The ability to represent life through painting is obviously impressive, but what is arguably more impressive is representing life in a way that can manipulate human perception. Ability like this is what drew me towards the work of Vincent Giarrano. The first things I saw from him were incredibly realistic depictions of people interacting with the city of New York but as I worked through his portfolio and enlarged the thumbnails, I started to notice an intriguing looseness within some of the work. Giarrano has a very deliberate stroke, exquisite control, and an ability to present information clearly at different levels of refinement. What I mean by this is that he can block in color and lay out the key details of a scene so that when you see it from across the room or in a thumbnail, it appears to be a 1:1 hyperrealist painting, but as you approach or enlarge it some of that detail can fall away. Yet sometimes it doesn’t as Giarrano can cleanly refine details with the best of them, so as you approach or enlarge one of his works there’s a variety of results you can get. One of my favorite things to do as I look at the collection of Giarrano’s work, now that I’ve studied his style and subtle differences, is see if I can find any little moments where he’s let the brush stroke exist. Sometimes these moments are obvious, sometimes they’re very subtle, and sometimes they’re non-existent.
All of the fascinating technique quips aside, the subject of Giarrano’s work is wildly interesting as well. As I mentioned, his work usually features people interacting with the city but the way that he captures life and creates an interaction between the space/scene and the primary character is what often ends up being the most fascinating element. There’s levels of interaction with the primary character: sometimes they’re set up much more like a portrait with the feel of a set pose, sometimes the character feels as if they’re not aware they’re being depicted but are still a focal point of the piece, and sometimes it feels as though they’ve been captured totally by accident. Regardless of the variation, however, these characters always have very intimate relationships with the space they’re in. In Giarrano’s work, the space or scene is just as important as the character and this adds to each piece; it creates a narrative between character and place no matter how the character is depicted. Paintings that feature both scenes and prominent figures tend to lean towards depicting one or the other more deliberately, but with this work both are important and the interaction between the two tells some brilliant stories.
I’m obviously a huge fan of Giarrano’s work, so I was thrilled to get to chat with him about all that goes into his painting. It’s thought provoking to see all that goes into these paintings and the range of refinement. There’s a lot of terrific insight. Enjoy!
1. I always like to begin by asking about background, so what got you into art? Any schooling? Big inspirations? What helped shape you into the artist that you are today?
I drew from an early age, and was hooked right away on the feeling you get from creating. My family was supportive and could see that this was my thing.
Figure drawing is something I started early, which was a great experience, and then I went to college for art. It was a more modern and conceptual focus rather than traditional methods. I also majored in sculpture for undergrad and grad school. It was great fun but I didn’t see it as a career at that point.
2. Your work is heavily driven by figure, and the space those figures are interacting with. What got you into depicting this human, environment relationship? What drew you towards this more? The people, the place, or the interaction between the two?
The figure has always been important to me. I’ve also had a long fascination with film, and also the clothing industry. My first career after college was working as a comic book artist. For me it was like being able to make your own film. The work allowed me to develop my skills for visual storytelling and narrative. I’d moved to New York City after college, and the experiences I had there really influenced me for painting, even though it wouldn’t show up till years later. There’s an energy and edge to the city that really stuck with me.
3. Further, do you work with models to create your paintings? What is the process of finding the right model, getting them into the right part of the space, the right pose? Do you find it to be a collaborative experience? And how many poses or iterations would you say you go through before you reach a final?
Yes, I’m always working with the people in my paintings. You have to be in control of that element. It takes quite a bit of work to create something that feels real and natural.
It’s an interesting experience working with someone, and very much a collaboration. I love the inspiration and ideas that come from my subjects.
4. What comes first for you, the space or the person? How do you go about navigating what aspects of the space are going to be the most interesting once you've decided the space? Is this an organic process or do you really plan out every little bit of picking the space?
