— As a captain in the Elkton Police Department, Joseph Zurolo is no stranger to being seen downtown.
On Friday, however, visitors to town will see a side to the officer that many probably didn’t know about: the painter.
Zurolo will open his monthlong exhibit of 17 of his abstract expressionism pieces at The Palette & The Page at 120 E. Main St. in downtown Elkton.
To kick off the gallery on the town’s monthly First Friday celebration, Zurolo will be at that shop from 5 to 8 p.m Friday to meet visitors and talk to them about his art. His paintings will be on sale.
Zurolo has only been painting as a hobbyist in the privacy of his Fair Hill home for about two years, beginning when his wife gave him a starter art kit as a present on Christmas Day 2016. It was a quick progression from someone who had never put paint to canvas to becoming a featured artist at a gallery.
“When I get into something, I jump all in,” Zurolo, 50, explained. “Early on, I met a fellow artist at a gallery and I asked her, ‘How did you advance in your art?’ She said you have to paint every day
to advance in your style and technique. And that’s what I do, without fail, I paint every single day.”
Although he had never painted until late 2016, Zurolo has been an art buff for many years.
“I’ve always enjoyed art and going to museums and different galleries,” he said. “I gravitate toward abstract expressionism and love the old masters, like Jackson Pollock.”
When he started his hobby, Zurolo simply was seeking an outlet for the tension that comes with his job. In 1996, after a one-year stint as a Cecil County Sheriff’s Office deputy, Zurolo joined EPD as a patrol officer and then worked his way up the ranks during the next 22 years.
“I have the cliché answer for why I chose law enforcement as my career, but it’s true. I wanted to do something that gave back, something ser vice-oriented that helps people and makes their lives better,” Zurolo said.
As one of his many duties, Zurolo serves as the agency’s spokesman, one who provides information about crimes and agency actions to media outlets. Because of that role, his name frequently appears in the Cecil Whig as a source and he appears on Baltimore TV coverage of Elkton. Capt. Joseph Zurolo of the Elkton Police Department stands in front of some of his paintings inside the gallery at The Palette & The Page in downtown Elkton. His artwork will be on display throughout December, along with handmade jewelry created by Jay Stutman.
“I wanted to try painting as a stress reliever,” he said.
Like most fledgling artists, Zurolo started by reproducing bowls of fruit and other objects on his canvases, with the goal of accurately capturing shapes, colors, shades and so forth.
“I was just reproducing the external world with realistic paintings,” he explained.
But Zurolo soon discovered that his artistic muses came from deep inside of him.
“I wanted to make representations of something more internal. I wanted to make reproductions of emotion. It’s like looking at clouds and everyone sees something different. It’s left to interpretation, and interpretation is based on where you are in life, your past experiences, your point of view,” he said.
When he sits in front of a blank canvas, Zurolo’s mood dictates what colors he uses and how he brushes them.
“Whatever emotional state you’re in at the time is projected onto the canvas. Your techniques and motions are
different when you’re happy than when you’re sad, for example. How you are putting the paint on the canvas will be affected by your mood. You may put the paint on faster or slower, depending on your emotional state,” Zurolo said.
Zurolo has never taken a formal classroom art course since embarking on his hobby. He is self-developed painter who has turned to the internet and literature for guidance along the way.
“There is so much information out there in this day and age. I’ve taken some online courses that were helpful with technique,” Zurolo said, adding, “And I’ve also read books on the subject.”
The information provided him with a foundation on which to build, on which to come into his own. Like a writer who finally finds his own voice, Zurolo used those lessons to personalize his techniques — and his art.
“I’ve actually developed my own tools to move the paint around on the canvas,” Zurolo noted.
Zurolo said he believes that being this month’s featured artist at the downtown gallery will put all law enforcement officers in a different light, particularly in the eyes of those who view them only as authority figures.
“I think being a law enforcement officer who is a painter humanizes all officers. It shows a side that people we meet in public as police officers don’t get to see, Zurolo commented.
His EPD comrades have been supportive since learning that Zurolo is a painter who reproduces emotions in abstract expressionism form. He also acknowledged, however, that being a cop with an artistic sensitive side is fair game for playful ribbing.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of teasing. But, every now and then, you’ll get a nonart enthusiast who will say something like, ‘I think that’s a waste of paint.’ But it’s all in fun,” Zurolo said, chuckling.
Regardless of what is said, though, Zurolo loves constructive feedback, he said. And that’s why he is thrilled to have his art on display this month.
“I am very excited about this,” Zurolo said. “The way I see it, I complete a painting and then it gets re-completed every time someone looks at it. I want to hear what their interpretation is of it. Every time I hear someone’s interpretation, my painting gets re-finished again and again and again.”
In addition to Zurolo’s paintings, the “Color Riot: Abstract & Concrete” exhibition at The Palette & The Page will also feature Newark jewelry artist Jay Stutman, local children’s book author John Micklos Jr., and holiday music by Wendy Gill and Joe Paulus.
Zurolo said that his art differs depending on his mood as he approaches a piece, including its colors, application and movement.