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Another time of the year, Wayne Rizzo might be mistaken for Santa Claus.

With his snowy beard and plump belly, Rizzo is a dead ringer for Father Christmas.

But the Belcher artist is more likely to be the harbinger of a different holiday.

When the days get cooler and the leaves start changing to orange and crimson, Rizzo's thoughts and artwork turn to Halloween.

"Christmas is way up there, too, but Halloween is just fun. Kids get to dress up and be something else for a night. It just thrills them," Rizzo said.

Through his art, Rizzo recaptures the grotesque and mysterious nature of All Hallows' Eve.

His paintings are a mix of trick-or-treaters, black cats, jack-o'-lanterns, haunted houses, witches and monsters.

"A lot of people say I have a dark side to me. That may be true. But I think everybody does. I just bring it out in my paintings," he said.

Rizzo will showcase his darker side in "Danse Macabre … Halloween and Beyond," which opens Thursday and runs through Nov. 1 at the Ginofor Gallery in Cambridge.

The artist, who paints a variety of subjects - from portraits and nudes to landscapes - in other seasons, said he usually creates one Halloween-themed work every year.

"My wife said, 'Why don't you put them in a show?'" Rizzo said.

The painter pulled out some of his favorite pieces from past years and then began to create a series of new work. The images range from creepy to whimsical.

"I use quite a bit of symbolism in my work," he said.

The spooky apparitions come mostly from Rizzo's vivid imagination. Sometimes he adds local landmarks.

The Pember library in Granville, which he had painted during daylight in a previous work, became the model for a haunted house in a piece titled "Do We Dare." In the painting, young trick-or-treaters stand outside the gate debating if a haul of candy is worth facing what lurks inside.

"I thought it would lend itself to a Halloween painting," Rizzo said of the prominent Victorian building.

The murky night scene highlighted with the fiery illumination of carved pumpkins and ominous glowing windows is one of Rizzo's favorite recent works.

His wife, Leslie, is fond of another painting, which Rizzo describes as "Concerto of Crows."

The work features a grand piano abandoned in a field. Two crows are perched nearby, and a mysterious hag looks on from the distance.

Rizzo's work has taken over a room in his house. He used to paint in a converted garage on the property, but it was a constant struggle.

"I was competing with animals out there digging in," he said.

After an early morning visit from a skunk, he decided it was time to find a different place to conduct his work.

These days, the only wildlife to distract him are the seven cats and Chinese water dragon that share his house and sit comfortably around the easel and tubes of paint. They don't seem phased by Rizzo's grim canvases.

The Halloween series, however, isn't meant to scare. For Rizzo, it's all about having a little fun and putting his personality into his work.

"For me, the whole point is mood and atmosphere," he said. "If I can get the person who is viewing the painting to feel what I was feeling when I was painting, then I'm satisfied."


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