Theresa DeSalvio: Local Artist With a Message

Theresa DeSalvio uses the original, darker version of ‘Pinocchio’ to explore heroin addiction in a short film inspired by a recent series of paintings.

Artist Theresa DeSalvio’s new film gives voice to families affected by addition. 

theresa desalvio
Photo courtesy of Amelia Muccia.

Theresa DeSalvio is a Glen Ridge artist who explores social issues in narrative form. She usually creates a body of paintings surrounding a single theme.  In her most recent project, a series of paintings she calls “Tales,” she uses the character of Pinocchio to tell the story of a boy who does not look at consequences of his actions, and as a result, becomes addicted to heroin.

“This whole project evolved with things just falling into place, one part at a time,” said DeSalvio.

The original series of paintings was done in early 2014. In the summer of 2015, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)  announced “The Heroin Addiction Art Exhibition.” They asked for submissions and DeSalvio responded.  “Most of the people who contributed art to the exhibition were addicts in recovery,” said DeSalvio. “I used 24 of my paintings to create a storyboard format with narrative for this exhibition and became their featured artist.”

This, in turn, inspired Theresa DeSalvio to turn the series into a book, increasing the number of images used from twenty-four to thirty-two. She was able to raise the money for publication on Kickstarter. The book, Tales: a Cautionary Story about Heroin Addiction, was published last December in both English and Spanish.

“In trying to figure out how to best present the book, I came up with the idea to make a movie. The book is basically an adult picture book, with full-color reproductions of the paintings and a very concise narration. I believe strongly in the power of image to tell a story and I don’t believe that the subject of heroin addiction has been approach in this way before.”

The narrative uses Pinocchio as its central character. Although many will immediately imagine the mostly lovable Disney character, DeSalvio had a much darker version in mind. “My inspiration came from Carol Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio,” she says. “This is a much darker story than the Disney version. Disney worked hard to make Pinocchio such a charming and likable character. Pinocchio repeatedly made bad decisions with dire consequences. Colloid makes a point of showing what can happen when you choose the wrong friends and trust the wrong people. For me, the analogy seemed a perfect one.”

The music for the film is called “Upon Awakening for String Quartet” and was composed by Michael DeMaio. How Theresa DeSalvio found this particular music is just one example of how things seemed to fall into place. Her daughter, Amelia Muccia, had teamed up with DeMaio and was rehearsing his music with her string quartet at DeSalvio’s home. “I was in the early stages of making my film,” said DeSalvio. “When the quartet finished their rehearsal, I ran over to my daughter and said, ‘You have to ask Michael if I could use that music in my film!’ The music and the images work together so perfectly to build tension.”

This subject matter is very close to Theresa DeSalvio’s heart. “I have a family member who is a heroin addict,” she explained. “I saw from the inside what happens, not only to the individual, but also to the entire family. As an artist, I am able to take my experience and interpret it into an image. I think that art is a powerful tool to communicate experience.”

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