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Corrections officer Steve Nassano displays his passion for his art at Behringer-Crawford event

By Betty Payne
Special to the NKyTribune

Perhaps when you think of art therapy, you picture people who are recovering from trauma or injury or depression and imagine their quiet paintings to be of butterflies or unicorns. Well, let artist Steve Nassano broaden your perspective.


His vibrant canvases are full of energy and freshness and the skillful use of materials. He spends his off-hours capturing scenes of beauty in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area, and abroad, with appreciation and immediacy. In his day job, he works as a Corrections Officer at the Lebanon Correctional Institution. It was that organization that awarded him the title of “The Picasso of Art at Lebanon Correctional.”

Nassano feels it is important to fill one’s head with positive things to offset the negativity in the world and wishes more people would use art as an antidote.

“After dealing with murderers and rapists all day, I come home and slap paint on a canvas,” he said recently when he signed in for a plein air event at Behringer-Crawford Museum (BCM) in Covington in September.

This was BCM’s 27th year for their signature freshART event and auction but it was the first time Nassano had participated. Artists contribute a portion of the sale of their works to the museum for children’s education programs.

Nassano set up his easel and large canvas at the overlook in Covington’s Devou Park with a tarp underneath to handle paint splashes. He created a captivating landscape of the Cincinnati skyline and it was alive with bold colors, daring brush strokes and palette knife flair, and it danced with light. He was nearly finished after only two hours! His painting was well-received by the audience for the gala and live auction the next night and brought a very respectable price.

Nassano’s art includes this piece capturing Pete Rose surpassing Ty Cobb’s record with hit #4192 (provided photos).

Nassano didn’t just pick up painting as a hobby recently, he had been drawn to drawing since he was a teenager working on his own in Bellevue, and even enrolled for lessons at a Covington girl’s school when his own high school did not offer any art classes. As an adult, he took lessons from other artist/teachers in the area – at the Capito School of Art in Florence, the Baker-Hunt Foundation in Covington, at Northern Kentucky University, and at the Art Club of Cincinnati, where he later served on the board for a number of years.

At 64, Nassano has had a full and active life. He holds a black belt in karate and remains an active student.

He has previously worked as a meat cutter, as a chef, served in the military for 27 years (including four combat tours) and has worked for 20 years now at Lebanon Correctional Institution, where a painting of his of Arlington’s National Cemetery hangs in the Deputy Warden’s office. He is a fast talking, high octane individual and art has been a driving force throughout his life.
Always striving to create something fresh in his paintings and framings, Nassano is prolific and versatile in subject matter. He creates landscapes, still lifes, Pete Rose action scenes, local landmarks, and patriotic tributes.

“I emphasize strong colors, heavy textures and use forceful gestures to create energy within a subject,” he says.

His style is his own – somewhat impressionistic, somewhat abstract, yet still representational; it does not fit neatly into any one category.

Another of Nassano’s works features the Arlington National Cemetery.

Even though he has traveled on painting trips abroad to Vietnam, to Tuscany and locations in France and created works there, he loves to paint Cincinnati area scenes and finds them equally worthy.

Working mostly in oils, he finds inspiration around most every corner and along the banks of the Ohio River and works “to express all his emotions into the paintings – it is a positive experience,” he writes. One of his teachers, distinguished artist, Tom Bluemlein, who led classes abroad and teaches locally, says Nassano has a unique style which he never tried to influence.

“Be the best that Steve can be,” Bluemlein wisely directed.

Currently, Nassano’s paintings can be seen at Purple Paisley, a Local Artisan Shop in Covington, and at the Pendleton Art Center in Cincinnati on Final Fridays and by appointment. His website, www.nassano.com displays many of his past and current works, including an award-winning entry for The State of Ohio for a painting of Suder’s Art Store in Cincinnati, which hangs in the House of Representatives in Columbus.

Although one might not achieve such notoriety as “The Picasso of Art at Lebanon Correctional Institution,” through artistic endeavor or therapeutic exercise, anyone can take a lesson from Steve and profit from the uplifting power of art for inspiration and expression. His enthusiasm for art is contagious.

Betty Payne is a volunteer and docent at Behringer-Crawford Museum. She resides in Southgate.

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