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Already flush with success, Aztec artist plans to open gallery this weekend


Ryan Callisto paints brightly colored acrylic portraits

Mike Easterling   | Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Ryan Callisto had spent a fair amount of time painting portraits when he was younger, but most of his adult life had been devoted to work in the counseling field and working with people with substance abuse issues.

So two years, when his wife Sophia suggested he begin painting again, he did so with the idea that he would do it for his own creative satisfaction and not with the idea that he would achieve any commercial success.

Boy, was he wrong.

Callisto quickly completed his first painting and posted it on Instagram. Within hours, a friend of his had reached out to him, offering to buy it. The next day, Callisto painted another portrait — and sold it. The process repeated itself the next day, and the next. On it went, for 16 straight days.

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"I developed a habit, and it felt really good," he said.

On the 17th day, Callisto's new painting did not sell, but by then, the California native realized he had stumbled across not just a new way to support his family, but essentially a new way of life. He moved into creating art full time and has not looked back.

"Yeah, how about that?" Callisto said Aug. 17, agreeing with assessment as he strolled around his new Moon Palace Gallery at 106 S. Main Ave. in Aztec, which will open this weekend.

Callisto takes great pride in being a husband and father, and he said his new career has provided him with the opportunity to spend much more time with his children. His paintings continue to sell extremely well, even during the COVID-19-related economic downturn that has decimated so many other businesses.

"It's hard to talk about because I'm afraid I'm going to jinx it by being too prideful," he said.

Callisto was just getting used to his newfound success when the pandemic hit, and his first reaction was to assume his sales would plummet.

"I thought I was screwed for sure," he said. "I said, 'Who's going to buy a painting when they can't work or buy groceries?'"

To his astonishment, the opposite happened.

"It tripled," he said of his sales. "Everybody wants to decorate the home they're stuck at."

Callisto noted that he doesn't just create art for wealthy people. His art is priced affordably, and many of his buyers are of modest means, he said.

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His work is also extremely accessible, focusing on musicians, iconic film characters and politicians. He also does a lot of commissions, painting portraits of family members and beloved pets.

Callisto used to work almost exclusively in watercolors. But as the pandemic raged, he decided to introduce more color to his work and moved to brightly colored acrylics. Now, his work fairly leaps off the paper.

As he prepared for the opening of his gallery earlier this week, the floor of his new space was largely covered in portraits of figures ranging from David Bowie, Ozzy Osbourne, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder to Freddy Krueger, Cat Stevens, Ice Cube, the members of KISS, Elle Driver of "Kill Bill," Henry Rollins and even Barack Obama.

Most of those works already had been sold and were awaiting shipment to their buyers, but Callisto said he had at least 60 other completed works that would be framed and hung on the walls of his gallery in time for its planned opening on Aug. 21. Callisto's wife, a successful artist in her own right, also will have her work featured the gallery, and jewelry created by members of their family will be offered for sale, as well.

Given the success of his online sales through Facebook and Instagram via the MoonOfJupiterArt moniker, Callisto said the idea of opening his own gallery is not something he is doing out of necessity. Rather, the space gives him a place to paint away from the distractions of home, as well as a place to get to know the people of Aztec.

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He also plans on having periodic openings at which he will display, but not sell, the work of other artists whose work he has collected, including musician Dave Navarro, better known for his work with such bands as Jane's Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

"For the first time in my life, I'm legitimately doing what I want to do and can give my kids anything they need and have some savings," he said, adding he often takes time to marvel at and appreciate his good fortune.

"I feel like the luckiest guy in the world — but humble," Callisto said. "I don't think this would have happened when I was 20, but if it had, I would have been scared of losing it."

For more information about the Moon Palace Gallery or Callisto's work, call 831-325-1490.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.