Who: Joseph Skorupa
What: Artist & Founder of Owls to Athens
When: 1pm, Friday June 22
Where: His studio, Harris Ave, Providence
Why: The man is a modern day visionary
It’s a smoldering hot day in June, and I’m following Joe down a familiar hallway. I’d taken the same path through that same mill building hall back in December, when I’d come to talk with another Joe — Pretty Snake designer Joseph Aaron Segal. It was much colder then. “I just finished putting the air conditioner in a few minutes ago,” he says, looking back at me. Thank the Lord, I think.
Supporting himself entirely through his art, Joe is heavily involved with helping to grow the network of creative minds here in Providence. “My main priorities are to provide opportunities for emerging artists so that they won’t have to move elsewhere to make a living, and to establish a tight knit arts community in the city,” he says with a modest smile. “We need a pack of wolves around here.”
Easily, he’s leading the pack: Joe founded Owls to Athens with his friend Michael Spillane so that street and contemporary artists can share ideas and help each other grow. On May 17, Owls to Athens held a group art exhibition titled Spring Night Riot at E&O Tap. Art was hung, a DJ spun tunes, friends grilled food out back. It’s casual events such as this that make art accessible to those who may not normally seek out more formal gallery experiences. Joe gets it.
“Owls to Athens comes from an old expression used to denote a useless action – carrying owls to Athens. It’s a reminder to not take yourself too seriously,” Joe explains. “Obviously, I’m extremely passionate about what I do, but still you can’t take yourself too seriously – especially in the art world.” I glance again at his collection of work strewn about the studio; indeed his passion is obvious.
My eyes land on a piece that features an owl and a wolf, in addition to his signature typography and gilded hand embellishment. “[The owl and the wolf] represent the two aspects of me that are strongest,” he says, sifting through a pile of prints done on archival canvas, deciding which design to show me next. “Mostly, though, I’m sitting back and observing, just taking things in.”
Somehow, I doubt that statement is entirely true: the self-proclaimed insomniac works for 18 hours each day, turning out one-of-a-kind works for group art exhibitions (most recently, LA Woman at the Groundfloor Gallery in Los Angeles) and planning more Owls to Athens shows (including a New Orleans-style arts festival that will take place in Olneyville in the near future).
He also travels the country to establish connections between Providence and other cities. “As an artist, you shouldn’t have to move away to make a living,” he says. “You should be able to live here and travel to other cities to show work – like I’m doing now with my LA show – and vice versa. I’ve talked with people from LA, Chicago and Philly. It’s so feasible… it just takes time.”
And making a living he is. “I’ll tackle anything and any project,” he says, “and I’m really flexible on price; I just want to get my stuff out there so people can enjoy my work. Whatever you have to share, you should share. If you do well, you should take care of your friends and customers.” Joe, who identifies with Sir Gawain of Arthurian legend says, “I believe in being chivalrous. I’m a nurturer.”
I realize I’m smiling like an idiot; Joe has that effect on people. He points out to me one of his favorite pieces, Never Sleep Never Die. “If you want to succeed, you have to give everything,” he says. “As an artist, suffering is part of what you sign up for. If you want to live forever, you’re going to have to lose some sleep. Sacrifice is necessary. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.”
I hear you studied and worked in landscape design.
“Yes. One project I’d like to take on is working with people on a sliding scale of what they can afford. It doesn’t take a lot of money to create a beautiful space. I like using found objects, like from a construction site. Everything I do is portable so that renters can enjoy it while they’re there, then pick up and move it.”
Any other future projects in the pipeline?
“A limited design, short run fashion line. Here in Providence you might be at The Hot Club one moment and The Dorrance the next. You need comfortable, casual clothes that can take you from a downtown restaurant to E&O, on a bike. Look nice if you feel like looking nice, without being all contrived.”
How do you summarize your artistic style?
“I’m still working to really narrow down my style. I used to decide what product I wanted and then work towards it. Now I let where I am in life direct the art I produce. I let what comes out of me naturally develop organically.”
What does art mean to you?
“Art is life and life is art. It’s the way you paint yourself and the way you treat other people; it’s the way you present yourself online or when you’re out at a bar; it’s the way you act and the music you like… everything is art.”
“When I was in school years ago, my graphic design teacher asked me, ‘Have you ever thought of a career in typography?’ I laughed. Now look. I never know where I am going, I let fate take the reigns. I just work as hard as I can and treat people the best I can. A lot of it is just letting go. Look out for the August issue of Providence Monthly in which Joe will be featured in our monthly Art column.