PITTSTON — In a creepy basement-studio in Pittston, Jeremy Ciliberto makes his living. The chipped concrete, cobwebs and dank air of his work space are the things horror movies are made of, and that’s just how Ciliberto likes it.
Traveling during his creative development, the 27-year-old lived in New York City while rounding out his education and moved to California to find work, but his experiences brought him back to Northeastern Pennsylvania, where he has found a way to sustain himself by selling slightly macabre custom sculptures.
Using molds he made by taking apart a synthetic human skeleton, Ciliberto casts individual bones out of liquid plastic, painting and staining them to look realistic. He builds decorative and often functional pieces of home decor from his castings. Ciliberto has shipped pieces from his Catacomb Culture series, such as lamps, mirrors and chandeliers, as far away as Florida, Hawaii and the United Kingdom. Recently his piece “Lamp of the Sovereign” took first place in 3-D art in the 2015 Northeast Biennial art fair.
Starting with film
After studying graphic design and theater at Luzerne County Community College, Ciliberto learned the ins and outs of video production at the Artist’s Institute in New York City. He briefly moved back to the Wyoming Valley, doing set design for local theaters before he drove to Southern California, where he found a job in the commercial sector of production design and an affinity for shooting short films with a 16 mm camera.
Ciliberto said working in a multitude of mediums brought him to his current fascination with custom bone sculpture.
“It started with film, and from film it guided me into scenic design,” Ciliberto said. “I was always fascinated with creating an environment for the actors to feel real, that could easily allow them to bring out their character. I was deeply inspired by ‘Halloween’ and horror movies in general, and I was like ‘imagine bone decor.’ It would be creating a semi-terrifying environment in a nice home or living room.”
Sandra Povse is the director of the Marywood University Art Gallery, where Ciliberto’s work was displayed when it took best in show in 3-D art in last fall’s biennial. His pieces attracted a lot of attention while in the gallery, begging people to wonder whether the bones were real at first glance, she said.
“I feel as an artist he’s very ingenious and creative,” Povse said. “His work seems to be very theatrical. He seems to have his finger on a certain pulse. He’s going to find his place outside of Scranton, I’m sure, but we’re happy to have him here for now.”
Creating, on average, one piece per week, and developing his marketing plan on a daily basis, Ciliberto’s commissions are keeping him busy and motivated. His past sculpture series includes “Gaps & Cracks,” where he focused on re-creating natural environments with foam insulation, as well as a mixed media series and a line of monstrous masks for his films. Currently the Catacomb Culture series, he said, has his attention.
“I’ve been really marketing my Catacomb Culture series more than any of the other ones, because it gets an emotional response, and I can really target my niche,” Ciliberto said. “Especially with bones and sculpture is that questioning of ‘Is it real or is it fake? I don’t know.’ That also adds to the environment of wherever the sculptures are, is that sense of ‘How should I feel right now?’ That’s why I really try and focus on the details, really try to get the dirt marks and stain and treat the sculptures as well as I can, so people will feel something when they look at it.”
Brandon Rice of Dallas is one of Ciliberto’s patrons and knows the artist on a personal level. He owns several of Ciliberto’s skull candles and a few of his vertebrae drink stirrers, and he admires the artist’s work as well as his disposition.
“Jeremy is one of the only people I’ve ever met that I feel is a true artist,” Rice said. “Regardless of how people perceive him, he does it for the right reasons. He doesn’t (care) what people think. He just does it to see his ideas come to life.”
Ciliberto enjoys creating his dark yet thoughtful home decor, which he sees as pieces that pay homage to life, past and present, and he appreciates being able to do it on his own terms.
“When I lived in California, I worked with an event firm and that kind of opened my eyes to the more commercial way of production designing, and that was a turnoff, and it guided me into this self-sustaining artist concept.”
The artist’s ability to keep his creative freedom and make his own schedule while still generating an income is the product of a couple of his personal realizations.
“I try to keep (my market) as broad and far-reaching as possible,” Ciliberto said. “Doing online sales and marketing is great, because I’ve shipped … all over. I’ve had a few people suggest I open up a storefront, but you don’t need to do that now. You just find your niche online and plug in some ads.”
Ciliberto said understanding the basics of online marketing allows buyers to find artists, and sustaining a marketing campaign is invaluable to keeping work coming in. After living in New York and California, he’s back in his hometown, where he first mimicked the hyper-realistic drawings his mother would produce when he was a child.
“I’ve learned that you should never expect to take your art places,” Ciliberto said. “You should let your art take you places.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or [email protected]