Talent flows everywhere throughout northwest Bergen County. Take Eric Santoli, for example. A watercolor and drawing instructor, Eric is a Ridgewood resident who has international experience in the arts.
A 2014 BFA graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Eric also holds a certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He’s currently a graduate student candidate for an MA in Studio Art at the Florence Academy of Art in Jersey City. He has taken classes in the Grand Central Atelier and has apprenticed in Anne Harris’s mural painting studio and Sotheby’s.
A 2018 trip to Spain and a visit to the Museo Sorolla in Madrid inspired his love to paint en plein air, meaning the artist paints directly from nature while being outside. “My inspirations are Claude Monet, John Singer Sargent, and Joaquín Sorolla,” says Eric. “Unfortunately, there’s a huge shift of artists who now paint strictly from photography, which means they are stepping further away from nature. Seeing the subject of a painting in person is different from working with a photo. When I set up outside, it's 100 percent nature—as authentically as I can recapture it. A photo is a step removed from nature, and you’re missing something if you’re not doing it from life.”
Eric likens painting to journaling. “A big element of painting is creating a memory,” he remarks. “Like writing in a journal, I can look at a painting I created several years ago and remember where I was, what I was feeling, the weather, and the colors. That’s a big part of it for me.”
Along with teaching private lessons and classes at the Ridgewood Community School and Bergen Community College, Eric also paints commissioned works in oils and watercolors and enjoys both mediums.
“Watercolors are poetic and impressionistic,” he says. “They are easy to travel with and can be set up anywhere. Comparing watercolor work to painting in oils is like writing a poem versus a novel. Usually, commission or portrait work is done in oils, but I sometimes do a watercolor as a sketch first,” he says.
Growing up, Eric enjoyed athletics, especially tennis and squash. And, he liked to draw. “When I was in high school in Ridgewood, my classes got unexpectedly switched around. I ended up taking Denise Sivulich’s acrylic class, and she opened my eyes to the magic of painting. It clicked with me, and I realized it was what I wanted to do as a profession.”
Eric was recently awarded the Versailles Foundation's prestigious Munn Fellowship Artist Residency Award, allowing him to live and work in Claude Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny, France, for three months in 2023.
“I applied, not expecting to get accepted,” says Eric. “It was paradigm-shifting for me. It opened doors for me to exhibit in galleries and focus on my own painting. Many people took notice when I was awarded the fellowship.” This includes The Geary Gallery in Darien, Connecticut, where his work is exhibited.
As a lifelong student of art history, Eric has a passion for the stories of accomplished masters. “Many of us are familiar with the backgrounds of some of the major artists, but there are also fascinating stories of lesser-known artists, like Caravaggio, a prominent Italian painter who happened to be an outlaw and a murderer,” says Eric.
Knowing these more obscure stories can make art history more relevant to students today. Eric shares that he’s noticed that younger students are not self-conscious about their work. As they get older, that seems to change, and older teens become more inhibited about their creativity. “Many school systems are doing away with the arts. I understand the reasoning, but I disagree. You can use art as a platform to study other subjects, like biology or history.”
Artistic expression is even more critical at this juncture in time. “Creativity provides an escape—it takes your mind away from negativity. Whether it’s quilting, woodworking, or painting—any artistic outlet allows you to release your frustrations and emotions,” says Eric.
In addition to painting, Eric enjoys spending time outdoors, reading, writing, traveling, and riding his Triumph Bonneville T100.
“There are a lot of parallels between riding my motorcycle and painting,” he says. Riding allows me to break out of my box in a similar way to painting. Both are a way of living in the moment.”