My starting point is to write about the person and any ideas I have about our collaboration. That’s sort of a base but then I let myself be open to what occurs while we’re working together. I’ll have location ideas but my subject will often take me to places that they relate too. My process is; some planning, then unpredictable experiences and trying ideas, then more writing and planning, then testing out ideas with drawings or small oil studies, and then finally a fully developed large painting.
5. You're very open about the build up process of your paintings, showing how you lay out and develop your paintings. But what is this process like for you? Are you building up every aspect of the space, working across the whole canvas? Or do you find one focal element and work out from there? (Painting nerd question here) How many brushes are you going through as you build up these paintings? Are you a 1 brush artist, a thousand brush artist, or somewhere in between?
I love having several methods of working a painting. It really keeps things interesting to vary my approach and process. I also enjoy experimenting now and then. I feel it’s important to challenge yourself regularly.
Some paintings start with little or no drawing, sometimes just big simple shapes of color. Other times I’ll do a drawing with thinned paint, getting enough information down to really know where I want everything. I can then work the painting as a whole, or window-shade where I’m finishing as I go. Overall I’m a direct painter. I like my process to be decisive, and also retain a fresh, painterly feeling.
I go between using one brush and many, but it’s more about the size and shape that gives me what I need. I haven’t gotten into using brushes for different values/colors, but that could be fun to try sometime.
6. Further into your process, what goes into the control or looseness of your stroke? You certainly seem to lay on the paint, but some of your work seems to be far more refined, while others seem to be more loose. What goes into deciding how loose or refined a painting is? Does the size of the work play any factor in this?
In a painting I’ll often have some areas loose and some more resolved. I like that for how it influence the movement of an eye through the composition. However I also enjoy doing a painting all loosely because it’s what I feel is best for the subject. Size of the painting also plays into this. It’s great to do a small or tiny painting that you have to work loose because of that scale.
I often create small studies for a piece. It’s great for figuring things out; do I like the subject, is it working, what should I do to improve it, what scale do I feel best for this scene? I'm big on planning, and I’ve found the more preparatory work I do, the stronger my work is in the end.
7. Perception seems to be a key in your work as from a distance or at a small scale your work could pass for a photo, but as you move closer or enlarge it, that painterly quality becomes more clear. Is this something that you deliberately try to play with in your work?
I’m glad you felt that. It’s one of the qualities I want for my work; a strong feeling of reality at a distance, but up close a painterly impression.
8. What does color mean to your work? The color palettes always seem to be very deliberate in how they show the mood of the model and space. So how does color play into choosing a scene or composition? Do you ever play up colors to add to your narrative goal or do you stay pretty true to what you see?
I think a lot about the color of the light in my scene. Usually there’s one light source, and it’s affecting everything. If I can capture that harmony of color, then I feel that’s what makes my painting feel real.
I also favor cool, even light. I like the mood of it, and how it enhances the feeling in my scenes.
As for what I see; when I’m painting on location or in the studio, I focus on changing whatever is required to make the painting work. I edit, and change shapes and colors; anything to get what I want. The painting has to work, because in the end that’s all there is.
9. There seems to be two different types of interaction between you and the model, one that seems very much like a set pose/scene and one that seems to be more of a single captured moment. Is there a narrative difference or meaning between these two aspects of your work? Or does that just boil down to the model, scene relationship?
It’s two very different things for me. I have concepts that run through all my work, but I also love to work in series where I have separate concepts that come into play. One series I paint are scenes that are about a slice of life in the city environment. Another series is about a contemporary portrait of someone living in the city. I also have a series with no figures and just architecture, which is about the influence of people on city structures.
10. Finally PLUGS! Where can people find your work? Any shows/events coming up? Anything and everything you'd like to share, fire away!
Thank you. I share quite a bit on Instagram @vgiarrano
My website is www.giarrano.com
I have a solo show at the Scope art fair in NYC March 5-8, 2020
My next big solo show is set for September 2020 at Dacia Gallery in NYC