Colette Cosentino’s murals and other paintings glitter with the elegance of an earlier age.
DECORATIVE PAINTER Colette Cosentino (colettecosentino.com; Instagram: @ colettecosentinoatelier) may be known today for her huge wall panels with fanciful greenery, delicate birds, and silver and gilt details, but they’re a far cry from her first art job in Santa Barbara. “I began work at the old Ensemble Theatre,” she says. “I was paid $5.25 an hour to paint the stage black.” The modest gig, however, did nothing to deter her enthusiasm for the town. After graduating from art school in Colorado in 1993, her move to Santa Barbara opened up a whole new world for her. “I loved the landscape of Iowa,” she says of the state in which she grew up, “but I was totally enamored with this place.”
Cosentino went on to paint and restore sets for a number of productions at the Granada Theatre and other venues and took on the role of prop master, making props as well as canvassing local vintage stores for pieces. Not only was the stage work fun, it also pushed her in a different direction by introducing her to wall finishes crafted to resemble marble or wood. When a Montecito homeowner hired her to do one such wall finish, a new career direction opened, and she quit the theater.
“I got my big push at a time when a lot of villas were going up,” Cosentino says. “I’d never been so busy.” She created murals and decorative stenciling, as well as wall finishes, and began working with top interior designers like John Saladino, who had a reputation as a stern perfectionist. For one of his clients, Cosentino produced a monumental exterior mural featuring a Florentine scroll motif. “I was scared to death of Saladino,” she says, but “I knew if I could please this guy I could do anything. When you’re a self-employed artist, you learn to be versatile. No project is ever the same. It’s up to me to figure it out.” That means understanding the chemistry, the materials, and also how to really listen to clients.
When you’re a self-employed artist, you learn to be versatile. No project is ever the same. It’s up to me to figure it out.
Cosentino paints spontaneously, never sketching in advance but adding multiple layers to the canvas that give the background the look of smooth silk.
Another breakthrough project came her way when the Japanese Garden at Lotusland was under renovation a couple of years ago. The work site was cordoned off behind an unsightly utilitarian green fence, and with the organization’s annual fundraising gala looming, Cosentino asked a friend who worked at Lotusland if she could be of service. She got the of job painting a 400-foot-long mural on a monthlong deadline and created it in an abandoned Ventura warehouse without water or electricity. The stunning result led to other opportunities that enabled Cosentino to open a studio and art gallery in downtown Santa Barbara in early 2018. It was soon after the debris flow, hardly an auspicious time for such an undertaking, but having the space turned out to be a dream come true.
At the studio, she’s unfazed by passersby who watch her work through the huge windows or stop in to ask questions about her painting. “An artist’s life can be solitary,” Cosentino says, “but I thrive with people around. I encourage people to come in.” She can always put on headphones and lock the door, she says, if she feels the need to block out distractions.
The past year has been a productive one. Cosentino has continued to receive commissions from architects and interior designers across the country and internationally for hand-painted custom wall coverings and large-scale paintings, and she has created a line of custom wall coverings and fabrics that’s due to launch in 2020. For those with smaller living spaces (and perhaps more limited resources), she creates boxed canvases with prints of some of her favorite images. She also paints more abstract mixed-media cloudscapes, with an evocative nuanced palette that complements modern residences.
On any given day, a work is likely in progress in Cosentino’s studio, such as two 6-by-8-foot panels destined for the Pacific Design Center: Delights, a huge floral fantasy, and Garden Song, a depiction of a tree full of birds. She paints spontaneously, never sketching in advance but adding multiple layers to the canvas that give the background the look of smooth silk.
Her next potential project is “a ceiling that I’ll do in the studio, on the floor,” Cosentino says. “The contractor will bring in the wood, and when it’s done, he’ll put it up. These are creative people. That’s what I love, being able to work with top designers who have the luxury of working on unusual creative projects. I’m always looking to be experimental, to step out into the unknown.
“The world is hectic,” Cosentino adds. “I love to create environments that evoke a sense of calm and retreat. Our home should be our sanctuary.”