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Interview: Joe Piscopia

Updated: Mar 19

The Promise of Life.   2023 oil on canvas 24”x18”

1) Could you introduce yourself? Where are you from, and where did you study art? When did you first see yourself as an artist?

My name is Joe Piscopia. I was born in Greenpoint, Brooklyn NY and continue to live and create art there. I am a graduate of The School of Visual Arts and majored in Media Arts/Illustration. For me I feel the first thought of not so much that I wanted to be an artist but that I liked creating things was probably around the age of 7 or 8 years old.

I drew rudimentary figures of funny made-up characters while also trying to draw Charles Schultz’s Peanuts figures. This was the start of my attempts at art.

My first art class in Grammar School was filled with unruly kids and the cacophony and wildness of the students was the opposite of the strict classes from 1-3 grade. It was like an indoor playground! 

What I did find was that this first allocated time to spend at what became the beginnings of structured art learning made me curious as to wonder what art was about. 

I found myself aware of calmness, direction or enjoyment at doing something with a crayon or pencil had a magical hold on me and gave me a good sense of self where I could lose all that chaos in the first-grade art class and concentrate on my own thoughts of drawing. And this self-discovery has continued with me from an early age to now as I’ve chosen a path at art making.

2) You used to be a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. How did working at the museum impact you as a person and an artist? 

Yes, I worked at The Metropolitan Museum of Art as a security guard for 27 years and I have to say it was as eye opening as attending SVA. The fact that I was working in such a totally astounding museum with art from all over the world was so rewarding. Many artists, writers and creative people work there in many capacities, so I made many lifelong friendships. 

Another positive part of working there is I had experienced seeing art at close range and on a daily basis. I discovered various techniques and mediums along with unfamiliar artists which made me think about the process of creating art in a profound way. 

I wasn’t an abstract artist before I worked at the Met. Being there day in day out gave me time to experiment with new ideas and ways of painting in a non-representative style which was how I worked in my illustration career after graduating SVA.

You Don’t Say.   2017. Oil on archival board 20”x16” 

3) Your paintings and drawings can be divided into two tendencies or inclinations - geometric abstraction and organic abstraction. What are the inspirations and ideas that drive you towards these two polar directions?

You are correct when you state my paintings can be divided by two tendencies of geometric abstraction and organic abstraction. I seem to use both styles and I’ve purposely given myself two sets of premises to use. One is to mostly use straight lines and the other idea is to simply use curving forms. 

From these sets I sketch automatically and a bit without too much thought. These drawings take hold as eventual paintings though are reworked in the process. My premise is found through dreams, feelings I’ve had or might have which may include trauma/elation, thoughts on healing, recovery and other senses present in my mind. 

I have to feel some reaction to the pencil line almost a return to the magic I first encountered when I picked up a crayon to draw in childhood. Only now the forms are searched out in my thoughts or ideas of surreal amorphous shapes. 

4) Do you ever combine the two - geometric and organic - and what kind of new meaning and vision would that provide or entail?

As for combining biomorphic/geometric structures, I’ve been using a bit of both in certain pieces where I outline or make a shape have ruling lines around them in their looping and amorphous forms. These tend to be exciting to make as a third series has become a conglomerate of the two.

Fury of the Seasons.  2023 oil on canvas 12”x12”

5) You have a background in Media Arts/Illustration, which is the program you completed at the School of Visual Arts; therefore, illustration and design are an important aspect of your work. What do illustration and design involve that is traditionally absent in fine art painting? What new things do you bring to the table that traditional painters may have lacked?

While I have a background as an illustrator, I have a little similar work methods although no longer in a representational or realistic style. Drawing is very important to be as a foundation to my paintings and this was true in my earlier career. And I still work in traditional mediums of oil, graphite, gouache or sometimes acrylic paint. 

I also at times use chiaroscuro to heighten tensions and add depth in my abstractions. One aspect that is very different or absent between illustration/design and fine art is that the former is produced for clients with deadlines and art directors and contracts, whereas fine art is done totally at the discretion of the artist’s whims and offers more freedom in what one creates, at least to me.

