Jose di Gregorio

Posted on September 30, 2011 – 7:37 PM | by Admin
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By Becky Grunewald  Photo by Scott Duncan

Painter Jose di Gregorio, 38, has led a peripatetic life – born in Puerto Rico, he moved to Woodland at the age of 4 and has studied art and traveled in Indiana, France, Mexico Cuba and Argentina for extended periods of time. A lack of funds led to him scratch plans to attend graduate school at Brooklyn College and return to the Sacramento area, but it worked out pretty well for him: he scored a lovely wife and a couple of adorable kids out of the deal.

2011 been a very good year for the gregarious and affable di Gregorio; he’s about to have his third solo show of the year (opening on October 7th at Bows Collective), and he’s one of the most buzzed-about artists among that young, taste-making set. Rather than bask in his success, di Gregorio would prefer to discuss the challenges of creating a cathedral-like environment for the new show (title: Cosmo Cathedral), complete with paintings installed on the ceiling and a “new age” soundtrack made by a friend, or enthuse about his commitment to the Verge Center for the Arts, for which he serves as a board member. [And, full disclosure: VCA Director Liv Moe is the wife of MM Editor Tim Foster.]

I interviewed di Gregorio on a warm summer day inside his studio at the VCA, where his large drip paintings line the walls. He was in high spirits, but as soon as the tape recorder was switched on, he got serious, and proved to be articulate and thoughtful when it comes to his work.  He even used a word to describe his paintings that I had to look up later, one that quite aptly describes the vaguely aquatic trailings of acrylic paint that drift across his otherworldly artworks:

Anastomosis: in a network of streams is the reconnection of two streams that previously branched out, such as blood vessels or leaf veins

How would you describe your work?

In art terms I would think of myself as a formalist, not a heavily conceptual artist. I’m very interested in the physicality of the work. In the process. The steps involved. The craftsmanship of making each piece. I make the frame and everything – I make it. So that said, I also enjoy the free association that comes with people’s interpretations….

I want it to be accessible. Obviously having people selling the work for a good amount of money is validation, feels great. To give you an example of what I experienced at the last show [at The Urban Hive]… I felt better when my friend Amanda Carroll bought a 300 dollar painting than the guy who bought a thousand dollar piece. And that’s because she works her ass off to afford it and she’s making payments. I will always remember that…

What exactly is the drip technique?

The application itself is applying acrylic that’s been diluted in water, not too much and not too little, and then literally picking up the panel and letting gravity do its work. As it’s going down manipulating the panel, it’s like I’m driving a car in order to create the patterns. It’s fascinating because I’m not touching the surface. It’s physical. What’s cool is [that] I can only focus my attention on one or two lines at the time…so it’s moments of this intensity where I’m trying to see what’s happening and then come to a place where I feel right and then stop and then lay the piece down and let it dry. 

With the pieces, obviously the perimeters have been spray painted in to accentuate curves and whatnot. That’s the process. To be honest, I hate painting in the sense that I hate using a paintbrush and painting a portrait…I’m more tactile. I like to draw. I’m a drawer. The line and dot paintings and drawings are tactile, whereas these ones [for Cosmo Cathedral] are far more physical…

With the element of unpredictability, is every drip work a keeper?

It depends. When I used to work on paper…I just got rigid about that…so working on paper I fucked up a lot of times and would paint over it and felt shitty about it…now I really have to commit to the image. So the answer is, in previous years, yes, I would just paint over it and have a throwaway. Now I commit to it and if they fuck up I try to work it out somehow. Obviously the problem with that is that you overwork it. I guess I take a lot more consideration over what’s going to happen than I used to.  [I’m] far more thoughtful about how it’s going to end up.

How did you come to be a part of VCA?

I’ve been a part of Verge since June of last year….I didn’t know anybody except [Verge artist] Nate Cordero, Nate was the only guy I knew in town. Nate and I go way back from when we were kids. Nate introduced me to a lot of really cool people, people who are still really active around town. Working in your garage you rarely get work done, especially if you have nothing lined up and all that stuff.

I approached Olivia Coelho and Trisha Rhomberg at Bows and Arrows they gave me a studio for a while, maybe not quite a year. Which was cool, but I still felt kind of isolated…I had already known about Verge from the old location. Loved it. Approached Liv [Moe, Executive Director of the Verge] about having a place here and she already knew my work…she finally let me in and from there it’s been nothing but bliss. From there she asked me to jump of the board of directors which I was glad to do and the rest is just history.

I see Verge as being instrumental in the cultural scene as a whole. I just see it as instrumental in Sacramento culture at large, it’s one of those things that goes beyond just visual arts or whatever kinds of arts we showcase here. I think it becomes sort of an infrastructure…I’ve said this before but we have an incubator of this living, breathing thing here that is active and raw and people are always working.

Nothing against an established gallery or museum, but you go there to see work that’s static, and that’s cool – but this is an active place, and the people here are hungry and making work just for the hell of it….                             

Cosmo Cathedral runs from October 7 – November 3 at Bows and Arrows, 1815 19th Street.

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