Covered in Paint and Filled with Smoke

An interview renowned painter, Victor Grasso.


Victor, thanks so much for accepting this interview. Do you mind telling me about yourself? What’s your Künstlerroman, or your artist story?

Thanks for interviewing me. Artist story? Well, I’m not dead, so I don’t know if I have a story to tell yet and I’m certainly not old enough to have a book about me. Alas, my career in art goes something like this.

I turned 18 and became a professional artist and have been ever since. I started painting murals for commercial properties in Atlantic City, NJ—it was a way for me to make money painting—but every spare moment I worked on my own pieces.

I started showing in galleries in 2007, and never looked back. I show annually at SOMA Gallery in Cape May, NJ and have recently participated in shows with ARCADIA Contemporary in NYC, Parlor Gallery in Asbury Park, NJ, Thinkspace Gallery in LA, and Robert Lange in Charleston.

What does a normal day look like at the Grasso studio?

Covered in paint and filled with smoke. It’s not glamorous at all. There’s music playing, cigarettes burning in the ashtray, butts all over the concrete floor and something on the easel. There’s usually some paintings lying around, and my surfboards and paddleboard hang from the rafters, always waiting for me to use them.

Why do you paint? What does it bring to the life of a person?

I don’t know if there’s an answer to why I paint. I have to paint or create because it is what I do and who I am. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember. Without getting all poetic and sappy, I would say creating chooses you, you don’t choose it. As far as what it brings to the life of a person, I don’t know. For me, painting is a very solitary existence. I’m alone in my studio everyday, I don’t work with anyone, my process is both labor intensive and time-consuming…so life is pretty singular in the studio.

When I finish a piece, I achieve a tremendous goal and feel proud of the legacy I just created. If I’m successful in completing my vision, then I do it on the multiple. I celebrate it. But when it’s not there, no matter how hard I try; the solitude can get pretty foggy.

Siren

“Siren” by Victor Grasso

Who are your influences?

I have so many…I love all art no matter what style, genre, or label. I am a realist painter, so I have my big classic heroes like Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Sergeant. I also love Hirst and Alexander McQueen. And then there are so many great contemporary guys like Bo Bartlett, Will Cotton, and John Currin.

They all bring something great to the table and I learn a lot from looking at all their work.

Can you talk a little bit about your technique? I notice that you employ a lot of chiaroscuro in your recent work.

My technique is pretty traditional when it comes to the painting process. The paint is on the palate and the brush is in my hand and I just go for it. I usually block in my composition with raw umber, then mix my pallet of color and apply and blend. Designing a painting is where a lot of the hard work comes into play.

I tend to go about making a piece like storyboarding a movie. I get my vision, or what I want to say, and work it out in a drawing on paper to give myself a visual.

Next I’ll pose a model or use myself as a subject for a photo shoot, with lighting, makeup (usually not on me), wardrobe, and sea life, whatever I need to get what I see in my head. I consider this the filming of my movie. Then I’ll either make a charcoal drawing of my subject or get right to the painting. And when it’s finished, it’s like going to see the film.

I’m a huge fan of chiaroscuro; I love the drama it creates. Caravaggio is one of my all time favorites and he was a master of it. Hell, he invented it. Some things never leave you.

Billow

“Billow” by Victor Grasso

When do you know that a piece is finished, and how long does that take?

I really believe in da Vinci’s quote, “A painting is never finished, it’s abandoned.” It is the truth, but a painting has its own life and I could never pinpoint how long a piece takes. They’re all different and there are hurdles to overcome in all of them.

Where do you find inspiration, and what has inspired you in the past?

I get very inspired by going to galleries and museums to see art from artists I admire. Women always inspire me to create, as well; the female form has always been a huge motivation. I love fashion, I love animals, and I’m intrigued by death. The sea, religion, and mythology inspire me, and I love anti-heroes, the flawed man with good intentions with an outlaw mentality, this is all good stuff for telling stories through painting.

Oceanic imagery and the human body seem to be major themes for you. Why these subjects?

I was born and raised at the shore and still live by the sea. It can’t help but creep its way into my work, even when I don’t want it to. I’ve always been enamored with the human form, especially the female body and I wanted to take the sea out of the ocean and put it on people rather than put people in the ocean.

"Neversink" by Victor Grasso

“Neversink” by Victor Grasso

One of my favorite pieces is from your “The Sea is Calling” series: “Neversink.” When you began this painting, what inspired you, and do you mind describing your creative approach and process with this one in particular?

The inspiration for this piece came from a book I was reading called “We the Drowned.” Neversink was the name of a boat and it really stuck with me. I wanted some kind of epic vision of female beauty. I wanted her to be wrapped in something reminiscent of a sail, and she had to have the presence of a huge Danish sailing ship and the weight of its mighty hull. She had to be almost sculptural, like she was carved from oak.

That’s why the composition drives outward and down, it pushes the focal point to the head of the figure where she is crowned with a set of shark jaws in her queenly splendor. A boat is referred to as “her” and a captain’s ship is his queen. So that’s how that came about.

What are you listening to right now?

Link Wray’s Rumble.

And finally, what’s the coolest thing you ever found on the beach?

Treasure. And a seal.

 

Check out more of Victor’s work here.

Joseph Cunningham
Joseph is a featured Humane Pursuits columnist. He works as a marketer in West Chester, PA, and writes music, articles, and the occasional short story.

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