By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Artist Joe LoGuirato has been a painter and a sculptor for all of his adult life. But it’s safe to say that he has never poured as much emotion into his work as he did when he created the 26 pieces featured in his latest exhibition, now showing at the Urban Folk Art Gallery on Smith Street.
“Stella: Homage to a Cancer Patient” is a lovingly-created tribute to LoGuirato’s late wife Stella LoGuirato, who died of lung cancer three years ago. The LoGuiratos had been married for 38 years when Stella died. She was 58 years old. She had bravely battled cancer for nearly three years.
“She died of lung cancer and she had never smoked a cigarette in her life. Life hits you in the gut sometimes. When she passed away, I thought that the best way I could pay tribute to her was to use my creativity. The exhibition is a visual journal of what we went through together,” LoGuirato, 61, told the Brooklyn Eagle.
There are paintings, sketches and bronze sculptures of Stella in the exhibition, as well as works representing some of the moments the couple shared during Stella’s last months. “It was a pleasure making portraits of her. She was a beautiful woman,” LoGuirato said.
There is also an abstract painting depicting a mutant cancer cell on an otherwise pristine white canvass and a sculpture made up of syringes that LoGuirato melted down.
LoGuirato, a former art director for Brooklyn Union Gas, earned his masters degree in art from Brooklyn College and now teaches there. He told the Eagle he is aiming for universality in this show. “It’s a tribute to my wife, but it’s also paying homage to all cancer victims. If you talk to any person, they’ll tell you they know someone who has died of cancer. It touches us all. Cancer is like a modern day plague,” he said.
The exhibit’s art sales will benefit the American Cancer Society for research into a cure for adenocarcinoma, a type of lung cancer afflicting women and non-smokers.
“LoGuirato’s capable of moving from painting, drawing and various two dimensional media to modeling in clay and other three dimensional sculptural processes,” said Bob McGee, a writer from Brooklyn. “An abstract of a mutant cell, a sculpture of syringes, an anatomy figure, studies of Stella in various media; the work is eclectic, driven from memory. Its depth and resonance will touch anyone who has had any experience with cancer.”
LoGuirato said he is still inspired by the courage his late wife exhibited during her illness. She was diagnosed with cancer in early 2009. “She had discomfort in her hip. When she went for a CT scan, it turned out that she had cancer. It had started in her lung and metastasized. She courageously fought the disease for almost three years — a success story of sorts according to statistics. During that time, she went from a wheelchair, to a walker, to a cane, to briefly going back to work. Not one for self-pity, Stella accepted all the medical procedures and treatments without complaint. She was an inspiration to me and our three surviving children,” LoGuirato said.
The couple’s first child, Christopher, died after an asthma attack at age 13. Stella is survived by Joe and their three children Mathew, Max and Lani.
“Our church pastor would stop by to visit Stella and regularly give her Communion. It was a spiritual boost for her. Stella was able to fight her illness with great resolve, dignity and peace because of her faith,” her husband said.
The couple met in college. “We both took advertising and design courses. I stayed with it. I had always wanted to be an artist. Stella went on to do other things,” LoGuirato said. The relationship quickly turned serious. Both knew they had found the one. Things progressed from there.
Despite Stella’s illness, there was a lot of joy in the LoGuirato household. “And she lived right up until the end. We went to see ‘Jersey Boys’ on Broadway. It was the last play we saw together. The last restaurant we went to was Smith and Wollensky. Stella felt good after chemo one day so we had lunch in the city rather than going straight home as we did most often. We enjoyed the steak and the red wine,” LoGuirato said.
LoGuirato’s images of roller skates, a Communion box, the exterior of Smith and Wollensky’s, a Linzer tart and slices of key lime pie (representing Stella’s favor deserts), accompanied by explanatory notes, are part of the exhibit.
Stella died on Dec. 16, 2011, at home. Her last moments were spent in a reclining chair in her bedroom, where she was surrounded by her husband and children, her parents, her siblings, her nieces and nephews, and her pastor.
“I want people who see the exhibition to come away with an awareness of the struggles and the courage of cancer patients. And I want them to remember to live each day fully because you don’t know how much you have,” LoGuirato said.
"Stella: Homage to a Cancer Patient” is on display until May 20 at the Urban Folk Art Gallery, 101 Smith St. For more information, call the gallery at 718-643-1610.