FAIRFIELD — A peacefully slumbering red-headed woman whose figure is filled with intricate cubist detail is mounted against the gallery wall, facing a turbulent piece dangling from the ceiling and peppered with burned holes, black and brown smudges and splashes of red.
Contrast fills the gallery, though the work is clearly from a single hand. Some delightful pastels, other works are explosions of color showing rage or joy. Some bearing carefully crafted words, other works show scrawled dramatic statements. “This is my love for you,” reads one piece, amidst of sea of color, bright hearts and flowers. “Yes love, my soul is black…” affirms another, denoted as a self-portrait from the summer of 2004.
The artist on view at Sacred Heart University’s Art & Design Gallery is Stefan Novotny, a Fairfield resident who died in 2015. After a battle with addiction, he overdosed nearly two years ago, cutting short at 30 years old a life the exhibition’s creators characterized as having great artistic potential.
Mary Treschitta, Chair of Sacred Heart’s Art & Design Department who worked with another professor to exhibit Novotny’s work, first met the artist when he was around 14. He was friends with her daughter, a classmate at Fairfield Warde High School.
“He was a rather incredible young man and just had an incredible artistic eye and look,” she recalled. “He would take a can of spray and just do artwork on my wall and on the trees, and that’s really how I met him. That’s literally how I met him with the first playdate with my daughter and he’s spray-painting my trees.”
Her aim was twofold, exhibiting the work of a talented and prolific artist and a desire to educate gallery-comers that addiction can cut short deep potential and talent. She hopes people will see addiction is a disease that requires help and shouldn’t be slammed with stigma.
Born in Manhattan, Novotny grew up in Connecticut. His parents, Katie and Wolfgang, bought a home in Fairfield where they lived for 23 years and raised their two sons and daughter, sending them all through the town’s public schools. The couple now lives in Stratford. After graduating from Warde, Stefan Novotny studied at Paier College of Art.
He exhibited locally and designed a set for a Warde play just before his death, creating art as he supplemented his income through other means. For five years, he worked at Giant Steps School in Southport, aiding young adults with autism.
“There was a very soft side of Stefan,” his mother, Katie Novotny, said. “He had a very big heart, and I would say that he was at his happiest when he was working for Giant Steps.”
Family and friends recalled Stefan Novotny as funny, lively, handsome, adventurous and bringing a burst of energy when he entered a room. From music taste to his art, he loved to push the envelope.
Something Stefan Novotny hated about his addiction was how it interfered with his art.
“I think he was ashamed of the addiction, but he couldn’t beat it,” Katie Novotny said. Her son had been in recovery for nine months before his death. Wolfgang Novotny added, “He tried.”
They believe the shame associated with addiction only added obstacles for their son and if they could go back, they said they would not be embarrassed by their son’s addiction and wouldn’t hide it. His mother added, she would tell him she loved him every day. They no longer believe in tough love and feel it failed them in helping Stefan.
Stefan Novotny’s parents would consider selling his work in an attempt to share it. They founded The Stefan Novotny Artists Fund in his honor to help young artists through Beechwood Arts and Innovation in Westport. More of his work can also be found at http://btefan.deviantart.com/.
The Sacred Heart exhibition is on view through March 12.
“I was startled when I first saw (his work). To me it was amazing but it’s also, it’s somebody who’s really struggling to communicate and this is the way he did it,” said Jon Walker, associate professor of art and design and curator of the exhibition.
For his parents, seeing their son’s art on a gallery wall is tough but rewarding, and they hope it will aid his work to become better known while also sending a message about some of the dangers of drug use. It gives them a confidence boost that they can deal with their remaining pain.
“I’m very pleased. Stefan would like it,” Wolfgang Novotny said. “It is the most wonderful thing that could have happened for Stefan, for his memory.”