Humans have a need for the arts now more than ever, says St. John artist Katia Moltisanti, a native of Italy who arrived on the island in 2016 by way of New York City. There, she founded and operated the non-profit Italian language and cultural arts center Centro Raccontami. Now, Moltisanti’s has opened her own art gallery in Cruz Bay.

“In this moment of the pandemic, the arts is more important than we think,” she said. “There is a need for us to express our feelings and emotions and through the arts, we have that possibility. My gallery is a space where we can feed off the emotion, we can create a conversation, and that’s something I wanted to share with others. I thought a lot about whether this was the right time to open, but I realized people need to know we can start things. We can follow our path. We don’t have to stop because we are locked down.”

The gallery, located in Cruz Bay across the street from Lime Inn, features Moltisanti’s large format oil on canvas paintings adorning the walls, bringing the space to life with her blue, green, and pastel-hued renditions of familiar island scenes.

Nature dominates the artist’s subject matter, with her depictions spanning the gap between figurative and abstract.

“First, I look for the motion of the moment, then the figuration,” said Moltisanti. “I start with a sketch on the canvas outside. I’m not trying to represent what I see in a figurative way, but what I feel from that space — the moment, the light, the nature. It’s more poetic.”

Moltisanti comes from a family of artists, including one sister who’s an opera singer, another sister who’s also a painter, and a brother who’s a pianist.

She explored playing piano and violin and performing ballet in her younger years, before being drawn to painting, which she uses to express herself.

The artist earned a masters degree in English and Spanish literature in her 20s, becoming fluent in both languages, while taking art classes as well.

Moltisanti is always looking to grow and learn more about her craft; she continued to take art classes while running her school in the West Village.

After 13 years running the school where 200 students attended each semester, Moltisanti and her husband, Italian chef Giovanni Gurrieri decided it was time for a change.

“It was a big change in lifestyle, and right away we felt embraced by the St. John community,” said Moltisanti. “It was amazing. After we were here for one year the hurricanes hit, so we went back to New York for eight months. Even though the island was destroyed, the community was still here, and the beauty was still here. We wanted to come back and be a part of this community.”

The couple returned in 2018 and each quickly found their place — Moltisanti exhibited her art at Bajo El Sol Gallery in Mongoose Junction and in the spring of 2020 she joined the St. John School of the Arts board of directors.

She also teaches Spanish immersion arts to preschool through second grade at Gifft Hill School. Gurrieri has found success as a private chef.

Moltisanti said she sees her gallery as more than just a space to display her paintings. She’s reserved a corner of the space for herself to paint, noting that conversations with visitors to the gallery help fuel her inspiration.

She’s also collaborated with Italian artisans to produce notebooks of handmade paper featuring her artwork on the cover, and handbags printed with her paintings.

Moltisanti said she hopes to partner with St. John creatives in a similar fashion, eventually inspiring the island’s youth to look for ways to share their culture and heritage.

“I want to create these connections with my heritage and roots and my people here, because this is so important to who we are,” she said. “It’s so important that children here on St. John keep their traditions, because that will be their value and what they bring to the world. Elaborating on where you come from can make you unique in your voice.”

Beyond the inspiration she’s found in the island’s culture, Moltisanti said she was motivated by St. John’s natural beauty from the moment she arrived.

“In New York, I used to take art classes every semester, but here I feel like going for a walk is like taking a class,” said Moltisanti. “I’m learning from the observation of nature, from animals. After living in a big place like New York City, you know this is not to be taken for granted. This is precious.”

Moltisanti welcomes everyone to her new gallery to watch the artist at work, to engage in conversation, or simply to observe her works on display.

“I feel like I can finally take my personal soul and bring it outside; I enjoy sharing,” she said. “When I opened the cultural center in New York, it was offering a service for others, but this time I’m opening my own personal door and saying, ‘Please come inside.’ This is a different perspective, and I feel so much joy.”

Moltisanti’s gallery is open from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday or by appointment, which can be scheduled by emailing moltisantikatia@gmail.com.

Visit the artist’s website at www.katiamoltisanti.art.