Monday, February 11, 2008

Art Space Talk: Josette Urso

Josette Urso, a Florida native and current resident of New York City, draws inspiration from the “places” that surround her. Her recent oil paintings and ink drawings explore the notion of place through what the artist refers to as “organic fragments of experience”.

Dense Garden, 2007, oil on panel, 16 x 20 "

Brian Sherwin: Josette, tell us about your early years. Where did you study? Who were your mentors? At what point did you know that you wanted to pursue art for life?

Josette Urso: My parents were my earliest mentors. My mother is an artist and my father a mathematician who taught himself to play classical guitar. When I was nine years old, I took private art lessons from an art student at the college where my father taught. This was my first introduction to many basic drawing concepts including the mechanics of perspective.

My earliest experience looking at art was with the reproductions in my family’s art encyclopedia set. The first actual artwork I remember noticing was a Rauschenberg collage at the Tampa Museum of Art. It was a playful piece using recycled materials. At thirteen, I visited my cousin in NYC and realized that one day I’d like to live in New York. In high school, one of my teachers suggested that because of my interest in art and science I might like to study medical illustration and I started college thinking this would be my direction.

At the University of South Florida, I took science and drawing classes including a highly demanding comparative vertebrate anatomy course alongside the pre-med students. I soon realized that I was more interested in fine art and that I really wasn’t wired as an illustrator. I finished my undergraduate studies with a degree in drawing. I took a year off and realized I was really interested in studying painting -- so I went to graduate school.

Jennie's Garden Vermont, 2005, oil on panel, 11 x 14"

BS: Josette, you- along with Basil Alkazzi and many others - are participating in the art fundraiser I’ve established to raise money for youth art programs at the Eclectic Gallery in Jacksonville, Illinois. Do you feel that it is important for people to advocate for art education in this manner? It often seems that rural areas are excluded from ventures like this-- even though many of the artists who have shaped the artworld came from small towns throughout the United States… is that why you decided to donate work?

JU: So many people have been so very encouraging and supportive for me along the way. Donating work to help raise funding for the youth art programs in Jacksonville, Illinois is one way for me to give something back. Having art in their lives is extremely valuable for these and all children. Yes, I agree that art education should be made available for all -- regardless of geographic location. It is true that small towns are often overlooked in this matter.

BS: Josette, you are a recent recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation award. How did you feel when you learned that you had been chosen?

JU: I was of course thrilled. This award from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation represents the most generous gift of all -- the gift of more uninterrupted studio time. It not only gives financial support but also provides a huge psychological boost. I think for all the artists who have received this award it has been an affirmation that we are on the right track and doing work of merit.

Go Go , 2005, Collage, 24 x 24"

BS: Josette, in regards to your watercolor and collage work -- you are preoccupied with the problem of information, or its dual nature as nourishment and interference. Can you go into further detail about this?

JU: For me working generates ideas and one thought or action always leads to another. I approach my process intuitively and all of my work starts with a simple impulse. My work with collage is first fed by the intangible network of connections I make while exploring the "live" qualities of experience and then is further nourished by the elaborate web of endless visual information I receive from every direction.

That said, my collages are driven and nourished by the accelerated pace of the everyday world which includes the daily milieu of printed matter. I find many of my collage ingredients waiting in my mailbox and am especially drawn to materials that provide an instant footprint to our life in general or that speak of the spirit of this time and place.

For me, collage and the slowed down, low-tech process of first gathering and sifting through countless images then cutting and pasting them into place is one way to decelerate the often overwhelming chaos of our day-to-day existence. Also, I think I am able to somehow understand the bigger picture or the whole by first examining the parts and then putting them sometimes seamlessly/sometimes not back together again. In other words, I am trying to find some sort of manageable order within the daily chaos.

On/Off , 2005, collage, 24 x 24"

BS: By any chance, are you interested in Daoism? Perhaps that influences your work? Where do you draw your inspiration from? Also, what artist’s or art movements have influenced your work?

JU: Although I don’t draw directly from Daoism in my own work, I am still interested in Chinese philosophies and traditions, especially those emphasizing the mysterious secrets of the natural world. I really take most of my inspiration from life in general.

Although there are many artists whose work I do admire, some even make me jealous wishing I had made the work myself. As far as painting goes, my real heroes are the artists whose works I have always responded to -- from my earliest involvement as an artist till now. The works that first come to my mind are Charles Burchfield’s fantastical garden paintings, Arthur Dove and Helen Torr’s biomorphic landscape inspired abstractions, Marsden Hartley’s Maine landscapes and especially the dark sea and urban landscape paintings of George Bellows. In fact, nearly every summer I visit his two small oil paintings from 1913: "Sea Fog" and "Beating Out the Sea" both at the Farnsworth Museum in Rockport, Maine.

