Chatting with Joey Piziali in Ping Pong Gallery last Friday was more educational than I knew to expect. Prior to meeting him, I was impressed with his traveling scupltures and the gallery space that he and his fiancee, Vanessa Blaikie, opened in 2005. But didn't know how much teaching continues to be a part of him, since he stopped formally teaching at SFAI. It was an educating talk, hearing about who relates to as influences, such as Rosenquist, Greenberg, Louis, Mondrian, Tim Sullivan, and Darren Waterston. It was exciting to hear about the depth of research he undergoes to create each piece. His concept of each piece tells you that he is quite intentional in all he does and wouldn't have it any other way. I am not sure I would have pursued an interview with Joey, had I not understood part of this about him, when I briefly talked with Justin Giarla about Joey's pieces, hanging in Gallery Three this month.
And so begins our exchange of words.
I liked seeing your traveling "Silver Maple," "Topiary," and "Esprit Sculpture" in different environments. What lead you to do moving sculptures? Was it challenging getting the "Esprit Sculpture" from place to place (due to weight). How were each of them constructed?
I do some performance pieces outside of my object making and one day as I was conceptualizing work for a show at the Lisa Dent Gallery the idea came to me to have a part performance/part object art piece.
The Esprit Sculpture comes apart in two pieces. It's still heavy as hell but I designed it so I could move it by myself, but having help is always nice. The construction of E.S. is made with wood armature, steel and a synthetic concrete I designed. The others are made of various found paper (newspaper, grocery bags, etc) and constructed with paper mache and paint.
Your work has an conversational element to it, in its use of mundane materials and mimicking functional objects, while being quit abstract at the same time. What are you saying through your work? Has it changed much from your earliest pieces to now? Are you working towards a grande theme?
That's good, I think art dies if it loses a conversational element. Art is about dialogue, human interaction. I'm sure the grand plan for every artist is to have the work effect the viewer, to change their way of thinking, so when they leave the gallery, museum or where ever they no longer see the world the same way before they entered.
For me the desired effect seems to change with every show but the underlying theme to it all must be something about "possibilities". That anything is possible, through object, color, composition, material, it all refers to something beyond the "carrier" (a carrier would be the painting, sculpture, photo, etc.), that the work itself, when it's working takes the viewer beyond the moment, somewhere where anything is possible.
It's funny because at times I just see my work as formal abstractions (the paintings). But when I'm constructing them my mind is always racing with the possibilities of what each work "could be", to me and to the viewer. The ideas that create the work are far beyond formal abstraction, but I hope they work on both levels.
Daniel Coffeen wrote up an incredible analysis of your work for your current show at Gallery 3. Is he part of your educational history? How do you relate to his words on your work? What is often your response to other people's comments on your work?
Daniel is a mad man! He was my professor at the San Francisco Art Institute, while I was getting my masters in painting. He introduced me to philosophy as an art form...it's his art form. He kind of changed my whole mode/way of thinking or seeing what was possible by how we read moments. Depending on what philosophy you subscribe to will effect how you come to the work, see the work, the effect of the work.
He always spoke of how everything in our world is made up of various speeds. He would ask "what speed is that?", he could be referring to a color or a passage from a book. So when he wrote that essay it seemed so dead on about the work and myself.
I work at various speeds, I have a massive amount of energy and I think that comes out in the work. But I'm also an observer, so I like to slow way down and watch the simplest of moments...that would be my fascination with the beautiful qualities of decay.
Most people are really turned on or turned off by the color. That's why for the Gallery 3 show I really wanted to play with the white space, the void. I wanted it to have a trajectory, a speed but not with color but with shape and angle, a geometric speed. I wanted the color to still be a bit garish but more understated and was really focused on the idea of layers and space but in a way that they all met smashed up against the surface of the painting.
You use billboard paper in many of your pieces. Do you stealthily obtain the paper from billboards or just go at it out in the open? Why billboard paper? Did you start creating complex mixed media paintings in art school?
No I pretty much try to do it in the day time or early evening, so I look like I'm supposed to be taking it. I've done night runs but it's not really necessary, fun but not necessary. For the most part the billboards are falling off. If they aren't it's really hard to peal them off. The rain is my friend because it will loosen the wheat past and the signs will just fall off.
I also use signs that I find on the walls of the city, like in areas that say "post no bills" and someone has just papered the wall. When I take those down I figure I'm doing a service cuz they weren't supposed to be there in the first place. I used to layer and construct the paper I used and then one day I just realized that the haphazard quality of getting from the street was so much better and free. I was trying to make it look weathered and worn so why not just use billboard paper!
I was using a lot of mixed media in art school, from synthetic concrete, plaster, metal, rust, found paper. I was also very obsessed with mark making so I was dragging plaster covered canvases around the city, letting the scrapes, nicks and what not create the markings and color.
Apart from exhibiting your own work you run Ping Pong Gallery. What prompted you to open your own gallery? Do you have a certain curating style? Do you find that there is a strong community among galleries in San Francisco?
I was always putting up shows of my own and friends before grad school so it just seemed like a logical next step, but Vanessa, my fiancee, who also uses the galleries studio space for her art work, was a huge part of making the final decision. It also helps to keep a healthy art dialogue going with the art community. I was teaching for about 7 semesters at SFAI for the adult community education, but I stopped about a year ago to try and make more work and help the gallery. I miss teaching so I think I use the gallery as a surrogate classroom. That also may be why we tend to show more challenging work, because I like the necessity of dialogue.
There is a strong community of "independent" galleries in San Francisco. I find most of the galleries at 49 & 77 Geary to be very sad. There are exceptions but for the most part those two buildings are like dentist offices with art...the work is dying to breath outside of those walls.