Women of the world

New exhibit for Jersey City painter

One avid painter is bringing women from all over the world to the walls of a Jersey City art gallery. Lifelong Jersey City resident John Besante has painted over 40 women from places including Jamaica, Belize, Panama, and St. Lucia for his series of works called “Women of Color.”
His newest installment, “Siren’s Song,” is showing at 58 Gallery on Coles and Third Street through Jan. 31 with an opening reception on Jan. 14 from 7 to 11 p.m.
“It’s not x-rated or anything,” Besante said. “But I think art is about beauty, and what’s more beautiful than a woman?”
The show features 12 of Besante’s nude women on canvases up to four feet long.
“Yep, all naked ladies,” Besante said. “I’m not into art that is overly political or angry, or what’s the latest and greatest. I just paint what I like.”


“Women sometimes think I’m exploiting the subjects.” – John Besante

Besante, who also owns the gallery, said that getting the show wasn’t easy, even for him. “It’s hard to even get a show there,” Besante said. “So, I’m excited. My stuff is usually too corny for them anyway.” Besante, who turned 59 last Monday, said that the gallery is booked well in advance and some artists wait years to get a show.
“I bought that property over 30 years ago, when they couldn’t have given it away,” Besante said. “But, I always had my mind set on opening an art gallery. It took 20 something years, but now there’s artists falling from the sky, now the time is right.”
Although the artist has been working in the industry for the last 40 years, he said that some gallery goers are reluctant to accept his work.
“Sometimes people are intimidated of my work,” Besante said. “To be honest, the guys like it. But women sometimes think I’m exploiting the subjects or that the subjects are too sexy.” Regardless, Besante plans to keep painting his nude subjects until the series reaches 100 paintings.

A league of their own

Besante isn’t just a property owner in Jersey City. Thirty years ago, when he bought 58 Gallery, he also purchased a farm in Jamaica, which is now an artist’s colony welcoming artists from all over the country.
“We just had two women from Oregon stay for three months,” Besante said. “It’s just absolutely beautiful there.” The Art Students League of the West Indies is an old chocolate farm with three small cottages and no electricity.
“It’s free for artists to come and stay,” Besante said. “There’s a waterfall right on the property and you can just sit under a palm tree with a glass of pineapple juice looking over the sea.”
Besante’s 10-acre colony is also a bird and wildlife sanctuary, as well. “It’s completely unspoiled. There’s even an artesian spring – you can drink the water right from the ground.”
For Besante, the colony is a great place to get away, especially from Hudson County.
“I love Jersey City, but I don’t want to die here. My family has been here for over 100 years. Sometimes you need to get away and walk barefoot and get back to nature and away from all the pollution and politics. Just detox.”

The museum man

Although Besante has painted nude subjects for the past 10 years, not all his work features the human form. Besante also works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan where he copies the works of Matisse and Renoir.
“I’ve been doing it for eight years now,” Besante said. “It’s really a lot of fun.” He showed an exhibit of his works at the gallery called “Americans in Paris.”
“They’re more like transpositions then copies,” he said. In addition, Besante has been painting at the Upstairs Art Gallery in Journal Square.
“I’ve lived in the same house my whole life, and been painting at the Upstairs Gallery too,” he said.
“Painting and the gallery aren’t exactly moneymaking enterprises,” he said. “I’m just trying to live the good life.”
Sean Allocca can be reached at editorial@hudsonreporter.com


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