Entering Adam Baranello’s A Room Full of Art at Southampton Cultural Center, the viewer might feel a sense of visual chaos at first, but it soon becomes evident that this artist, filmmaker, clothing designer, dancer and musician has very clear vision for what he’s doing.
A walk around the space presents numerous paintings and works on paper hanging on walls and freestanding racks, along with various sculptural works. The back wall is festooned with floor-to-ceiling canvases, and at least four painted vintage televisions are on the floor playing Racecar, Baranello’s latest black and white art film. An array of clothing bearing imagery seen in the paintings — and everything else Baranello makes — is also on display.
As the show’s title suggests, art and creativity fill every available spot. Certain words and symbols begin to repeat, and the colors black, white, pink, and purple, with splashes of yellow, dominate the room. A Room Full of Art perfectly encapsulates Baranello’s unrelenting creative drive and energy, and it offers an answer to those who might question why the 42-year-old artist continues to wear so many hats instead of simply choosing to focus on excelling at one medium.
It’s because all of these things combined is his medium. And the overarching message tells us to live life, make our mark and love everyone along the way.
A conversation with Baranello will quickly prove he’s no dilettante. He fully understands and enjoys each of his endeavors and his influences, but they are inexorably connected. Whether he’s writing and shooting artsy films full of his music, art and dance routines (choreographed with his wife, dancer Gail Baranello), or using words from his paintings to inspire lyrics in his songs, or as bold statements on his clothing, the efforts intersect.
“The sum is greater than the parts,” says Baranello, a Ronkonkoma native who eventually found his way to living in Hampton Bays and becoming a beloved dance teacher and creative force in the Southampton community. “I can’t imagine just focusing on one, and I don’t know if it would take it any further because by doing all the different forms, I see how they feed each other.”
Baranello, who was a talented hockey player in high school and college, first began expressing himself artistically through music, but that led to other interests.
“I wanted to make music that I could dance to, because I did like pop kind of stuff, like Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake, but I wanted it to be cooler and edgier, and not as pop. That was the idea,” he recalls, describing how he first created his now ubiquitous logo — a skull in hat and sunglasses with two microphones — to put on T-shirts to help promote and fund his music by selling them on Myspace, where he had built a large following.
“I was really big on there and it did really well,” Baranello explains, noting he had 55,000 fans and about a million plays on the Myspace music player before the platform gave way to Facebook. “But then it was like, ‘Oh cool, people like the visual aspect also.’ And I started putting things on canvases and stuff. As the visual art progressed, adding the words and concepts more, that was the alphabet for a language that now was much more fleshed out.”
In the beginning, Baranello’s visual art was born from music, but it also helped inspire new songs as words took on a stronger role in the work.
“Like 10 years ago I started using words more. What’s fun with words is I make music, too,” he says. “One of the first paintings that I made and put words on, it was a T-rex and it said, ‘Don’t be a fossil while you’re still alive.’ I was like, ‘That’s a cool saying,’ and the next day, I started thinking about melody and I was like, ‘Oh, those would be cool lyrics,’” Baranello adds, noting that he wrote an entire song using “Don’t be a fossil while you’re still alive” as the hook.
“As opposed to putting my lyrics on a painting, I got the lyrics from the painting, which is cool. I really like that process. And then I just liked the way it looked, so I started putting words on the art more and that became part of the style,” he continues.
And in spite of some coded and cryptic messages in his paintings, Baranello says he wants his work to be understood by those who experience it, especially because he uses it to teach kids, and it’s important that they are able to access what he’s doing. But he also enjoys when adults without a lot of arts education or context can connect.
“I like to stay in that realm where people are getting it, and I feel like words help,” he says.
Baranello has created his own visual language and it’s inspiring to see it spread across so many methods of expression, including six feature-length art films and multiple shorts, more than six albums of songs, numerous dance routines and hundreds of paintings, drawings and sculptures.
It all fits together beautifully, and, whether one likes all of it, or none of it, this artist is truly living for his work, creating at a prolific level, sharing his authentic self and teaching what he learns to others as he goes.
And that definitely makes this room full of art worth visiting.