Artist Joseph Cavalieri has exhibited his on-glass paintings internationally for the last 15 years. After racking up numerous teaching opportunities and residencies, including a 2012 stint at The Studios of Key West (TSKW), Joseph returns to Key West to debut his series of oil works on canvas along with a new identity, Josefiná Cavaliná. “Stillness” runs throughout January.
In some cultures, particularly in the east, there is an entire industry built around selecting names for a child. Does that seem like a fair amount of focus to put on choosing a written and spoken identity for an incoming baby?
Josefiná: ‘When is it due? Is it a boy or a girl? Do you have any cravings? Is it kicking yet?’ I wonder if the pregnant mother feels as bored or annoyed as I am with these repeating questions from absolutely everyone she meets? There’s an unknown entity growing inside her body that she really doesn’t know anything about, especially the baby’s personality. Choosing the name of the baby is something that she does have control over. So, if she wants to spend months choosing a name, more power to her, but it seems like wasted time to me. It would be so pleasant if the child could choose their own name, say when they turn 16.
Does Joseph eventually morph into Josefiná or was Josefiná the underlying name the entire time?
Josefiná: Yes, Joseph Cavalieri is now Josefiná Cavaliná, created/born November 2019. She is the feminine soft side of me. Josefiná creates my oil paintings. The inaugural exhibition of my work is happening at TSKW.
How did you wind up pursuing art direction for print publications?
Josefiná: I got a job in book publishing straight out of college with a BA from The School of Visual Arts. I was an art director, also the whole art department, in the first job I landed with a psychology book company named Guilford. They are still going strong! I moved into advertising and then a friend asked me to freelance in the production department at Redbook magazine. I really liked the fast pace, group efforts, and deadlines of magazines. I moved into the more creative side, actually designing the layouts, which was much more challenging. I worked freelancing for a huge number of different magazines for about seven years — three days at Harper’s Bazaar, a week at Marie Claire, two weeks at Self, you get the idea. My three longer full-time stints were about five years each at GQ, People, and Good Housekeeping.
Did the print publications you contributed towards react quickly enough to emerging artistic and cultural trends?
Josefiná: Since People magazine is a weekly, we covered trends in every issue, though most were not about trendy fine art, but more about the entertainment business. It had to appeal to “middle America” interests.
I was working on 9/11, and after half the office left — we were in Rockefeller Center and they thought it might be a target — I helped redesign the whole issue that night till 7AM the next morning. We did a new issue about the attacks. We had photographers in the office with dust from the site on their clothing. I much rather be working that night, than watching those attacks over and over on tv.
The fun part of this job at People was deciding on the “Sexiest Man Alive” and the “Best and Worst Dressed”, where we would seriously debate what dress was the worst of the year.
Tell me about your earliest pieces. What was the ideation process and how were they initially received?
Josefiná: When I first started painting on stained glass, I experimented and made works that look pretty primitive now. I was trying to master the techniques and decide on what images to use. The technique is complicated: cutting glass, painting and firing the glass in a kiln, then soldering the work together. It was a long time from the initial design to the final work. Once I got a hold of the techniques, I experimented with different themes that you normally would not see in stained glass [including] comics, muscle men, fables, and two headed birds. Some works were only text. I entered the work into as many group exhibitions as possible. New York openings were lots of fun and my coworkers from work would come. One opening, a drunk lady walked into my glass. She wasn’t hurt and the glass survived. I helped escort her out of the gallery.
What would have been the protocol had the glass not survived her intoxicated stumble?
Josefiná: This was one of my first shows “After Hours,” (2002 at the Pomegranate Pictures/Red Circle Gallery, Chelsea, NY) where full-time artists who worked after hours could show their work. She would have had to pay for the damages. The work was hanging in the center of the gallery and it violently swung back and forth.
How did you first come to Key West and discover The Studios Residency program?
Josefiná: I heard about the residency through a local curator, Hal Bromm. He highly recommended applying. I had done seven residencies before I applied for the 2012 residency at TSKW. It was good timing, happening right after hurricane Sandy hit New York. My building in the East Village was flooded and had no electricity. At that time, I was buying a new kiln. I had it delivered and hooked up during my residency, then shipped it back to NYC when the residency ended. I remember when I arrived they showed me the Mango House. It was twice the size of my NYC apartment. I thought I would have to share the space, but it was all for me. Good times!
And you’ll be returning this January for a new exhibition?
Josefiná: Yes. I applied for an exhibition in the Zabar Project Gallery and was accepted to show. My original project was my glass work, but at that point I had just started oil painting. So, with the approval of TSKW, I will be showing my oil paintings. This is my inaugural show in this medium. I am super excited to show in Key West. Since my residency, I have been back four times to teach and have made many friends. The title of the show is “Stillness” and opens Thursday, January 2, 6–8pm, on view until January 25.
Will you swear off the use of chickens, roosters, six toed cats, and other heavily used Key West placemat icons from future works?
Josefiná: For sure, like images of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, there are certain themes I will be glad to swear off, including those “Key” icons you listed. I have three series to paint after my ceramic series, with a New York gallery ready to show them. They include themes of architecture, religious statues, and action figures, larger scale than my ceramic works. I am set for themes for the next three or four years.