramount Pictures. I did that for a very long time, and I ran a film company. And eventually… Futurewise? Just keep climbing up that ladder, even more, higher, higher and higher. Just keep going.
Alex: Is there any project you have in mind or you’re just open to projects and should people approach you with projects?
Alex: What kind of projects would you like to hear about? Because you’re in a position to both direct, produce and be an executive director or help people with financing. So, if someone has a project and you’re the right guy for them, what project should it be that they come to talk to you about?
Steven: Anything with depth and meaning. My door is always open, always. Whenever. Nothing too reality-based-wise with television. I sold four or five reality shows and I’ve had enough of that reality world for now. But anything… You know, I would love to do something about the arts, a documentary about the arts and how they’re changing and how the digital medium and the graphic designs are changing the whole art world together. Very interesting what’s going on there.
Alex: Who’s currently in your talent management group?
Steven: Oh. Right now, just me, actually. I mean, if anyone that I worked with before needs help, I’m always there to help them. But right now it’s just me, and I have my own agent as well, Jeanne-Marie Pandas, she’s fantastic. So right now, I’m just basically on myself, but a lot of the people that you’ve seen throughout my house and throughout my home office, throughout the studio are people that I’ve worked with, I consider friends, some dear friends. I’m just concentrating on my own stuff, which is back to your COVID point is that I figured I was fortunate enough to be in a spot where I could actually do it. Where, okay, you’re not going to work, and the other businesses are… You’re not going to work for about six months or a year, so it was just really time to focus on that and it worked.
Steven: Again, a negative for COVID was terrible, we both lost friends from it. Richie, a close friend, and so many other people. I have a cousin that passed, and you had family members that passed.
Alex: Yeah. My father-in-law. And my mother-in-law, who was 92, beat it.
Steven: That’s fantastic. So yeah, so my whole point about life and art and everything I’ve done is taking a negative and making it a positive, period. Because there’s no reason why you can’t. It’s not as difficult as people think. People think it’s so difficult to do that, it’s not. You just have to try. Keep trying. That’s why I was so successful in the film and television and acting, because it’s not that I didn’t take no for an answer, but there’s the saying, “Knock on a door and a door will open.” Not necessarily true. My point of view is, I’ll knock that door down. And you know me, I still do it, no matter what business I’m in. So, I’m applying that…
Alex: You make it happen.
Steven: To the art. Yeah, just make it happen. People fail to realize that there’s so many people in the world, talking about billions of people. So if you bring, let’s just say you bring a piece of art, you’re just starting out and you really love it and you bring it to a gallery and they hate it, it doesn’t mean that every gallery in the world hates it. And emerging artists today have a bigger advantage than I did growing up because they have the internet, which I didn’t have. Now, the internet’s everywhere. It can really help them to find out where to go and where to sell, which is so important.
Alex: And that actually brings us to why Long Island Portfolio came about…
Steven: Yeah, what a great idea.
Alex: is because my work, my friend’s work, my daughter’s work, my wife’s work, nobody’s work is getting seen. Now, we live on Long Island, and we surround artists. They’re all over the place and we never see their work in some other places like the Art League of Huntington, and Huntington Art Council. But now that the galleries are closed, you can’t even go see somebody’s art. The museums are closed, and I thought that if I’m going to spend my time, and at this point in time of my life… I already help 25 or 30 different charities. I want to help artists get their work seen. Art needs to be seen. Art each it’s potential for everybody when it’s in somebody’s garage or hanging in their own home.
Steven: Yeah. Very true.
Alex: You get to really make that difference in somebody’s life. If someone… If you could flip somebody emotionally, like your work does.
Steven: That’s the whole idea. When you look at my art… And it happened to you, and it happens to everybody that looks at it. There’s so much to see and there are so many layers and sometimes you have to peel those layers back, look beyond the layers and see what’s really there. But there’s so much going on and in all of them, it’s just amazing. And art to me is something you could stare at and look at for hours and keep coming back to it and seeing something different every time you come back to it. So that’s what I create. And that’s basically what I do.
Alex: And your experience, actually, because your work is so different, and your influences are really across the board.
Steven: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, Damien Hirst, big influence on me. Of course, Warhol, Jackson Pollock, love them. Absolutely.
Alex: Yeah, you could see a Jackson Pollock, work style inspired up in the upper right corner just about Steven’s head and actually to his left and above as well. This is one of the first things that I see.
Steven: Yeah, a little bit different than the Pollock piece. They’re taking paintings and following a little bit of his style and his emotions.
Alex: Very different. But we all stand on the shoulders of giants.
Alex: And I see that in your work. You’re very, very personal
style. And you apply a lot of these different styles to your work. So I think that we talked enough.
Steven: I think so.
Alex: Yeah, I’m thrilled. You know, with COVID, I haven’t had a chance to see you in a long time.
Steven: Yeah, me too. It’s good to see you.
Alex: Good to see you. I look forward to seeing more of your work.
Steven: Especially for happy circumstances like this. This is all happy positive stuff.
Alex: Absolutely. So, thanks very much, Steve.
Steven: Absolutely, my pleasure.
Interview with Featured Artist Steven Calapai.
Exclusive Agent Jeanne-Marie Pandas
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org – (516) 473-1487