Over the past few years, I’ve been invited into many classrooms as a guest art teacher and guest artist. These opportunities have always been a great experience for me and also seemed to have been lots of fun for the students. Recently, this took on a whole new direction in the form of a long distance Question & Answer (Q&A) session with the sixth grade students from Escuela Campo Alegre in Caracas, Venezuela…
As Art teacher, Lisa Allen, explains:
“My sixth grade students have been studying Abstract Expressionism and looking at many old and modern art masters such as Barnett Newmann, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko. They also were examining the art work of some living contemporary artists, like Joseph Pisani. Prior units in the art course take them through several topics in color theory, including varying cultural responses to colors, practicing monochromatic painting, and a special exploration into using non-traditional painting tools to create unique textures and layering effects in acrylic paints…”
Below are some of the questions from the students. Also included are some of the student’s paintings: their own wonderful interpretations of abstract expressionism!
Q&A with Artist Joseph Pisani
Question from M. K.: Why did you choose to be an abstract artist?
Joseph Pisani: Fine art photography and abstract painting, two things that I grew up with and loved ever since I can remember, ended up becoming my profession over the course of many years. Painting pictures and taking photos were both always there with me (passed on to me by my parents, which is explained in more detail below), and I never really considered them as a potential career path. This was mainly due to the unfortunate way that many of us are wrongly taught to believe that the things we love to do, our passions, don’t usually translate well into a career. I think I fell into this rut at first, too. However, after working in both the graphic arts and commercial photography fields for a many years in my twenties, I often felt something was wrong. I shouldn’t have to always make time for my artistic passions, putting them second behind my day job. I already had a few exhibitions and was already selling some of my paintings and photos, and one day it just clicked. Why not just do this full-time, I thought to myself. Things just seemed to fall into place from there.
Question from M.K.: Do you have any paintings that you want to re-do?
Joseph Pisani: Many years ago, there were some paintings that I wanted to re-do after the fact (or that I did actually re-do). Most of the time, this consisted of painting the canvas white again, then starting over. I think though, as an artist, as you become more proficient at what you do, you become better able at knowing when a painting is really complete, and this feeling no longer happens anymore, at least not since I can remember. Sometimes I think knowing when a painting is finished is one of the most difficult parts of being an abstract artist…
Question from M.L.: Why do you like abstract art so much?
Joseph Pisani: Why do you like pizza? Abstract art speaks to me. But, many different art movements also speak to me, including figurative and abstract photography. It isn’t only abstract art that I enjoy viewing–I also love and appreciate many types of figurative work too. Just like many abstract artists I know, I too started out painting figuratively. Over the years, this slowly morphed into semi-abstraction and abstraction. Actually, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism were my original “favorite movements”. Then, over the years, and through new experiences, I slowly found my way into abstract expressionism, as well as many other artistic movements that speak to me…
Question from M.L.: What is your favorite painting?
Joseph Pisani: From my own paintings or from another artist? Both questions are rather difficult to answer. I have many, many favorites. As far as other artists, even choosing a favorite painter is too difficult, but I love a lot of the work from Van Gogh, Schiele, Rothko, Richter, even the contemporary street artist Banksy…
As far as my own work, it goes back to the question about re-doing paintings. As you progress, you start to only release a painting (showing it to the public), or proclaim a painting as finished if it’s a favorite. Otherwise, what is the point? It is a form of editing your own work, and it’s an extremely important aspect to being an artist and photographer. Show only your best work–only your favorites!
Question from F.R.: What inspires you the most as an Abstract Artist?
Joseph Pisani: That’s easy: traveling! Especially, adventure travel to exotic locations. I collect my inspiration in photos and journal entries through my travels and have been doing so since 1995. See here for more about this: The Pisani World Travel List
Question from F.R.: What do you prefer: Photographing or painting? And, what made you start painting and photographing?
Joseph Pisani: They both speak to me and are both apart of my creative process. While I travel, I take photographs, then return to my studio and paint from the inspiration I found while traveling. The photos I take while traveling, are just one step in this process. Of course, photography also happens to be an art form of its own.
My mother and grandmother taught me how to paint when I was very young. They were my first teachers, and were both painters and artists themselves. However, their painting was more based around fashion and clothing design. They used to tell me stories about how they would set up large white sheets in the basement and we would spend hours making a wonderful, colorful mess! They said I was around three or four years old at the time, but I only remember doing so from about six or seven years old, when we moved from the basement on to a sketch book and canvas.
On the photography side, my father was, and still is very into photography. He gave me my first film camera for Christmas and taught me how to use it. I was about ten or eleven at the time, but I still remember the camera and his lessons very well. Back then, everything was manual, so you needed to know about aperture and shutter speed in order to even make a decent exposure. Knowing some visual compositional rules also didn’t hurt…
I consider myself extremely lucky to have such great artistic influences at such an early.
Question from F.R.: Why do you scratch things into the canvas?
Joseph Pisani: The scratching is an integral part of my paintings. It just started surfacing in my paintings about a decade ago, and has slowly become more prominent and important in my art work. It has quite a few meanings for me. The journey motif of my artistic inspiration is reinforced by these scratchings and writings. The etches and and tally marks throughout the paintings help me to tell the story behind each painting. They are also a way of ‘counting days’, which, by this I mean that they portray both my actual trips (like the way i write in my travel journals), as well as the metaphorical journey through life that we all make with the limited time we have.
Question from D.L.: How do you decide on what materials you are going to use for your paintings?
Joseph Pisani: I try to keep things rather simple as far as materials. I stick mostly to just high quality linen, acrylic “matte” paint, a large assortment of paint brushes, palette knives, and some various utensils to scratch into the canvas. I choose which of these tools to use depending on what I want to create. I also work with some wood from time to time, both in the form of wood sculpture as well as painting on wood as a canvas.