Mike Stanko has been called by others the Norman Rockwell of Valley Stream. He’s not sure he would go that far, but Stanko does share the same passion for art as the early 20th century painter.
Stanko, a lifelong Valley Stream resident, has more than two dozen of his paintings on display at local coffeehouse Sip This. The pieces, many of which are recognizable Valley Stream scenes, will be on display for the next month.
“I paint all the time,” said Stanko, a 1973 graduate of Central High School, who lives down the block from where he grew up. “I’m very influenced by my surroundings. I find pleasure in painting a Cheerios box, as simple as that.”
Long ago, Stanko fell in love with his hometown. He said Valley Stream has many beautiful scenes and he loves to paint those. His work on display at Sip This includes paintings of Central High School, the Pagan-Fletcher Restoration, the Village Green, Fire Department headquarters, the train station and various scenes from Hendrickson Park and the state parks.
There are also other paintings that might not look like Valley Stream — such as hamburgers cooking on a barbecue or a friend’s dog — but are, in fact, based on everyday life in the community and the people who live there.
Many of the paintings belong to Stanko and will be one sale. Others he has given away over the years and borrowed back for the show, such as a painting of Village Hall that Mayor Ed Fare commissioned him to make. Stanko has shown his work over the years at the Henry Waldinger Memorial Library and the Pagan-Fletcher House, but says this is his first “real show” in the community. He is also excited to have it as Sip This, located in the same Rockaway Avenue storefront as some popular businesses of the past — Whitey’s Candy Store, Frogs and, most recently, Slipped Disc Records.
Sip This owner David Sabatino said Stanko approached him about a year ago about doing the show. He liked the idea, and now enjoys seeing the paintings in his shop every time he comes to work. “I love it,” Sabatino said. “Besides looking great in the store, it means a lot to me and our customers, to see these things influenced by Valley Stream.”
Every painting has a description about why the scene is important to Stanko. He noted a picture of the White Castle in Lynbrook. While it’s not a Valley Stream scene, Stanko noted that it was a popular late night hang out for him and his friends while growing up in Valley Stream. “A lot of people relate to some of the stories,” he said.
Stanko describes his style as “pop realism.” He uses acrylic paint and said he never mixes colors. He also wants his paintings to be a real as possible, and often will work off of a photograph he takes of a scene, but then gives it a whimsical touch.
He said an average painting takes about a week to do, and he creates more than 30 pieces of artwork in a year — often while his wife, Karen, is playing piano in the background. Stanko has hundreds of paintings in a storage facility on Merrick Road, but said he would rather that people enjoy his artwork, which is why he was excited about his show at Sip This.
Stanko’s first steps as an artist were taken at the Wheeler Avenue School. As a child, he loved to scribble and his first real drawing was an aerial view of Shea Stadium he made when he was 8. At Central, he took classes such as studio art and painting and drawing, and was heavily influenced by his teacher, Mrs. Hayden.
In college, Stanko said he didn’t pursue art, but rather focused more on music and was in a band. It was after college his love for the visual arts resumed and he hasn’t put down his brush since.
When he’s not painting, Stanko delivers Boar’s Head cold cuts on a delivery route he owns in Queens and Nassau.
Sabatino said about 200 current and former Valley Streamers turned out last Saturday night at the opening reception for Stanko’s art show, which continues through Jan. 4.
“This show is out of my love for Valley Stream,” Stanko said. “When I was putting this show together, I was going ‘What is really Valley Stream?’”