Multidisciplinary American artist Joe Iurato has garnered a lot of attention recently. Along with being featured in exhibitions and solo shows in New York City and Europe, he has also worked with big-name clients like Adidas, Nickelodeon, and ESPN. His signature works feature tiny black and white cutouts, photographed interacting with their environments in sometimes unexpected ways. These small figures have a big impact on popular culture, and this month, Joe is bringing them to Montreal for a solo show at Station 16 Gallery.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Joe has been creating art ever since he was a child. “Everyone has something, and I gravitated towards making things,” he says of his childhood. “A lot of sketching, drawing comics, sort of aimlessly spilling my imagination onto paper.” After working with pencils, pens, and inks, Joe shifted to acrylics, and began focusing on becoming a disciplined artist and developing a style.
His path towards becoming a professional artist was not a conventional one, however. “Long story short, I wound up leaving art school years ago to study wine. I have a passion for wine just as I have a passion for creating art,” Joe reveals. “I can never give that up, like I can’t give up painting. It’s a part of me.” To feed both of his passions, Joe has become no stranger to long hours and hard work, spending time working in restaurants as well as in his studio. “I have no standard work day. I just find a way to make it happen,” he admits. “If I can’t make it into the studio early in the day, I get there eventually – even if it’s after I put the kids to bed. And I’ll work until 2 or 3 am. I pretty much work from morning until morning”
The time and effort has evidently paid off, and Joe’s art has now become recognizable to many, being featured online by both Juxtapoz and Hi-Fructose magazine. His small cutouts feature men and women, children and adults, in scenes that are both ordinary and extraordinary. In his pieces, ships sail through puddles, boys ride turtles through the streets, and men scale up skyscrapers. “I’m typically inspired by events and people I encounter in my own life,” Joe explains. “In some way, my work creates an open visual diary.”
Recently, Joe’s work has been featured in commercials for the anti-smoking ad campaign “Obsolete,” an experience that turned out to be much different from his usual creative process. “It was just mind-blowing seeing entire NYC streets lined with permits, parking taped off, catering trucks, vans full of production crews and equipment…all for these little 15 inch wooden cutouts,” he recounts. It’s a project with a message Joe is passionate about, and hopes will be effective. “To have that voice on that level…it was a very special moment for me.”
When asked about his upcoming show, Everything but the Whole Story, here in Montreal, Joe admits that a gallery exhibition comes with its own special set of challenges. The issue mainly involves “bringing these pieces indoors and having them translate in a pristine environment. They usually live and breathe in the outdoors, where their surroundings contribute to the story and allow me to play with scale and perspective.” However, Joe has combatted the problem by “showing those stories in photographs alongside the wood cutouts to give the viewer an idea of how they work.” This will allow Joe to give viewers a glimpse into the process of creating his work. “I’ll also be creating a few fun and interactive site-specific installations throughout the gallery,” he continues.
As busy as he has become in recent years, Joe cannot imagine another life for himself, and takes a moment to reflect on how lucky he is. “As stressed as I can become, I still stop to pinch myself,” he says. “It’s a dream being able to do what I’m doing. I’m living my life and supporting a family doing exactly what it is I want to do.” His philosophy is simple: “Giving up is the easiest thing to do and the hardest thing to bounce back from. Work hard at your craft. And then after that, work harder.”