Healing Heart. 2023 oil on canvas 24" x 18"

6) Design could be said to be a kind of planned artistic intention that exists from the sketching phase of your art, yet it opposes the spontaneously and subconsciously improvisational aspect of certain moments in sketching and painting. How do you apply intentional design to spontaneous creativity and vice versa? What does your creative and ideation process look like? 

My spontaneity is mostly found in my sketches. This is where I let automatic drawing happen and find myself refining an image as I go along. The unison of sketches/design happens here. 

My designs evolve in rearranging the forms so you can say I’m both improvisational and planning a work at the same time. Although I have redesigned areas and colors well into a painting too. I like to also experiment with color studies before painting, so this is a planned state as well. My process starts with ideas and shapes that I sketch or create thumbnails, keeping these as inventory of designs that I like to look back on later finding some drawings that I believe I like to create paintings from. 

I work easel size with a largest size at 24”x18” and going from a small drawing in the sketch state I like to recreate them on prepared canvas or board, panel, with much under painting of colors that I begin to feel will work.

My process is an ongoing discovery to keep me filled with inspiration at creating new and unique work.

Bound for a Rebound 2018. Acrylic on 140 lbs watercolor paper 11”14”

7) Your art could be described stylistically as aerodynamic and fluidic cubism or fluid-ism. What are the differences between your visual language and that of Picasso and Braque, in their pursuit of analytical cubism?

I think it’s interesting to describe my art as fluid-ism. I use at times a sense of cubism where I combine multiple viewpoints although the planes of shapes are not as fractious and fragmented or overlapping as analytical cubism. 

My fluidity of forms appears to end at one point yet can start at another. 

I shift the viewpoint subtly so one shape glides into another and each one can be seen in their own state on different yet similar planes.

From the breakthroughs of analytical cubism, I have stylized my own way of distinguishing the forms without totally breaking them up.

You can say that I hint at forms of cubism in the fact that my forms/planes can be seen in more ways than one.

Fueled by the Highs and Lows 2023 oil on archival board 24”x18”

8) Do you see yourself more closely aligned with modernism/modern art or postmodernism/contemporary art, if such a comparison could be made? Or do you conceive of your art as a revival of modernist ideas through a contemporary lens? 

I think to answer this question fully I’d say I combine both modernism/modern art; which is an experiment in ways of seeing the world, and post- modernism contemporary art by using abstraction as the basis of my art. 

I do feel a bit of a revivalist by the addition of cubism/surrealism and the like in my work, yet it’s my attempt at seeing the world presently in my eyes. As one might say Maurizio Catalan’s “ Comedian” might also be a modern version of a 16th century still life. 

So my art while harking back to some thought of 20th century trope I have my own internal viewpoint of something both new and revealing as my vision to shape the 21st century.

Squeeze Play acrylic on canvas 20" x 20"

9) What are some of the philosophies that you subscribe to as an artist? What is the primary goal of art and artists? What mission do you carry within your artistic psyche? 

One thought on this question is that for me my primary philosophy is to be true to myself and to others. What I create is an actual internal truth being externalized which I believe is an important goal for all artists to live by.

I also find creating art to be an important extension of self-evaluation, discovery along with feeling meditative and healing by its process.

So my philosophy in life is to live truthfully to an inner psyche of knowledge and finding harmony in creating this body of work and trying to share these feelings which are revealed in my art to an audience of one or many. 

Home Destination. 2023 Oil on canvas 18”x14”

10) You have persevered strong over the years as an artist. What do you perceive as your greatest traits or achievements (in terms of your character, artistic vision, or exhibition record)? What would you like to achieve in the next 5~ 10 years as an artist?

I believe adaptability, determination and will to create art has been my driving traits to life. As I’ve seen my vision and career shift from illustration to fine art, my role as an artist has been to persevere to the point that I’m at a level of satisfaction at reflecting on my internal truth. 

 The following chapters of my life remain to be seen, though I would like to continue at growing and increasing my body of works output with new discoveries and paintings. 

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