I am most drawn to artwork that fuels my own desire to make work. As far as contemporary living artists go I seem to be most inspired by artists who put everyday materials to eccentric use and show real imagination and ingenuity. Of course, when there is real poetry achieved I am the most interested.

Snowy Morning, 2006, oil on panel, 8 x 6"

BS: Josette, your plein air paintings often convey an ecstatic moment when information dissolves into sentiment. These works play on the mind of the viewers… who contribute relics of structure from the actual scene. In a sense, these images reveal the psychology of the viewer in that they are open to interpretation of the viewers mind. Are you interested in the study of psychology and how it can be utilized to expand the meaning behind your work?

JU: I don’t specifically study psychology but I am interested in the fact that our individual responses to our physical world do indeed effect our soul and really do speak to our emotions. My plein air paintings are moment-to-moment extrapolations - internalized responses to my own external surroundings. I am equally interested in the seen and the unseen and in places observed, considered and then re-imagined.

Teetering between objectivity and subjectivity, representation and abstraction, reality and fiction, it is not my aim to simply mirror the visible world but to dissolve all categories and to pair visual perception with abstract improvisation. There is a distillation involved here and what I discover as I filter, synthesize and condense while making these paintings is then also processed again through my viewer.

There is a delicate threshold between seeing and knowing - it is part conceptual and part sensual. It is my hope that experiencing the world through my paintings leads to a greater understanding of place, perhaps even seeing the world with new eyes.

BS: Josette, your husband, Peter Schroth, is also interested in landscape painting. As you know, landscapes were frowned upon in the artworld for the longest time. Recently, it seems that landscapes are making a come-back, so to speak. Can you discuss your interest in landscapes? Also, have you collaborated with your husband?

JU: It is never a good idea to make decisions about your own artwork based on what is or isn’t accepted territory. My own interest in landscape painting happened naturally and quite by accident and it never occurred to me to think about whether or not this direction would or wouldn’t be frowned upon.

For me, it all started about ten years ago during my two-month studio residency in Cadaques, Spain. A week or so into my stay in this charming fishing village near Barcelona, I realized that by working indoors I was missing so much of the experience of being there. It was off-season, so the village was somewhat quiet. This gave me the idea to set up a studio outside -- really just as an excuse to be outside.

The first paintings I made outdoors were still based on invention and were a continuation of the oil paintings I had already been working on. Then, one thing led to another and before I knew it I had connected specifically with the landscape and had also become inspired by the "sense of this place". In retrospect, I realize that by having something to respond to rather than only relying on what I can find in my head, my visual vocabulary has become much more interesting.

Yes, I am fortunate that my husband is also a landscape painter. Peter left printmaking for painting, working first with abstraction and then discovering the landscape. Perhaps you’d like to interview him for all the details. You asked if we had ever collaborated. For the last ten years, we have traveled and had painting residencies together in Arizona, Ireland, CT, Spain, Maine and most recently Nova Scotia. In 2005, we had our first two-person exhibition at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Florida. It was a wonderful opportunity to have the chance to show a selection of our travel paintings from the last ten years.

May 8th Atlanta, 2007, ink on paper, 8.5 x 11 "

BS: Josette, your drawings are almost always based on aspects of the city architecture. What do you find most interesting about the architecture of cities… what features capture your eye the most. Do you view the cityscape as series of geometric forms or do you focus on the materials of the creation… what do you see when you are working in this manner?

JU: Actually I make drawings wherever I happen to be. For instance, I am slowly building a body of airport drawings -- making these really helps pass the time while traveling and looking at these drawings from time to time I am able to retrace my steps -- so to speak. As you noticed though, at the moment I am especially engaged with my drawings of the city. This is really the result of my being in a new rooftop workspace where I have two walls of windows and where the outside seems to literally come inside.

Looking across Brooklyn’s lower lying factory and warehouse buildings toward the tall grandness of Manhattan the view is incredibly complex and at times somewhat overwhelming. It is almost too much to take in but while looking I wander around the spaces between the buildings trying to understand the flow and logic to this geometric maze. For me, drawing parallels the act of seeing and is the most direct link to private time with the physical world. I see the city less as a series of architectural forms and more as a living, breathing entity -- a literally buzzing environment made up of layers upon layers of human history and mystery. I hope that my city drawings somehow tap a bit of this urban spirit and mirror my own relationship with New York City.

