The next time you crack open a peanut and throw your empty shells on the ground, you may want to call Steve Casino first. These little nuggets are the canvas for his “peanut paintings,” a tiny collection of 3-D portraits like you’ve never seen. After discovering a peanut shell that was sort of shaped like himself, Steve decided to draw a cartoon face on it and show it to his friend. Not only did it elicit a smile and a big laugh but it inspired Steve to start painting. Since that day, he’s been going nuts. Literally. Four years later, he continues to paint people that he admires most. Everyone from Albert Einstein to The Munsters have been his muses.
It takes up to 20 hours to create just one peanut painting. But you can see why. Every nut is filled with detail and each one also comes with its own feet and arms – sometimes they’re even strumming a guitar! The final product is sealed in a glass dome so it can be displayed properly. The best part? Steve leaves one side of the peanut shell unpainted so that the reveal of the caricature is a surprise. It’s the happy reaction from people that keeps this toy inventor turned painter inspired. I had to get to know this guy better to find out what inspires him, what his favorite paintings have been, and as a former New Yorker, what places he loved hanging on at the most.
What is your background as a painter?
I have no painting background whatsoever. Kind making it up as I go along. It’s exciting to learn.
What inspires you first – the shape of a peanut or the subject itself?
It can be either. For example I found a humongous peanut while traveling through Alabama. Instantly knew it was going to be Andre The Giant.
What’s your favorite part about the process?
When I’m painting the face and it really starts to look like the person it’s supposed to be. I’m still astonished I can even do that.
What’s the hardest part about the process?
Getting the correct spacing between all of the facial features. It’s such a tiny area that I work in that one fraction of an inch makes a huge difference. When I first started I would have to repaint the face up to 10 times until I got it right. Luckily so much practice has made it easier.
as a former new yorker, What did you love the most about the city?
I loved so many things that I could go on for hours. But my absolute favorite is Central Park. The walkway called “The Mall” all the way to the fountain is to me one of the most beautiful places in the world. Sometimes there would be an orchestra at the fountain and it was like being in a Woody Allen film.
My favorite bar has always been McSorley’s. My friends and I used to spend entire days there laughing, drinking, and eating cheese plates with the vile mustard that they serve.
Do you like peanuts? Have any other nuts inspired you?
I love peanuts. My whole family does for some strange reason. Walnuts may be a distant second.
Have you experimented with other surfaces (and/or nuts)?
Yes. I do this whole other type of art that kind of branched off from the peanuts. It started because I started sculpting things INSIDE of peanuts. They looked like little infestations. So that’s what I called them. I started “infesting” other objects like coke cans and dental floss containers. They were very well-received and I ended up making a bunch of them. A gallery in the UK currently sells them for me.
What’s the biggest project you’ve ever made with these peanut paintings?
MTV hired me to make 12 Game Of Thrones characters to promote the past season. It was a lot of work in a very short time. Very fun, though.
CAN YOU NAME THREE OF YOUR FAVORITE PEANUT PAINTINGS?
Nirvana – Because it was a labor of love. And Krist, the bass player, posted it on Twitter.
The Ramones – Because the piece includes them in a mini CBGB’s and will be part of the Ramones exhibition beginning next month in Queens.
Van Gogh – Because I actually painted him in his own loose style, complete with a peanut version of “Starry Night.”
If all of your peanut drawings were in a movie, what would it be called?
Life In A Nutshell. Boy, that’s corny.