Urban voices and videos

[Ed. note: The following email conversation between Philadelphia artist Vincent Romaniello and West Coast artist and blogger Chris Ashley is excerpted from a longer interview that appears on Ashley’s blog. (You can read the entire interview here.) Romaniello’s solo exhibit, “Urban Canvas” opens tonight at Gallery Siano. Ashley, an artist and blogger was asked by Romaniello to participate in his exhibit by showing several works in a “sidebar” exhibit, a group show of invitees that also includes Natale Caccamo, Anna Conti, Anthony DeMelas, Tim McFarlane, Kathryn Pannepacker, Deborah Raven, Giuseppe Riviera, Tremain Smith, Chris Vecchio Ph.D. and Douglas Witmer.]


Chris Ashley
: This newer work you’re showing at Gallery Siano seems to combine the more rigid structure with the atmospheric effects of previous work. Is this correct? And your color is definitely more urban, more like concrete and wood, than some of your previous work, especially the earlier work on paper with vertical divisions and brighter color. Is there something about this combination of structure and atmosphere that made you need to identify a different palette?

(image is installation shot from the Gallery Siano show)

Vince Romaniello: Yes, this work has both structural and organic elements used together, just like everything around us. I am definitely aware that I made a big change in this new work. It doesn’t really take much for the work to look different. The reason this happened is because I wanted to work much larger, and because I felt like the space at Gallery Siano demanded it. That meant that it wasn’t practical to work on wood panels. Also, I didn’t like the idea of making colored panels and stripes that were six feet tall. But the way the work looks, the subject matter came from the influence of the urban landscape. I am still using hard edges, bars, panels, and organic passages, but I want an exhibition to be an installation, not just a group of individual pieces. When I say organic here, I am including the look of aged materials like concrete, brick, old torn signs, etc. These things come about over a long period of time, made by rust, pollution, weather, and countless other natural processes.

The current work comes from my experience working on videos around the streets of Philadelphia, mostly, and also from Miami, New York, and other places I have lived or visited. When I came back from shooting video in Miami I thought more about how each city seems to have its own palette. The colors that make up Miami was obvious to me, but I had to think about it more in Philadelphia. I came up with blue and brown as the two main colors. One of the things I find here is that the colors that the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) uses have a big impact. Another place this palette comes from is the fact that large parts of the city are poor, and that the people didn’t have the money to update their homes. So we have colors that were used many years ago that are still here; in fact, many from the time Edward Hopper was painting. These were cheap industrial colors like red ochre. I remember hearing that in Siena, Italy the reason the city has so many older buildings than other places in the country is because the plague wiped out a huge number of people and the city and the citizens were too broke to build new buildings, so they restored what they had. In parts of Philadelphia the same thing is happening, and I believe that saving older styles of architecture is a good thing.

CA: You’ve been producing videos about local artists and serving them from your own website for over a year now. It’s a very generous, community-oriented informational service that you provide, and your focus has been very broad, featuring artists engaged in very different kinds of subject matter and mediums. I’m sure you’ve gotten a lot out of it as well. I want to ask you about this, but I want to keep the spotlight on you: how has this engagement with a diverse range of artists affected your sense of the purpose of art, the reality of an arts community, and has this had any direct impact on your work in terms of subject, color, size, or your standards of success for your own work?

VR: I don’t think that interacting with the artists in their studios has affected my work directly in any of the ways you mentioned- color, subject, size. I have always been motivated and ambitious, and have more ideas than is probably good for me. During the taping it is funny how many artists say they are influenced by the same types of things, but it always comes out in a totally different way in their work. So even if I tried to incorporate something it would come out very different. I have learned technical things about encaustic for instance, but have no desire to use those things, at this point anyway.

The reality of the arts communities here and elsewhere, as far as the videos go, is that I have found the reception tepid. I also have had very little notice or even links from the blogging and vlogging world. I do have a few supporters, and I do appreciate their help in getting the word out so that the artists will get the attention they deserve.

My only agenda is to put the artists in the best light, and to help people understand their work better. Sure, I like hanging out with the artists and seeing their studios, but what I would love to see is more exposure for the artists nationally as well as locally. It is a whole different experience to do something for and about other people, completely different than being alone in the studio working on a painting. I have been fortunate this past year to be able to devote time to this project. I understand that most artists can hardly find time to do their work, let alone do things for other people, but if you can do so I recommend it highly.
romaniello, vincent