Norwalk artist finds inspiration in the coast
It’s not that Julia Contacessi didn’t like her day job.
Her career in marketing utilized her creativity and her desire to collaborate with other people. But as she moved up in the ranks, she lost that creative aspect she so badly yearned for.
So, with the support of her husband, she quit four years ago to pursue her true passion. Now a full-time artist, she’s had to get used to her new life outside an office.
“I like to paint big,” Contacessi said. “Painting large is daunting, but it’s a lot of fun. Your whole body is involved because you have to move around the space. I used to sit behind a computer for eight hours. There’s a lot of artists that believe movement of creating art is part of art itself, and I think so too.”
Contacessi works in the realm of the abstract, inspired by the coast. The colors she uses are typically soft, cut by metallic notes that invoke images of shorelines and the white water of cresting waves.
“I want to feel calmed and welcomed when I look at a work,” Contacessi said. “People put my work in their homes and your home is your sanctuary. I want to be a calming experience that soothes your soul.”
Contacessi, a Shelton native who has lived in Norwalk for more than a decade, was exposed to art early in life. Her mother is an art teacher, which introduced her to the world. Following high school, she went to art school at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn where a heavy focus is placed on helping students actually get jobs doing art — that’s how she got into marketing.
“I was a child of the late 70s,” Contacessi said. “My mom was home with crafts and games, and I think that’s kind of how I got started. My family was really supportive when I decided to go to art school.”
Along her path to life as a full-time artist, Contacessi met fellow Norwalk artist 5iveFingaz. They worked together at a local marketing firm and became close friends.
“We first met in 2004,” she said. “We worked a ton together, I babysat his dog. We’ve always stayed connected and now he’s doing really interesting things.”
When she’s not painting, Contacessi is living up to her Italian heritage, hanging out with her family, making food, talking about food or planning for the next time they’ll all get together.
Her grandfather immigrated from Italy and purchased land in Shelton, turning it into a dairy farm. He worked in a local factory while Contacessi’s grandmother ran the farm. In the 1950s, a developer swooped in to purchase the land, but Contacessi’s grandfather kept two acres for himself as well as an additional two acres for each of his children. So, that’s where Contacessi grew up. Amid a large, growing family, next door to all her relatives.
“I loved that,” Contacessi said. “If I didn’t like what my mom was cooking, I’d go next door to my aunt’s house … and we’d always have big family dinners. We still do that sometimes.”
She’s made sure to carry on that tradition too. Every night, Contacessi sits down with her husband and son to enjoy a family dinner. Her mom is usually there too. One of the unexpected perks of changing her path four years ago is a freedom to leave her basement studio any time she wants to enjoy that family time.
“Family is really important to me,” Contacessi said. “At the end of one dinner, we’re usually planning the next one. My mother lives in Norwalk now and we usually eat with her four or five times a week. So we’ve kept that going.”
KKrasselt@scni.com; 203-354-1021; @kaitlynkrasselt