by Erinn Donnelly
I recently had the great pleasure of interviewing Joseph Cavalieri about his life and his work. He is a distinguished native New York artist and educator, whose unique glass art techniques combine modern elements with the time-honoured processes used by medieval stained glass artists.
ED: Why did you start using the Simpson’s in your work?
JC: It all started in 2009 with a serious idea to work on a stained glass design illustrating the fall of the US economy. I planned on having a tattered Uncle Sam dead on the cross, but the Uncle Sam image was simply too over-exposed, so I searched for other “international icons” that would represent the United States. Ronald McDonald, Betty Boop, and Barrack Obama came to mind, but they brought on their own particular conceptual problems. I finally chose the one contemporary symbol that was known around the world that somehow felt at peace on the cross: the lovable cartoon bad boy, Bart Simpson. In early sketches of “Il Momento Della Morte” (The Moment of Death), Bart was hung on the cross, alone, with a pile of broken TV sets at his feet. As the design developed, I added Lisa Simpson to balance the composition and in the final piece, both Bart and Lisa share nails in their hands and feet
ED: Do you fear repercussion around the violent or graphic imagery portrayed in your artwork?
JC: No. There is no death in the cartoon world. Violence has no repercussions and nobody ever gets old. I call these works featuring the Simpsons the “Missing Episodes” series because, if Bart and Lisa did die, they couldn’t return in the following episode. A great mix of drama and mortality that people associate with Renaissance-era stained glass images mixed with our contemporary pop culture.
A great reaction to my work came from my frame maker, Robert Shapiro, who stopped by for a delivery one day. He was the very first outsider to see Il Momento Della Morte, and the second he laid eyes on it, he shouted, “You are going straight to Hell!” I loved this emotional, visceral reaction, and I quickly decided to make a second panel, Funerale Di Un’Amica (Funeral for a Friend).
ED: There’s a story behind each piece you create. Tell us about the narratives of your work and from where they stem.
JC: I twist the familiar Simpsons characters and place them in scenarios based on the fables of 17th Century French poet, Jean de La Fontaine. The Maid is a story about a woman’s vanity and how she can never find a man to match her beauty. When her mirror shows her first wrinkle, she runs out and marries the town cripple. My vision portrays a wall full of reflections of Marge Simpson, while the chained cripple is her every-schlub husband, Homer. Another chapter is shown where Mr. Burns takes control as the Maid, while leaving remains of Marge hidden below
The Countryman and the Serpent details how a country boy finds a frozen snake and brings it home to defrost in front of the fire. The snake comes to life, coils and attacks the boy – a fine way to treat someone who just saved your life! So the boy grabs an axe and chops the snake into three pieces. Here, the country boy (played by Bart) wields two axes, and the serpent (played by Ned Flanders) is chopped into three pieces, while layers of astro-Maggies float quietly towards heaven.
ED: Can you tell us a bit about your style and how you like to work?
JC: Works in the “Missing Episodes” series consist of up to six layers of glass, sometimes incorporating over ninety individual pieces. My techniques include hand painting and air-brushing enamel paints onto glass. Once painted, the glass is kiln fired, foiled, layered, soldered, and presented in a wall-mounted light box which, when lit, has an eerie similarity to a TV set’s glow.
ED: I have to ask, have the Simpsons creators seen your work and if so, what do they think?
JC: People always ask about getting permission to use the Simpsons characters, but I took my chances and was pleasantly rewarded. Two of the series writers tracked me down and bought some of my work. One panel hangs in the LA offices where the Simpsons series is written.
ED: During an interview for WNYC radio in New York, the host asked about your dream as an artist. You replied you wanted to be shown in a church. That dream recently came true for you, correct?
JC: It did. In 2013, I was exhibited at La Masion d’Art gallery in Harlem, where I met artist Joyce Yamada. She was excited to see my work and immediately saw a match with having contemporary stained glass shown in a Catholic church. With her advice, I put together a proposal for an installation made specifically for the St. Teresa altar at St. Paul of the Apostle in Manhattan, and earlier this year, Deliver Us from Our Addictions was installed there. This is a collection ten works that form a meditative and somewhat comical series of 21st century dependencies in stained glass. The series illustrates a grouping of mental and physical addictions to which we moderns are prone, such as consumerism, hallucinatory drugs, smoking, over-eating, plastic surgery, and everything from fashion victims and to outright evil.
