Joe Vinson is a truly talented artist who rotates painting between two broadly contrasting styles, abstract and figurative. This contrast is partly reflective of his lifestyle, rotating between New York City in the winter and Italy in the summers. In Italy, he enjoys painting the captivating landscapes en plein air, working from direct observation of his beautiful surroundings. In New York, Joe has a large studio in Brooklyn where he prefers painting abstract and more experimental paintings. His ability to rotate between the two dynamic styles speaks to his expertise and continued experience with the paint brush. Read the interview with Joe below to learn more about his unique lifestyle and artistic process!
Name: Joe Vinson
Hometown: I was born and raised in Florida, but now live everywhere.
Currently Living: 6 months in NYC and 6 months in Buonconvento, Siena, Italy
When did you start your career in art? How long before that did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I came late to art, I took it as an elective in College. The subject was so interesting that I took all of the art classes offered at that school. Then I went to Ringling School of art in Sarasota, FL. In 1976, after graduation from RSA, I worked at Disney World as a portrait artist. But it was not until I went to The School of the Museum of Fine Art that I seriously felt like being an artist.
Describe your aesthetic in three words:
Modern, Experimental, Traditional
Favorite piece you’ve painted to date and why?
I make paintings because I want to see them myself. Thankfully there have been a number of my works that I like and that helps me keep going and make more. Since I tend to create works that address some new issue, I have to say that the current piece is always my favorite.
How much preparation goes into a painting?
The short answer is , “A lot.” There is the physical preparation of the painting surface and then there is the mental side of deciding what to paint and how to paint it.
Painting is like playing chess, you have to plan your moves several stages ahead. I learned from Friedel Dzubas, how one might simply plan a painting. I paint small studies on graph paper. This way I can scale the works to a larger size and be sure that the ratios of the studies will be the same. I also think that one can over plan something and render it lifeless in the final version. I try to avoid that by leaving enough things undecided at the beginning and resolve them on the fly as the work is made. This keeps me totally connected to the work throughout its creation.
Studies on paper in the planning process
Large (42×126) painting in the first three layers, a work in progress
Who inspires you personally and/or professionally?
I consider myself a student of art history. I have many influences. However, there is one person that I could choose for both personal and professional inspiration, Hans Hoffman.
Hans Hoffman was a late bloomer. Born in 1880, he quit teaching art in 1958 in order to devote himself to painting full time. He was tremendously important to the advancement of art by bringing 20th century ideas to Americans in the post war period. He did this first by exposing many young painters to these ideas at his school in New York and in Provincetown, MA. Many of his students would become famous painters in the 1950’s. He also helped make this transition to a modern sensibility in painting away from mimetic concerns to one of realizing the potential of the plastic means in painting. His paintings exploit the widest range of technical possibilities of the oil painting medium. So he inspires me both in a personal way, embarking on a new career at an advanced age, and in a professional way, through his dynamic and prolific experimentation of materials in his paintings.
What challenges do you think exist in the world of fine art?
Stability, market, money to buy, time to make art.
How do you approach/overcome them?
If you are an artist you make art under all conditions. So the big issue is how to find the time to make art and still pay your bills. I have found that having a number of income sources helps to spread the risk of any economic shocks that might occur. Some of my sources are teaching painting for myself in Italy, teaching for the Art Students League in New York and elsewhere, organizing food tours/truffle hunts in Italy, selling paintings, and investments, etc.
Joe teaching landscape painting to students in Italy
Favorite location to paint? What is your studio like?
I paint in a lot of places. I can paint outside making landscape paintings wherever I go. I also have two studios. I own a large industrial space in Italy to which I usually ride my bike, after the long airplane ride. It is not heated, but I’m there in the summer. The view to the east is of a farm field that rises up a steep hill and in the summer it is usually full of wheat or a mix of hay. I also rent a small studio in Brooklyn, which I share with my wife, Maddine Insalaco, and a harpist. If you have never painted with a professional classical harpist playing Debussy in the same room, you will not know what divine pleasure that can be.
Painted on location (the best studio light) in Italy
Joe’s working in his studio in Italy
Joe’s studio in Brooklyn, NY
A random fact about you?
I collect antiques and art. Specifically I have a collection of 17th-19th century prints, mostly depicting scenes in Italy. I also collect glass ,Chinese porcelain, MCM furniture and early Barbie dolls, and early brass candlesticks. In the last few years I also have bought contemporary paintings. I like to have some beautiful things visible in my environment.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
I have a lot of interests, but for an alternate career it might be in Art History or Real Estate.
One thing you couldn’t live without?
Maddine Insalaco, who is my wife.
Biggest accomplishment to date?
In 2012 Maddine Insalaco and I Organized a Show in Civita Castellana called “Through Foreign Eyes”. This was a show composed of small works by over twenty non-Italian artists all of which were painted on location in and around Civita Castellana in the early plein-air tradition and exhibited at the Sangallo Fortress Museum. It was an attempt to educate the local population and government of the beauty and value of the local landscapes and its important connection in the development of western painting. It was the first show organized in that facility outside of the display of cultural artifacts and grave goods from the local ancient historic past.
Name one goal for your career you’d like to achieve in the next 5 years?
To see installed in a public space a very large abstract painting of mine.
What do you want your audience to know about your work?
It is my intent that looking at my abstract paintings is enjoyable at the sensory level. It is enough to just enjoy looking. My hope is that through this simple pleasure one can be more appreciative of what we are and more appreciative of the world around us. I want the various colors to blend in the eyes and create a subtle vibration in them. This is what Delaunay called the fourth dimension. It is not something that is in the painting, you feel it in the eyes.
My paintings are made free hand whether abstract or landscape. In the past I have worked from photos but even then it is a free hand copy, not traced from a projected photo. My current abstract works really must be seen directly in the flesh. I recommend that you do not rush your viewing. Look at them at different distances and at different angles, then look away at something else for a while and then return for another gaze.
Most of the ideas embedded in the paint relate to decisions I’ve made about what kind of paintings I wish to make. I do not paint these paintings because “that is how I paint”, I paint them that way because I decided that is the way I want to make them. A painting by me is an act of will in a working partnership with the material. They are not accidents, happy or otherwise. They can be explorations. I do not make the same painting over and over again. Even when they look similar I am exploring something new in them, even if it is only a color, which is a lot. I can paint in a lot different manners using various materials. I take full responsibility for the paintings.
Thank you for sharing Joe!
View some of Joe’s work available at ANFA now!
Big Box, 30×30
Oak and Well Tenuta Nardi, 24×30
Campriano Fall AM, 9.8×13.5