Stemming from a desire for a new challenge with the freedom of traveling and financial stability, Joseph Cavalieri set up a ten-year plan to leave his lifelong corporate career in the magazine industry behind to become a full-time artist.
After discovering glass art in 1997, Cavalieri initially pushed to perfect his technique, but gradually expanded to what now is a signature aspect of his work”•the mixing of his graphic design experience including collage, airbrushing, and silk screening, with the glass techniques he learned in his classes.
His ten-year plan outlined how he could transition from his graphic design career, which included art directing at GQ, People, and Good Housekeeping, to working with glass full time.
Cavalieri told 429 Magazine, “Yes, I helped choose the ‘Best and Worst Dressed celebrities’ and ‘the Sexiest Man Alive’ while at People magazine. Having intense debates on what dress was truly the worst is very serious business in the magazine world, but deep in my heart I really didn’t care about that whole Hollywood scene.”
What he enjoyed most was using graphic design to hook readers’ interests in the article, which continues to be his focus in art.
“I basically worked after hours testing different painting on glass methods and making work that I was personally excited about, some very sacrilegious,” Cavalieri said.
Appropriately, the first show he was in was named “After Hours.”
In 2009, he received a 6-week residency in Scotland, and was faced with staying in the magazine industry, or pursuing the demanding new career as a glass artist.
“I took the glass route, and am totally happy for this decision,” he said.
Cavalieri asserts that he is not “your typical artist,” speaking in blatantly complex art lingo aka “art-speak.”
“’Art-speak’ immediately leaves a taste of puke in my throat and I have to leave the gallery or museum immediately,” he states.
Clearly the case with his background and imagery, Cavalieri’s art speaks for itself taking medieval techniques, and blending them with pop-art icons such as the Simpsons.
“Personally the art that I love is detailed, has a strong concept, amazing perspective and literally pulls you in. I try to do this in my work. Each work is different and has a new design or technical challenge.”
He sets an example of his imagery and concept in his piece Il Momento Della Morte (The Moment of Death). Starting out as a notion to illustrate the fall of the U.S. economy, Cavalieri sketched a “tattered” Uncle Sam dead on the cross. However, as the image was too “over-exposed,” he sifted through other international icons including Ronald McDonald, Betty Boop, and Barack Obama.
As those characters brought on their own conceptual issues, Cavalieri ended on Bart Simpson, “the lovable cartoon bad boy that was known around the world and felt at place on the cross.”
Early sketches showed Bart hung on the cross with a heap of broken TVs at his feet. The piece then transitioned to include Lisa Simpson to balance the composition. The final version has both characters sharing nails in their hands and feet. The completed work is six layers of stained glass, “adding perspective to a design that has very extensive perspective.”
The first person to see Il Momento Della Morte was Cavalieri’s frame maker stopping by for a delivery. He immediately shouted, “You are going straight to hell!”
“I really loved this reaction, and quickly decided to make a second panel, Funerale Di Un’ Amica (Funeral for a Friend),” Cavalieri said. “This was the start of my Missing Episode series which now numbers over 10 pieces.”
Though created without permission to use the icons, two of his works have been purchased by current Simpsons writers”•one of which hangs in the LA office where the series is written. Cavalieri added that he did get consent to use the images in his R. Crumb series, however.
He describes his work as “pop” glass, but added that much of it is darker. Maintaining the medieval story-telling aspect of painting on stained glass, he adds graphic elements to the work.
A pivotal trial he puts all his work through in order to ensure a clear, strong concept, is his “plastic test” where he asks, “If the piece were made of plastic, would you still like it?”
“I find artists, especially those working with glass, get too involved with the techniques and not the concept…Unfortunately most of the glass work out there fails this test.”
This concern stems from being a graphic designer; he still maintains much of what he has learned as an art director. Consequently, his focus is on improving existing techniques, without limiting the imagery.
“I want to add excitement and open the limits of the historic medium of stained glass…Backlit stained glass is very powerful and seductive substance. Hell, look what it has done to promote religion.”
With a number of exhibitions coming up, Cavalieri is particularly excited about his one-man shows as they will be his first solo displays.
“The most exciting work I am in the process of making is a portrait of Isaac Hayes for a group show named ‘Motown 2 Def Jam’ exhibit at La Maison d’Art Gallery in NY.”
His favorite work is also what he considers his most significant piece: “Two Nanny Goats.” It stands as momentous in his career as it was his first piece to make it to a museum show, the first he made on deadline, and it not only allowed him to meet essential contacts in both museums, but also sold immediately after the show.
Out of eight artist residence programs around the world, and exhibitions in galleries and museums in the U.S., Europe, India and Australia, other highlights include being in the permanent collection at the Leslie-Kohman Gay Museum, and “a very gay restaurant in Chelsea named Elmo.”
“The very cool thing about this exhibit was having my work seen in a Law & Order episode filmed at Elmo.”
In regards to where he’d like to see his work, Cavalieri confesses that he’d love to design “some of the more dark-devilishly stories from the bible for a huge stained glass church window.” Raised Catholic, he stopped attending as a teenager, but the imagery still resonates deeply with him; the story-telling through stained glass.
“What most people don’t realize is it also blocks those inside the church from seeing what is happening outside,” he said. “I always wondered if this was done intentionally.”
Having no secrets, Cavalieri shares all of his techniques in a number of classes he teaches. His wildest dream is to live for a month in a medieval village in the 16th century somewhere in Italy, and his ultimate goal is “somewhere between running my own small scale stained glass design firm and having plastic window alpacas of my work for sale in a dollar store.”