Welcome to the Blank Canvas Series – An interview with an Artist. These amazing artists have offered to share their insights with the Master Oil Painting Community. Please Note: The views expressed here are those of the Featured Artist and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Master Oil Painting or Bill Inman.
TODAY’S FEATURED ARTIST: Joseph Lorusso
“A successful artist is one who maintains a sense of wonder and curiosity for his world and so will never run out of things to paint.”
Q: I remember admiring your trademark café scenes and couples in the 90’s and early 2000’s, but don’t recall westerns, animals or city streets – did I just miss them are you exploring new narratives or forms of expression today that you didn’t 15 or 20 years ago? If so, why?
A: I believe every artist has one or two subjects that personally speak to him or at least did at some point. For me the paintings that I was always drawn to where paintings that told a story of some kind. While I admire an artists technical proficiency and academic virtuosity, I’m instantly drawn to a painting that draws me into it as a participant, so naturally I wanted to paint narrative pieces.
I admire a great landscape or a painting of wildlife, but my feeling is that people are most immediately connected to images of things they can readily relate to, namely paintings of people, and more specifically people doing things or engaging in activities and experiences that most of us have had. Most of us have been in a café or had a contemplative moment, so these are scenes that have resonance that others can not only relate to but more importantly empathize with.
Much of my early work could be seen as carry over from my student days or from my influences, as is true for most artists. I generally wanted to paint things that I admired in the great paintings and artists that shaped me, at least until you begin to find your own voice. I’ve always painted landscapes, and cityscapes, although it always has been a smaller percentage of my work and usually still having some human connection or incorporation in the scene.
Lately as in the last ten years or so I’ve also have been exploring more western themes as well. Having many talented friends who are known as western artists and having spent so much time in the great west it naturally follows for me to be inspired by the great western themes, however, interpreting these themes in my own way is key, and I believe an artist must always create to what speaks to him regardless of the subject.
Q: In an article for the Artist’s Magazine, you explained how your earlier works let people “complete the work as they view it”, individually filling the narrative and creating an emotional resonance with the painting. Were you worried about losing some of that emotional resonance by using more color in your recent work? How have you tried to preserve that connection?
A: I still feel that the viewer completes the painting, or at least that my hope. For me if a painting lacks impact or is not compelling enough to draw the viewer in and engage with the piece then I feel that I have failed in some way. As artists we’ve all asked ourselves what is the purpose of art, “why do we create”, for me a large part is to connect to others, this to me is the deep mystery of the creative process.
As humans we have through time developed ways to communicate and connect with others almost more as a need to belong to something larger than ourselves, Carl Jung called this the “Collective Unconscious”, the need that draws us together as a species. I know this sounds a bit lofty, but we developed art as one avenue for this connection, there are others of course, but art cuts to the emotional quick of the visceral nature of our connectedness.
So in my work its very simple (at least to me), I paint scenes that I find compelling and impactful in order to engage the viewer and invite them to be part of the exchange by their interpretation and “retelling” of the narrative through their own experiences, all ultimately in an effort to connect with the viewer(s).
As far as the exploration of color in my more recent work, I feel this is just a general evolution of my vision, some scenes may call for more color and expression and others may not. I’ve never considered myself a colorist so I would not push color solely for that intention, but if I find that it helps or adds to the final outcome. I see artists who are great at using color or use color for colors sake, this is not me.
Q: Apart from a bolder color palette, your recent work also appears to differ at times in execution, with drips of paint or distressed underpainting – are you experimenting with new approaches, or are you simply delving deeper into enhanced depictions of your traditional subjects?
A: As it follows with my recent exploration of color, I’ve also have enjoyed exploring a more “expressive” approach in areas of a painting. Using unconventional tools, or spattering paint, or employing unorthodox methods as a means of exploration.
At this stage in my career I’m allowing myself the freedom to paint what I “want to see”, not to just simply render or copy nature. I find it important more recently to force yourself out of your “comfort zone” if only for the purpose to make you feel uneasy or allow yourself to question how you approach the world. These are times that can cause great stress, but usually I find them to also be times of significant growth. The kicker is how to find balance with this while listening to the ever-present voice in your head that reminds you that bills need to be paid and mouths fed. This has been many an artists struggle as it has been mine and remains so.
I recently had a discussion with a fellow painter who I’m close to and we talked about this very thing. I mentioned how excited I was about some of my recent non figurative work and how trying new approaches and experimentation made me feel the same excitement we had when we where back in art school, when making a living wasn’t that important (yet). How freeing it was to be consumed by expression as your only goal, of being as good a you can for its own sake, not to appease a gallery or collector. This was the real motivation for being an artist, and if this is done to your very best ability, then the rest will follow. It seems that in the reality of being a working career artist, this sometimes needs reminding.
I’m not really sure where any experimentation will lead, but I know I will grow from it, and that’s pretty exciting.
Q: How have you managed to tie two seemingly different subjects, your more romantic café scenes compared to your westerns scenes, for both your galleries and collectors?
A: While I’m not sure that I’ve tied these two different subjects together as such, I feel that collectors can tell that they are painted by the same artists. I do believe it’s important to note that both subjects, though different, are still executed in a manner that exudes an emotional quality and some sort of story. While I send my more western subjects to galleries that can support and market that type of work, those galleries tell me they haven’t felt any disparity in the subjects and that the quality of the work is what comes through.
