Creations of Courage and Conviction: Westwood Artist Steven Cavallo
When Steven Cavallo
hand last autumn, he
didn't let it stop him.
painted through the pain because not to paint would have pained him even more.
For this artist, a graduate of New York's School of Visual Arts, art is an essential expression of the human condition and he
feels the driving compulsion to give voice not only to his
own vision, but to those whose stories may otherwise remain buried in oppressive silence.
"I hope that my works bring a powerful message to the viewers.
They are mostly large watercolors speaking on human issues such as immigration, war and abuse.
Although the work is dark in subject matter, I hope there is
an underlying beauty beneath the horrors mankind has brought about," Cavallo
"I try to always paint what is on my mind and in my heart," he
first learned of the existence of comfort women from a Korean neighbor in 1991.
Intrigued to explore the issue further, he
eventually teamed with historian Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, who wrote the book Silence Broken, featuring interviews with comfort women victims.
In 2008, Cavallo
exhibited a series of watercolor paintings depicting the inhumanity and atrocities of wartime crimes; among these paintings were stories of the comfort women.
During that exhibit, one question kept being asked: "What good does it do to bring up these old stories?"
The plight of the comfort women may seem a lifetime and world away from Cavallo
's own reality as a white, middle-aged male enjoying a comfortable Bergen County lifestyle painting from his
home studio in Westwood, yet for Cavallo, someone who has always championed the cause of human rights, it resonates with relevance.
Married to a Korean woman and the loving father of two young adult women, Cavallo
is struck by the vagaries of fate.
In another time, another life, they might have been comfort women," says Cavallo
, pondering the painful prospect.
It's all very symbolic and powerful," says Arin Yoon, a photographer who has collaborated with Cavallo.
's artistic tendencies and influences were evident early on, fostered by his
parents who encouraged regular "drawing hour" sessions for Cavallo and his
Thanks to a friend of his
father, who worked in a print shop, Cavallo
would get gifts of high-quality scrap papers.
"They were wonderful, so rich in different textures, and I would draw on them for hours," Cavallo recalls.
Music also fueled his
fierce passion for social activism.
"When I was nine years old, my uncle gave me a Bob Dylan album and a Phil Ochs album, and I was amazed that people could sing and write songs with such important messages," Cavallo
Cavallo, who currently teaches ESL classes and watercolor classes at the Palisades Park Library, has no regrets.
The "sale-ability" of his
renderings does not overly concern him.
was a driving force behind the planning of the first memorial in the Western World dedicated to comfort women and designed the artwork on the memorial plaque that now stands in front of the Palisades Park Library
Most recently, he
has enjoyed a critically acclaimed exhibit at Ridgefield's Gallery 1
& 9, and, along with fellow artist Shin-Young An, exhibited a series of paintings on comfort women titled "Come From the Shadows" at the Harriet & Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives at Queensborough Community College
in Queens, New York.
As part of the latter exhibit, two former comfort women traveled from Korea to join with two Holocaust survivors to help shed light on atrocities that took place during WWII both in Asia and Europe.
The Queens exhibit was so well received it was held over twice, running from August 15, 2011 to January 2, 2012.
has the ability to take an issue that was all but forgotten and utilize his
talent in attracting the viewer's attention to receive a series of images that will never be forgotten.
For now, Cavallo
is excited about his
ongoing efforts to bring the plight of the comfort women-and his
art-to a larger audience.
At the time of this writing, he
was working on putting together a solo exhibit in Gwangju, South Korea.
hoped to fly there to attend the opening reception of the exhibit, which will run from May 10 to 22.
Even as he
draws inspiration from the past, Cavallo forges into the future with conviction and compassion.
Brush stroke by brush stroke, one poignant portrait at a time, one forgotten story after another given eloquent visual testimony, he
shines light on the darkness through the unflinching truth of his
Nayda Rondonwrites frequently on lifestyle topics.
may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.