Empire upclose, 2006, ink on paper, 16 x 20"

BS: Josette, do you ever find it difficult to move from one medium to the next? For example, your collage work has several differences when compared to your landscape work-- does this ever cause a form of ‘creative conflict’ so to speak? Or are you able to focus on one manner of expression over the other at any given time? Do your forms of artistic expression feed off each other?

JU: I have always felt comfortable moving from one medium to another and since my initial involvement as a visual artist, I have been simultaneously engaged in two bodies of work -- mixed media collage and oil painting. Yes, as you mentioned my various projects feed off each other.

Until most recently, it was very easy to negotiate what I was working on at any given time. This was because I made my plein air work when I traveled and my collage when I was in my studio in NYC. Now, though, in my new studio with big windows it has become a little more complicated to decide what to work on when. So I just rely on my instinct.

I do seem to be more connected with the weather now and specifically the spirit of the time of year in my collages. I find this interesting because it seems to draw a parallel with my plein air work.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?

JU: Thank you for reading this interview.
You can learn more about Josette Urso by visiting her website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin


Unknown said...

Congratulations Josette!
I am very fond of Josette and her artwork. I consider myself a friend and a collector, of many years. I am always pleased for Josette when she receives the positive recognition that she deserves. This interview reflects Josette's humility, creative intellect and quality character.

Artfully and sincerely,

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Josette on the Foundation Award!

I loved the interview and learning more about your artwork in general. It has been an amazing ride watching your earlier artwork during high school days until today in 2008. To have seen you develop new styles and freely go from one medium to another throughout the years has truly been a privilege. Keep it up and keep being creative! As an educator, I say "Thank You!" for taking time to help students learn through art education programs. We always need positive mentors for our future generations. You are definitely making a lasting impact by taking time to invest in today's youth!

From your creative friend,


Anonymous said...

Congratulations Josette on the interview and on the Foundation Award!

The progression of the interview allowed readers to understand your inspirations and motivations for pursuing different types of art at different points in your life. I can't wait to see where you'll go from here!

I also was pleased to see that you will be donating your work to inspire young people. Now, if the House and Senate will pass their respective Artists' Donations Bills, perhaps you and other artists will be able to realize the full market value of donated art, as collectors do, rather than being permitted to deduct only the cost of the materials.

Keep up the good work!

Giovanni Bosch said...

I still see the same clarity of your thoughts about what is primary driving your motivations as an artist. I also see your personality which is reflected in the intricate world of details recalling a garden in his exquisite wild and microscopic world, according to what I understood when you explained to us in San Jose about ten years ego.
. I also enjoyed your sincerity on being faithful to your instinct, in letting your creative spirit follow the calls of your inner soul as happened in your transition of Cadaqués. I enjoyed very much reading your interview, my congratulations to you.
Giovanni Bosch

Unknown said...

Josette: I loved the interview and your fabulous body of work and how you can move from one medium to the next. As your friend commented: we do always need positive mentors for our future generations.
The Max's Kansas City Project

helen brough said...

Well done Josette!
Really liked looking at some of your drawings. Best wishes, Helen Brough.

corinne said...

Your work is beautiful! Your style seems to be about not having a style that labels are way beyond that! Lovely interview, lovely person, beautiful work.

Anonymous said...


Congratulations on an excellent interview and lovely sampling of your work. It's certainly inspiring to other artists and especially art students to see the creative progression from idea to production--you say it and do it so well! Keep up the great work!


Unknown said...

I loved reading your interview. Your ability to capture the feel and soul of the world around you is delightful. So much of your work maintains an innocence, like you are seeing something for the first time, which I find intriguing.

Congratulations on your award!


Anonymous said...

Josette: Among art’s many facets –and more and more it seems to me a unique demonstration that amidst all the destruction that we sow we are also capable of a kind of disinterested virtue –is that of creating profound links between people that span both distance and time. It’s been wonderful accompanying your journeys, both artistic and experiential, for all these years despite our scarce encounters. I’ve always responded to the visual punch and depth of your work, a stimulating union of color and composition that offers direct access to the world that inspires you, offered with a sincerity and honesty all too rare in contemporary art. I always find myself pleasantly surprised by each new turn in your style and approach. That kind of consistency can only be the result of an unaffected but sharp aesthetic intelligence born of careful observation and total receptivity. A great recipe for exploring life.
~ Terry

Podlet said...

I like the cool blue airport piece. I think man-made industrial structures have their place in the world and can be just as beautiful, in their own way, as canyons, seascapes and mountains. The artist's loose way of rendering hard, linear forms suggests the life that goes on beneath the metal and glass. I work at Mid-Manhattan Library and have the pleasure of seeing Ms. Urso's collages every day at an exhibit here.