As the artist I can’t let the reaction of collectors dictate what I allow myself to paint. Actually I find that an astute collector wants to see the artists best work regardless of subject. However, if I am to be honest it would be fair to say that if a collector where to mention my work that a certain imagery would firstly come to mind, and I am just fine with that. I think most artists of any tenure would find this to be true, I know of many artists known for a certain thing who also paint a variety of other subjects.
Q: After over 20 years making art and developing your style, how have you personally reconciled the artist’s constant need for growth with what your fans and collectors have come to expect? Do you believe there can come a point when artists reinvent themselves too much?
A: I feel that an artist’s growth or “reinvention” should be a natural process that stem out of the artists need and desire to ask new questions and take on new challenges. While I do see artists reinvent themselves depending on how the wind blows, artistic growth should be a process of becoming, it should be continuous, without it an artist is doing himself a great disservice.
I believe that it’s the artists job to decide when this is necessary and not to follow the trend or public opinion. I have a large stack of ideas of things I want to try, but I will also incorporate and revisit thing and subjects that I’ve done forever simply because I still enjoy painting and exploring them.
As I see it, a successful artist is one who maintains a sense of wonder and curiosity for his world and so will never run out of things to paint. I try to find balance as in most thing talked about here, the reality is that time is short and when you look back what will you feel best about where and how you spent your time and creative energy.
Q: You are represented by some of the top galleries in the country and have enjoyed a phenomenally successful career. Did you deliberately develop a focused marketing and promotion campaign to build your career or did success come naturally and quickly because of the quality of your work? What tips, strategies, encouragement or cautions can you share with our community to help set them on a path of working full-time as artists?
A: This is really interesting topic as I find the art world has and is going through a lot of change in the era of social media and the internet. The ability to find a multitude of imagery online many feel dilutes the impact of a great piece of art, I’m still not sure if this is good or bad.
I “came up” in the mid 1990’s and found success to be tied to hard work, dedication to my craft along with having the best representation, partnering with galleries who shared the excitement for my work and believed in my potential. It is not lost on me how important this was and I still express my gratitude to these friends whenever I can. The reality is that I feel I could’ve done a better job of cultivating better relationships or producing even stronger work, I think that’s just normal.
The quality of the “product” your selling needs to be exceptional, as this is the extension of you, the artist. Remember, what matters most (or should) is what ultimately hangs on the wall, not how you made it or what frame its in or fancy brush you used. So first and for mostly produce an exceptional, unique product, one that represents you.
When you think of any great artists you admire I would bet that an image or style comes to mind, that’s no accident. I tell young artists who want to know how to be successful that although the challenges are different now for an upcoming artist, that this is also a time of great opportunity as there has been no other time in history when art can transcend boundaries, when an unknown artist can have more people see his art on a social media platform then perhaps the greatest masters ever have.
And even more exciting for the young artist, this is the “language” they know and can make (and should) make the most of. While in the past the way to success was much more black and white, today there is so much grey area that it’s incumbent on the artist to find his or her own path. Be single minded in your determination to succeed, as there will be challenges and those who doubt you (as if your own voices in your head weren’t enough).
As I find myself approaching mid career I still look for advice and insights as to how best get my work in front of the appropriate ”eyeballs”. I’m fortunate to be represented by galleries that love my work and understand my goals, I consider them my partners, I believe in being loyal to those that are working for you, professional integrity is still important in my book.
Most importantly, always, always, always, believe in yourself, and know that what you have to offer is unique. Find your voice and speak it!
Get to know Joseph a little better (bio):
Joseph Lorusso was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1966 and received his formal training at the American Academy of Art. He went on to receive his B.F.A. degree from the Kansas City Art Institute. Born of Italian descent, Lorusso was exposed to art at an early age. Through several early trips to Italy, his parents introduced him to the works of the Italian Masters. Lorusso would look to these influences throughout his early artistic development and they are still evident in his work today.
Discovering the works of the Impressionists, he gravitated towards the works of Manet and Vuillard. Lorusso searched for similar work of such emotion and soon became an avid student of painting, seeking out and immersing himself in the works of various artists. This path would ultimately lead him to the works of Sargent, Sorolla, Whistler and a whole army of lesser-known yet equally capable painters. Within this group of artists, Lorusso would find a sense of identity. In these masterful works, he saw the power to harness emotion and convey it with power and confidence, yet with delicacy and tasteful restraint. He also saw in these artists the ability to express the “essence” of an object with just a few carefully chosen brushstrokes, creating a visceral and intuitive state of painting.
Says Lorusso, “I believe truly great art serves as a trigger into something deeper within all of us”. The mood and emotion conveyed in Lorusso’s paintings evokes a deep sense of beauty found in the quiet times of daily living. His people are mysterious, lonely, romantic and yet familiar, placed in settings we often see ourselves. Lorusso’s paintings have gained notoriety by their ability to connect with the viewer, resonating in a way that is intimate and personal.
Lorusso’s work has been shown internationally and has won numerous awards and honors. He has been featured in American Artist magazine, Southwest Art, U.S. Art, Art & Antiques, The Artists Magazine, Art News, American Art Collector, International Artist and Art Talk magazines. Lorusso’s work is part of many private collections; his work is in the permanent collections of the Albrecht-Kemper Museum, St.Joseph, Missouri and the Wichita Museum of Art, Wichita, Kansas. Joseph Lorusso is currently represented by McLarry Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM, Bonner-David Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, Newbury Fine Art, Boston, MA, Principle Gallery, Charleston, SC, and Alexandria,VA, Jones and Terwilliger Galleries, Carmel, CA, Broadmoor Galleries, Colorado Springs, CO and Saks Gallery, Denver, CO.