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About Samuel  Formica


Samuel Formica (b. 1964, Chester County) is a self-taught painter who lives in Philadelphia, PA. His personal history is equally as complex and triumphant as his paintings. Growing up in poverty in a trailor park in Elverson, PA, a farm town near Reading, Formica loved to draw, but he never considered that becoming an artist was a possibility. As a teenager he became addicted to drugs and found himself homeless, living out of a van, yet even when he was at his most strung-out, he never stopped drawing.
In 1985, Formica was discovered by the late artist agent, Ola Jones, and he received his first solo exhibit in 1987 in Pottstown, PA. Upon her discovery, Jones immediately encouraged Formica to trade in his drugs for brushes. Twenty-two years later, he is still drug-free, and his paintings have since been exhibited in more than twenty-five international solo and group shows; published in Art Now, Art Matters, The Pew Trust, and American History Magazine; collected by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, President Jimmy Carter, and Donald Trump; and recently honored by the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary commission and placed in the official Ben Franklin Tercentenary exhibit catalogue, In Search of a Better World (Yale University Press). 

Supporting his work as an artist, Formica has worked as a truck mechanic, Goodyear tire salesman, army Private, bartender, restaurant manager, Elvis impersonator, and worked in a paper mill for seven years. From 1995-2005, he worked at Ristorante Panorama, an Italian restaurant with the largest wine-by-the-glass program in the US, where he developed an appreciation for wine and began collecting corks from the best wines they distributed. This ten-year collection of corks inspired a new series of paintings titled, Le Quattro Stagione del Vino , which he began in 2004.

Formica's work has become highly collectible, as he paints only two to three new pieces per year. Dense with allusion and vibrant colors, his paintings have been lauded by US presidents, including Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Gerald Ford, for their vigorous depiction of the history of America. “A wonderful portrayal of American history ,” said President George H. W. Bush, and Frank R. Wolf, Member of Congress, House of Representatives stated, “truly an original with phenomenal meaning.”

In 2005, Formica was commissioned by Stephen Patron, President and CEO of Paradigm Realty Alliance, to do a painting celebrating historic Elfreth's Alley , the oldest residential street in the nation located in Old City, Philadelphia. Looking to the Future, Formica's 2003 painting chronicles more than one hundred scenes of historical triumphs and tragedies. It took him three years to complete . His early work included pictograms, op-art, and neo-graffiti on canvas and was often considered symbolic and gritty.

Formica's diversity as an artist is apparent in more than his paintings. In addition to his visual art, he is an award-winning Elvis impersonator, known to his fans as Sammy J . At the age of 18, when Formica was a private in the Army, he began performing Elvis impersonations for his fellow troops at Fort Benning, GA. One of the fastest rising Elvis tribute artists in the world, he has appeared on TV, international stages, and has been photographed for Fortune Magazine.


I aim to create paintings that contain so much thought and passion in every stroke that they cannot be seen in a single glance. With my mother's motto in mind, “If you paint from the heart you will reach the heart,” I pour my soul like paint into the canvas in an attempt to understand my past, present, and the world around me.
I aim to draw the viewer deep into my work, so that they recognize themselves and the ideas within each of my paintings. Utilizing basic art principles - light and dark areas, contrasting color, dominance, and contrast - I reflect the world around me as I see it in order to help myself and others understand our personal and cultural histories. Meditation is a key component in my busy day to day existence, which includes a full-time job, international Elvis performances, and painting, and I attempt to pass that clarity of thought that I achieve through meditating into my work.

Like life, the ideas for my paintings flow like dreams, but the work is laborious. Sometimes it takes me years of research and thought before I embark on a new work. Carefully contemplating my subject matter, I first have a vision of a completed painting. These images strike like lighting during a day dream, while sleeping, or during a conversation. I journal these ideas for days or months, moving far within a subject before even sketching anything. Once I feel I am ready to begin translating the image from my mind to the canvas, I then expose layer after layer until the thoughts and verbal expressions behind the idea are laid bare, lucid to me and the viewer. I work on that piece exclusively, sometimes for as long as three years, until all of my thoughts have reached the canvas and it looks exactly as I imagined it on the first day in that vision in my head.
In my teens and twenties, my drug addiction had a major influence on my art. This life-threatening period opened areas of my mind that I would have never visited. This openness of thought allowed me to shut out the stresses of the world and fully concentrate on the creative side of my being. Now, drug-free for twenty-two years, I go there whenever I paint. I accredit art and Ola Jones, the agent who discovered me in 1985, for saving my life. Painting is what gave me the dreams and direction to begin a new life without drugs. As an addict, I painted the negative side of existence, whereas now, my work reflects the positive energy that I've brought back into my life.



Philadelphia Artist Samuel J. Formica

American History Magazine
Art Matters Art Now
Benjamin Franklin, In Search Of a Better World
Big Shout Magazine
Community Courier
Gallery Guide
New Arts Journal
The Catholic Standard and Times
The Daily Local News
The News of South Berks
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Trust, the magazine of The Pew Charitable Trusts Vol. 9/ # 1/Spring 2006
The University Reporter
The Best of America Oil Artists and Artisans Vol#1

George W. Bush
Former President of the United States

George Bush Sr.
Former President of the United States

William Jefferson Clinton
Former President of the United States

Jimmy Carter
Former President of the United States

Gerald R. Ford
Former President of the United States

Nancy Reagan
Former First Lady

Jeb Bush
Governor of Florida

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Governor of California

Ed Rendell
Governor of Pennsylvania

John Street
Mayor of Philadelphia

Frank R. Wolf
Congressman,House of        Representatives

Frank Dicicco
Philadelphia City Counsel

Frank Rizzo
Philadelphia City Council

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania

The Franklin Institute

John Alviti
Senor Curator, The Franklin Institute

Donald Trump

Estelle Colwin Snellenburg
E.W. Colman Associates Art Consultants

Sam Katz
Philadelphia Mayoral Candidate

Jerry Blavat
Radio and TV Personality

Jane Homlish
Assistant to the President, Penthouse Magazine

Stephen A. Patron
President and CEO, Paradigm Realty Alliance

Ralph Archbold
Benjamin Franklin, Philadelphia

Joseph Mangold
President Karr Barth Associates

Jay Harry Hoffman, D.D.S.

Rosemary A. Cook, M.D.

Jed Steele
Winemaker & Owner Steel Wines



"You will run into cleverness now and Samuel Formica's painting Help Our Mother Is Being Raped."

Edward J. Sozanski, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Contemporary Painters

I am proud to be included in the new book "Contemporary Painters"  by Nela Books

You can pre order the book on Amazon by visting the link below.

Formica's " La Quattro Stagione del Vino" on loan to the SAP Americas Corporation 2013