The art of Gino Salerno is a familiar sight to many Wichitans. His engrossing wood-carved and hand-painted statues have decorated many popular city parks and garnished the grounds of Bishop Carroll High School, North High and the Wichita Art Museum.
What may be less known, though, are the depths and dimensions of his art.
Short films, documentaries, music, meditation sequences, photographs, sculptures and paintings are among the avenues he explores.
"Artists should not limit themselves to one style," Salerno said. "If you do that, you cut yourself short in many ways. If you are a true artist, you keep your mind open and options available. It's all about how you look at things and put them together."
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Art is integrated into all facets of Salerno's life. He holds a fine arts degree from Newman University, but his formal education was really only the beginning of his creative journey.
He's been creating statues and photography for more than 30 years. The people he has encountered and the places he has been have a heavy influence on his works.
"I'm lucky because I get to travel two to three times a year," he said. "This year, I've been to Spain, Sicily and Italy. I love to go explore a new place and capture its culture with my camera. I always get new ideas and insight when I go to different places."
A physician's assistant, he sees artfulness even at his job in the Emergency Department at Via Christi Medical Center.
"In the ER, I do artistic work in some ways because of all of the small repairs and injuries I deal with that require a degree of thought, care and piecing together of materials, etc. I definitely use my knowledge as an artist there," he said.
He feels he has a good balance between his work in the medical field and his creative pursuits. He's usually able to schedule his hours so that he works long, successive days. This allows him to have several days off in a row so he can focus on art. He said he averages about 15 hours a week working on art. When he's not working, he often works as many as 48 hours creating.
"I need to clear my mind from work when I create and use the right side of my brain," he explained. "My job is very left-side. Art is the opposite. It's free-range, free-flow."
Though he's perhaps best known for his statues, he's made some changes with how he showcases them. The colorful fixtures were staples of many Riverside parks for years, but a rash of thefts and vandalisms in the early 2000s prompted Salerno to shift focus to making them for private collections.
"From an artist's perspective, more people in Wichita recognize his work than many others I've seen," said David Murano, a longtime friend and fellow artist. "His statues really made him popular. People here remember them from the parks. That got ingrained with the community."
Salerno's work now centers on commissions for churches, schools and businesses. He makes them regularly but tends to do so when the weather is cooler and more conducive to working outdoors.
Focus on film
Much of Salerno's recent artistic focus has been in films. He's explored different genres and lengths. Most of his works can be viewed on his Vimeo website, which boasts 134 video files. He said he began making videos about seven years ago, but only got focused in the last few.
"I'm obsessive about what I do," he said, referring to the large volume of work he's produced in a relatively short period of time. "I started with photography 30 years ago, but after a while you want to start seeing those photos move."
The site offers up a variety of videos to stream. Surreal short films make up a large amount of his work. All of the videos are highly focused and artfully shot, usually with mystical-sounding accompanying soundtracks produced by Salerno.
"Fragmented Dreams" showcases several seemingly unrelated scenes revealing glimpses into various young women's lives. There's no linear storyline; each scene is like a cascading shard of consciousness.
"I like short stories," he said. "I like artistic films. There's a certain niche for art films where you deal with light and composition. There's a venue for showing that and an audience for it."
Some of his films have been shown at festivals and surrealist screenings in larger cities.
Issue-based documentaries are also a large focus of Salerno's video work. He thoroughly explores the subject of homelessness in several videos.
"A Year in the Life of John Matthews: A Homeless Man" was shot locally and follows a person's journey during a 12-month period.
"I was really able to focus on how having no home affects you as an individual. You can see the change in his mind frame and physical conditions," Salerno said.
He's also zeroed in on Haiti to paint a full picture of a nation he feels most in the U.S. have no true concept of.
"I've been to Haiti seven times, even right after the earthquake," he said. "People think of Haiti as a super-poor country, but it's also a good country. The documentary I did is a good contrast of a complex nation. There are good things there, and I aim to show that in the film."
Other documentaries focus on animal care at correctional facilities, abuse, and even the process of making olive oil.
"His films are interesting," Murano said. "I really love the whimsical, fanciful approach. He is a great collaborator, too. He always has someone helping him and does a good job of getting people engaged and involved in the creative process."
Additionally, he's done quite a bit of meditation videos. Most feature nature scenes set to relaxing, soothing music.
"These videos get some of the most viewers on my site," he said. "They are observations of nature and relaxed in tone."
One of the most popular is his "Clouds" video. It features skies of clouds from all over the world. The footage was captured during his travels.
Music is a central element to all of Salerno's films, but it's also something he focuses on as an independent art form. He said he's been playing guitar since he was a kid. He also plays the keyboard, mandolin and various percussion instruments. He writes and produces his own music, and has released several compilations.
His "Equinox" release features instrumental music with distinct world sounds. "Music from Rural Haiti" is a collection of folk and church songs. Most of his CDs are available for sale on Amazon.com.
There's no one dimension to Salerno's art, and no quick summation for all that he does. That's part of why he says his website doesn't have a lengthy artist statement. He says people can get a better sense of who he is as an artist by interacting with his works.
For example, he's currently working to make his own series of graphic novels.
"I enjoy writing, and that's a big part of why I enjoy the films. I get to write those short stories. This is another way I can create."
Gino Salerno's art
For more information on Gino Salerno's art, visit ginosalerno.com. View his videos via Vimeo at http://vimeo.com/user2675323.
Additional photos online
Visit this story at Kansas.com/entertainment to see additional photos of local artist Gino Salerno through the years.