This past Friday afternoon I drove to Rhode Island for a studio visit with Tony Janello. He is one of the four artists exhibiting in an upcoming show that I’m curating, titled “Transformations”. This exhibition is coming up in March 2010 at the Jewett Gallery at Wellesley College where I’m the Gallery Director. We first met in 1998 when I was a student in his painting class in the Illustration Department at RISD during my senior year. I now teach Drawing at RISD in Foundation Studies and he’s continued to teach Painting and Drawing in the Illustration Department since then. We’ve kept in touch over the years since I graduated, and it was very exciting to visit his studio and get some insight on his thoughts and creative process.
Janello’s process involves many phases and transformations in a range of media. He creates essentially paper mache sculptures which are then lit and photographed, with the sculpture as a means to the photography. The role of photography as the final result allows him tremendous visual flexibility with the sculptures that he would otherwise not have. I was impressed by how much his photographs looked like paintings; they had an incredible atmosphere and depth that transcended the sculptures themselves.
What is astonishing about these sculptures is how low-tech they are in terms of construction and materials. For the interior structures of the sculptures, he uses sonotubes, which are extremely strong cardboard tubes that are used in construction for pouring concrete columns. You can see in the photo below on the sculpture on the far left an example of one of the sonotubes that he’s sawed into a ring to hold the sculpture up. On top of the sonotube structure, he uses paper towels dipped in elmer’s glue to sculpt the heads into more detail. These materials also allow the sculptures to be highly durable, yet lightweight at the same time.
Below is an example of how Janello uses backgrounds and creates sets for his sculptures. The backgrounds are created from thin sheets of plywood which are then painted to reflect surface, texture, and writing. Several of his backgrounds feature the visual look of a chalkboard which has writing layered over itself continuously.
Below are some experiments for adding yet another phase in his process: after he photographed the sculptures, he drew on the digital prints using crayons. In this series below, there is a progression in the images where he is “healing” the “injury” in the sculpture’s head by drawing with cross-hatched marks on the images with crayon. Janello was a portrait painter for many years , and it seems like this is a perfect way to work in his experience in drawing into his current work. These pieces above are still very early in their development, but we discussed the possibility of creating works with this process for the “Transformations” show.
The back of this sculpture seen in the photo below reveals the interior structure of the sculptures, created from sawed up strips of sonotubes.
Below is a close up view of one of his sculpture heads, where the painting process and surface texture of the sculptures is apparent. For more information about Janello’s work, you can visit this previous blog post from the Jewett Gallery’s blog which features his artist statement. To see more images from Janello’s studio, visit the Jewett Gallery’s Flickr page.