For over ten years, artist Robert Policastro has had his studio in the Monroe Center for the Arts. The building, located at 720 Monroe Street, was formerly the home of Levelor Blinds, and Policastro’s studio shares the fourth floor with reality television celebrities, entrepreneurs, and a wide range of artists.
The studio itself is brightly lit and has high ceilings. Oversized canvases, scattered around the perimeter of the room, lean against one another. Rich with details, some pieces on easels are still not quite finished, yet each begs to be analyzed.
Inspired by a Batman comic book when he was a kid, Robert began his career drawing, and re-drawing, his favorite issue (#164 for those of you who are curious). “Myself and Andy Warhol have that in common,” he jokes. Pulling out the referenced issue, Robert describes his small-town childhood growing up in NJ. Originally from Kearny, he says his artwork set him apart from most of his peers and helped influence his career choices, and after graduating from college, he continued his studies at the world-famous Art Students League of New York. Initially, he moved to Hoboken to be closer to New York City, “Hoboken is the unofficial 6th borough,” he kids again and adds that he can think of no better place to be in New Jersey other than right here in Hoboken.
Currently Robert teaches middle-schoolers during the day at St. Mary’s Elementary School in Rutherford and adults at night at Caldwell-West Caldwell New Jersey Center of Community & Continuing Education. When I ask him when he finds time to work in his studio, he comments that he lives for the summers. The flexibility allows him more time to paint and sketch, and in the warmer weather he is able to people watch and work outdoors. “When it’s warmer, I love going to the pier and doing quick sketches. I come back and fill in the details but get the rough sketches finished in a few minutes while sitting on the benches,” he tells me as he breaks out some more drawings. As we flip through his latest sketchbook, I ask him about his favorite medium. “Nothing like oil,” he replies. “It’s the ultimate expression for an artist.”
As I walk around the studio, admiring his figure paintings, Robert also shows me the tiger theme he has taken for some of his past showcases. Bold oranges, complete with black stripes, hallmark his most ambitious works, which have been featured in local galleries, most recently at BAMA Gallery last winter, and annually during the Hoboken Artists’ Studio Tour. Asked what influences his paintings, he instantly brings up his mentor, the late Gustav Rehberger. “I don’t think I can talk about what inspires me without mentioning him,” he says poignantly. “I wouldn’t be where I am without having met him.”
When not teaching or painting, Robert enjoys the local art and music scene, particularly landmark artist hot spots such as The Neumann Leather Building, The Pudding Factory, and Paul Vincent Gallery, as well as classic hangouts like D.C.’s Tavern and Louise & Jerry’s. He also notes some of the venues he misses, citing The Liquid Lounge and Lady Jane’s as two of his all-time favorites.
While discussing his interactions with other Hoboken artists, the topic shifts to Frank Sinatra, and how Frank’s granddaughter, A. J., lived in Hoboken for a while. Robert actually had the opportunity to look at some of her old family photographs and got a firsthand glance into the life of Frank and other famous people of the time, right here in Hoboken.
To contact Robert or to see more of his work, visit his portfolio website: robertpolicastroart.com. For more information on The Monroe Center for the Arts, go to monroecenter.com.
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