These works are the smallest stained glass windows I have made to date, and one of the smallest is based on coffee addiction Coffee Addiction. It is made up of seventeen pieces of glass and, like a typical cup o’ Joe, fits into the palm of your hand. Sex/Love Addiction uses terms flowing from a pair of floating eyeglasses, illustrating an abundance of traditional, erotic, and kinky words. The work displays these elements physically supporting the glasses while simultaneously obstructing vision. It is a reflection on the modern day profusion of love and sexual relationship choices we make.
My two favorite works in the addiction series are the Muscle Addiction and Evil. In Muscle Addiction, the stud featured is Bill Pearl, a former American bodybuilder from the 1950s and ‘60s. He was named “World’s Best-Built Man of the Century.” This was a pre-steroid era, so he had no help from synthetic hormones. This work places Mr. Pearl posing on a platform made of weight lifting jargon. Evil touches on politics while featuring a portrait of the actress Agnes Moorehead, who played the role of a comically evil witch, Endora, in the American television series Bewitched.
ED: You were a graphic designer before becoming a full time glass artist. How did you decide to make this transition?
JC: Before glass entered my world, I was very content working as an art director at People magazine. One of my duties included debating and voting on who the sexiest man was that year. Photos were hung in the conference room, while hours of intense discussions among the staff went on and on about why Mel Gibson outweighed George Clooney. Although it was an entertaining event, I felt there should be more to life.
In 1997, still working as an art director, I began taking classes at UrbanGlass in Brooklyn. It was at this point that the graphic designer in me metamorphosed into the fine glass artist. I learned how to paint on glass, sandblast, flame work, and fuse glass. Slowly, I started to exhibit and sell my work, and as my stained glass business grew, I made the transition from graphic design to working as a full-time glass artist. In 2008, I was accepted into a two-month residency at North Lands Creative Glass in Scotland, which was the first critical step in defining myself as a fine artist. In early 2009, I took that step and made a leap, and opened CAVAglass, my glass studio in lower Manhattan.
ED: What can we look forward to as the next steps in your career?
JC: I was just nominated to be in the NYC Makers very first Biennial exhibition, in Manhattan, in July of this year. This exhibition will showcase the work of approximately 100 artists from the five boroughs. All the artists chosen for the exhibition were nominated by a pool of over 300 New York City based cultural leaders and civic figures. My favourite work, Jackie O. in White, will be on display for the Makers show. This edition is much larger than previous versions, measuring twenty-seven inches squared.
Currently we find Cavalieri’s work acquired for the permanent collection of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York and in the permanent collection of the Leslie-Lohman Museum in Manhattan. Cavalieri shares his knowledge of painting on glass in week-long workshops he teaches internationally. This summer, he will be teaching his second painting-on-glass workshop at Red Deer College, from July 14-18. Registration for the class can be made online at http://rdc.ab.ca/continuing-education/course/ESER/6202.
Artist’s Bio: Joseph Cavalieri is a native New Yorker, based in the East Village, where he spends 100% of his life as an artist and educator. Joseph started exhibiting in 1997 and in 2013 had four one-man shows including The Society of Arts and Crafts (Boston), Duncan McClellan Gallery (Florida), Theater for the New City Gallery (NYC) and twice at Dixon Place (NYC). In the same year, he also took part in a two-person exhibit at TS Art Projects (Berlin) and “Madonna & Prada” was acquired for the permanent collection of the Museum of Arts and Design. Cavalieri also has work in the permanent collection of the Leslie-Lohman Museum in Manhattan, and his MTA Arts for Transit public art commission can be viewed at the Philipse Manor Train Station in Westchester, New York. Cavalieri’s unique glass art techniques combine modern elements with time-honoured processes used by medieval stained glass artists. To view more of Cavalieri’s work, and learn about upcoming exhibits, and classes, visit www.CAVAglass.com.
Author Bio: Erinn Donnelly graduated from the Alberta College of Art + Design`s Glass Department, in 2011, and is currently one of the Prairies Representatives for the Glass Art Association of Canada. Since graduating, Erinn has focused her attention on writing about art and looks forward to a career as an author and journalist.