The Artist Speaks: Mr. Joseph La Piana
By Yale Breslin
Joseph La Piana, the celebrated New York City talent, wasn’t always comfortable with the term “artist.” In fact, it took him many years to embrace the label – gaining content as he honed his skills and developed a global reputation for his abstract pieces. Predominantly inspired through the relationship between light and kinetic energy (and in some capacity – text), La Piana thinks in layers – deconstruction, DNA, fragmentation. His creations aim to ignite thought; finding the correlations between previous bodies of works and pulling back the seams. Today, La Piana joins forces with Patterson, Flynn & Martin, the venerable custom carpet and rug boutique, on a collection of rugs inspired from landscapes near and far, from Amagansett and Central Park to St. Barths and St. Tropez. Days before the collaborations reveal, La Piana invited Life+times into his Chelsea studio as he spoke about the method and terms behind the construction of his distinguished pieces.
Life+Times: You were born in Brooklyn. Have you ever spent time living outside of Manhattan? Los Angeles?
Joseph La Piana: I lived in California for a little bit from 1990 to 2000. I loved it when I was there. It’s an interesting place. It allows you to lead a fluid lifestyle. I think people get caught up in the minutia of beautiful weather and what not. But, that doesn’t dictate anything about my existence regarding where I could live.
L+T: You’re a self-taught artist. How do you define that?
JLP: To me, it means I didn’t go to a school or art program where my undergraduate studies were related to art. I come from none of that – zero. My dad was an artisan; he was a construction worker where he built buildings in Manhattan. I come from a blue-collar family. I’m proud to say that.
L+T: When did your career as an artist really kick it into high gear?
JLP: When I moved from Los Angeles from New York, that’s when I feel like my artistic career took off. I was getting one of my pieces framed. It was a piece I made and while I was getting it framed a woman was there who asked if she could buy it from me. I told her that I wasn’t really an artist and it wasn’t for sale and on the spot, she wrote me a check for $300. I never cashed it and that was that. I haven’t seen her since, but that was when I had the courage to move forward.
L+T: What impresses you?
JLP: Those who are smart and work hard and have created something for themselves – I’m not impressed by those who just toss money around. It’s not my thing. It was never my thing growing up and still to this day, I stand by that mentality as well.
L+T: Are you comfortable with the term artist?
JLP: I don’t dislike it now. Back then it made me uncomfortable because it made me feel as if I was an imposter. I didn’t feel comfortable saying I was something that I felt I hadn’t proven myself at. Still, many years later, I am comfortable saying I’m an artist and I feel comfortable defining myself as one….but that is many years later.
L+T: Where does your passion stem from?
JLP: I think it comes down to my heritage and my background. My parents really had to make something of themselves when they were growing up – very focused and very hard workers. For me, I set my mind to doing things. I believe in the power of self-manifestation. I think the ability to think and believe and visualize can often become a reality. That’s been a very effective way of going through my life. It takes as much energy to be negative as it does to be positive. That being said, I’m a positive guy, but I can be hard on others and myself. What I mean is that I speak the truth. If you’re my friend or someone that is close to me, you have to be prepared to hear the truth. It goes both ways, I want to hear it as well.
L+T: Tell me about the use of light. Where does it stem from? It seems to be a theme throughout your creations.
JLP: Light really began in my earliest body of work – what I refer to photonastic works – where I extracted light formations from previous bodies of works and worked with fragments. I took fragments from other bodies of works and injected them into others. I use the terms DNA and deconstructing a lot in my pieces, because that’s what I do a lot of. I like the term deconstruction because I enjoy the process of breaking apart anything – getting to know someone, getting into someone’s head, what turns them on and what makes them tick. I apply this to my work as well.
L+:T: There seems to be a sexual component to your pieces as well.
JLP: There’s always this breakdown of extraction and mental capabilities. People who have curated my works notice the sexual element as well. I did a text project with the Warhol Museum that had to do with fragmenting dialogue – in the way we communicate with one another and how our minds break down that data. It’s about breaking things down.
L+T: Tell me about the series of “movement drawings” that you worked on.
JLP: This series was about taking a medium (being a liquid dye) and pouring the dye randomly on a perpendicular plane and then through gravity and suspension, the final effect was revealed. It stemmed from an original drawing that I eventually brought to life. To me, things are always growing into something else. Like people, from where we start to where we end – it’s a whole process of evolvement. This goes back to the whole idea of deconstruction, yet again.
L+T: Now tell me about the kinetic work – the kinetic paintings that are so often spoken about.
JLP: With the kinetic paintings, I used my breath or compressed air to create each kinetic form. I took graphite powder and almost traveled it with a flat ruler and started smearing it on the surface. From there, I sealed it and put another layer on top and then used shellacked based ink. This series of work was based on our historical weather patterns and forms. It’s a one dimensional surface but two dimensional in its appearance. It takes you in. It doesn’t just stop at the surface.
L+T: Why do you think that everyone focuses on the kinetic body of work?
JLP: I think there’s a vortex movement that draws you in. It’s an abstraction that I feel is unusually unique to my work. Like any artist, you develop your conceptual way of thinking that is very indicative to you as an artist. I think people are comfortable with these pieces.
L+T: To me, while looking at your work, it seems like there are layers upon layers to your creations.
JLP: It’s true, and that’s sort of how my mind works as well. When I see something, I’m very good at visualizing something and bringing it to life. When I bring it to life, I’m not at all surprised as to how it turned out, because I could envision the final outcome. It’s a blessing and a curse because in some ways it takes away the mystery. From there, I continue to deconstruct it more and more and more.