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Toni Paolillo

Toni Paolillo was born and raised in New York and completed her schooling in Nassau County, NY. She received her Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from Adelphi University in 2009 and Masters of Clinical Art Therapy from Long Island University in 2012. Her materials vary from paint to charcoal as well as clay and gouache. Her most recent series of artwork is a weekly challenge connecting the people on her  social media platform. She collects strangers’ life stories and recreates their biographies through whatever material that inspires her. Empowering people to use their voice and to be heard has been a pattern in her creativity and passion. Her color palette is vibrant and her composition is purposeful. She finds inspiration through other’s memories and is a storyteller. She is the author and illustrator of children's books like “Oops! I Squished the Tooth fairy!” and “The Very Grumpopatamus”. She currently lives in Denville, NJ with her husband and her rambunctious six year old daughter.



Q: What town do you live in? Where is your studio/place of work?
A: I live in Denville, NJ with my husband, daughter and dog named Shadow. I have a habit of keeping my art everywhere in our house but tend to do most of my work on the floor.

Q: What kind of art do you create/what do you do in the arts?
A: Right now, I am working on a project called, “Anonymous Life Story Series.” This series has been an ongoing effort in collecting strangers’ stories and recreate them through new material that inspires me. I gain inspiration through other’s memories and am a storyteller. I use 2 dimensional materials to create the narrative on canvas or paper. I am an artist, a storyteller, and a voice of those who think less of their self-worth. Because everyone’s story is important and deserves to be heard.

Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: I am currently working on a mixed media project based on one of the life story submissions that will be posted on my Instagram this Friday.

Q: What is your art background/education/

A: I received my BFA in Adelphi University and then my MA in Clinical Art Therapy. I’ve worked as a museum educator in Newark Museum as well as developed the first Art Therapy program in Genesis Healthcare in Cedar Grove. When I had my daughter, I began creating stories and self-published a few children’s books while staying home and taking care of her.

Q: How do you balance your time in the studio/in the workplace with other commitments?
A: I think of art as a necessity and not a want. I make weekly and daily lists of what my goals are and always include art. Of course, at times life can get in the way but if you’re focused and want it, you’ll do it. I’d rather sleep less and do more art.

Q: Has your practice changed over time? Why/How?
A: As artists and humans, I believe we’re always evolving and changing. I’ve always been a collector and a storyteller. When doing my BFA thesis, I accumulated aged, abandoned photographs of people who had passed away. I was inspired by photos of family and the relationships that were left. After viewing them, I would recreate them through gouache or charcoal. I used a limited color palette and distorted the people. I think connecting my memories to strangers’ helps me gain a stronger understanding of who I am and bonding through life experiences. 

Q: What is your favorite thing about being in the arts? Least favorite?
A: My favorite thing about being in the arts is meeting people and exploring new materials. My least favorite part is the business aspect. I don’t enjoy the monetary haggling after I’ve created something. I create because it feeds my soul, not for the money.

Q: What inspires you? Who are your favorite artists/ artwork? Favorite museum/ gallery (outside of Morris County
A: I am inspired by everyday people. My favorite artists are Gerhard Richter, David Hockney, Peter Drake, Kara Walker, and Jackson Pollock. My go to museum is always the Moma but also, Newark Art Museum!

Q: How do you stay connected and up to date with the art world?
A: It’s not easy but with the help of social media there is no excuse. Having group shows this year has helped me connect with other talented artists.

Q: What memorable responses have you had to your work? 
A: Anytime my artwork makes people cry and connect to what was made.

Q: Where is your favorite place to find visual arts in Morris County?

A:  I used to enjoy going to the Atrium Gallery and Speakeasy gallery in Boonton.

Q: What are a few of your big artistic career goals? What is your dream project?
A: My goal is to keep connecting with others and getting their stories heard through art. I want to stay consistently creating and have a solo show one day that is filled with my creations of people’s stories. I believe art therapy can be beneficial to everyone and finding a way to reach people and let them be heard is what keeps me motivated.

Q: When you are working through problems in your arts practice, who do you talk to? What is the best piece of advice you've been given? What advice do you have to give other artists?
A: If I’m being challenged by a piece, I take a step back, go for a walk and usually paint over it. I use my family as my critics as I paint and take their advice to heart. My ceramics teacher, Bill Shillalies once told me, “Its so much more about the process than the product. Don’t get too attached to something, be like the clay and just keep molding yourself.”

Q: What do you want others to know about your art practice/artistic themes/stylistic choices/materials you use? 
A:  I am purposeful with my bold color choices and my compositions are filled with narratives. I use 2D materials because they’re what is available to me but if I could live on the pottery wheel, I would. I’ve always said, painting is my dinner and clay is my dessert.

Q: Where can people see your work? 
A: I am in a group exhibition in Chatham Library for the month of September. I have a group show called, “The Color of Nature”, this October in the Stable Gallery in Ridgewood, NJ. I am also involved with the NJ Art Association and my artwork will be displayed in Chilton Medical Center Gallery October through January 2023. If you’re unable to see them out in person, just head over to and check out what’s new there.

Sea of Love, acrylic, 2'x3', 2022.jpg
Love is Love, Acrylic, 28''x 22'', 2022.jpg
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