My first encounter with the work of Vincent Cacciotti was fairly intense. Back in November of 2012, I walked into WWA Gallery and was immediately confronted with a row of masterful oil paintings that were at once dark, mysterious, psychological, sensual, and gripping. I was unfamiliar with the name, but I quickly filed it away in my memory bank as a name to watch out for. The next month, at Copro Gallery‘s Christmas party, I came across another Cacciotti painting called Escapist. This one had even more bite than the others had. A raven haired woman cloaked in a strait jacket, one arm dangling unbound off her back, stands in the foreground. Ominous storm clouds gather behind her, as she stares at you intently with a mad gleam in her eye. Has the woman newly abdicated herself from a mental institution? Is she a danger to herself or others, and what does she want with us? It provides one of those jarring art moments, wherein the viewer is pulled into the narrative of the painting, against your will. It’s a major work, and at Copro it managed to stand out among an impressive array of other artists. I had to meet this guy.
What’s your background? Where did you grew up, go to school, any formal art training?
Well, I grew up outside of Albany, New York and went to school in Troy, Troy High. I took two years of college, took mechanical drafting. So, I was kind of into drawing and drafting. Back then, you used to do it all by hand, which was cool. Now it’s all on computers and I’m lost (laughs). So, I’m in the Stone Age with that. As far as art training, just like, classes. I studied at Art Students League for a short time. I took some classes there. Then when I came out here in 2000, I went to California Art Institute in Westlake. There were really some great teachers there, who showed you, you know – it was all figurative painting. So that was really how I got to the level where I wanted to be, to show in galleries. Prior to that I was just fucking around, you know, learning but not really. I couldn’t figure out why, until I went there, and it all made sense. I don’t know why. I can’t figure it out. I just didn’t have the formal training to back it up. They just had some really good teachers there.
Did you always want to be an artist, or did that evolve later on?
I was a musician. I started off as an artist when I was a kid, until I was about 12 or 13, and then I discovered girls and guitars (laughs), and I put away all my paints and picked up the guitar and I played until –I still play to this day, but I played in bands until I was 25, something like that, and then I started painting again. It’s weird because the way I started painting was I saw this ad for an artist who can paint reproductions of old masters works. I thought that was like –I knew I couldn’t do it. I’d never done it before, but I thought, ‘why don’t I see what’s up?’, and they were doing kind of impressionistic stuff. It was really simple, and I nailed my first piece, and so-
What was that first piece?
Yeah, it was Van Gogh’s Irises. Which is like a crazy painting to try to duplicate, and they wanted it stroke for stroke. You know, to do everything that was going on in that painting stroke for stroke was crazy! But I nailed it and they loved it, so they just kept giving me more work, and that got me back into painting again. Then I started taking classes and all that. Everything kind of went up from there.
But before all of that, as a kid, were you just always adept at art?
Yeah, my dad was an artist. He had these paintings that were in the closet, the looked like they were old master paintings, but he painted them, and I was always drawn to that. I always wanted to paint like that, but I had no idea how. He didn’t really show me a lot. It was just sort of –he got me some brushes and paints and said ‘Here you go. Go into the attic and see what you can come up with’ , and I had these art books, that I would follow step by step how to do it, and that was at eight years old. So, I pretty much taught myself. To this day, my mom’s house is full of these cheesy paintings that I did when I was ten, all these scenes, and Bob Ross style paintings.
Who are some of your big influences?
Um, influences are –well, going back to the old masters, Vermeer, Sargent. John Singer Sargent, he had a certain something, that he was able to simplify things so much, but it’s still –he just nailed everything, his values, his edges, everything. It was an impressionistic time, but he was painting very realistic. But you can tell it’s a painting, it’s not rendered out to no end. But yeah, my influences are Vermeer, Sargent, -um, Rembrandt of course, and I really like Klimt, and Dali.
As an artist myself, I loathe the question ‘what kind of art do you do?’ I answer that differently every time. But I’m curious about how you answer it. Do you consider yourself a surrealist?
I don’t know. I don’t think it’s surreal. I think sometimes I touch on surrealism. I think it’s more realism with some other elements in it, and I don’t know what those other elements are, and it’s different for every painting, but trying to evoke some other thought process other than what you actually see there. I don’t know how to put that in words exactly. I guess in all my paintings I want to have something else going on behind the figure. Not literally behind the figure but, um-
Yeah, a subtext, some kind of subtext that everyone else will have a different thought on.
A lot of your work is very dreamlike. Do you write down your dreams?
I used to, yeah. A couple years ago, I was writing down – I would wake up with a thought, a dream that I wanted to somehow paint it. But I could never really do it, because a dream is like a movie, and then you’re trying to just paint one scene from the movie, and if you try to put everything together, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, or it will be so complicated that it wouldn’t be a good composition for a painting. I try to just take a little snippet and then add to that, embellish on it.
Are you making your own oils?
Paints? No, I just buy standard paint tubes, Winsor Newton, you know?
Do you ever use the water-mixable oil paints?
No, but I bought some for my kids, for Christmas, to try, and I didn’t like it at all. The white –this is like three weeks ago, he painted something, and the white still isn’t dry (laughs). The other colors set up pretty good, but some of the colors didn’t really mix with water. It was beading up, I don’t know. For some reason, this white is still wet.
What kind of board do you paint on?
Sometimes I’ll buy a pre-primed board. Sometimes I’ll cut a piece of Masonite, and then prime it all up, but that’s only if I have a specific size I’m going for. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of stuff on canvas, but I don’t like the texture of the canvas, so I’ll put lots of layers with a knife, with oil based gesso, until it fills in the gaps and makes it pretty smooth. It’s nicer because it’s easier to move when it’s wet. It’s easier to frame.
Your stuff always has beautiful frames. Who does your framing?
I use Elite in Van Nuys.
What’s the most beloved brush that you use?
Beloved brush (laughs)? I have these flat brushes that I use for almost everything, like #6 and #10.
Do you use models?
Yeah, I photograph them, and I have no idea, at the time I photograph them, what I’m going to do. I just try different scenarios, different angles, different clothes, different whatever, and then I’ll go back later and look at the photographs, and put together a painting. I’ll shoot 500 pictures of a dozen different scenarios, that I can hopefully make a painting out of one.
So, for the Escapist, did you actually have a model in a strait jacket?
Yeah, she had that strait jacket and I said ‘Hmm. That’s interesting. Put that on.’ I don’t think it was a real strait jacket, but more of a costume. She said she wore it for her winter coat back in high school (laughs).
How many paintings do you make, on average, per year?
I’m going to shoot for fifteen to twenty this year, and try to be a little more productive. The last couple of years it was more like eight to twelve, one a month kind of thing.
Do you work on one at a time, or do you have a few going at once?
I usually have a few going. Yeah, I usually have one that’s, like starting, I get tired of it, try something else, then come back to it. I usually have two or three going.
What is the most challenging thing for you artistically?
The most challenging thing is what to paint (laughs). Once I figure that out, the rest kind of falls into place, but it’s a challenging hurdle, and I spend a lot of time thinking about what to paint, and trying not to leave to many open –like if I have a photo of a model doing something, I will piece together the whole painting in my head first, rather than paint it and add to it. I try to have the whole thing done, that’s the most challenging part, to have it completed in my head first.
What’s the most challenging aspect professionally?
I guess knowing, because there are many avenues to take as an artist, knowing the right one, that’s best for me as far as marketing myself, which gallery to go to, which ones not to go to, not to go to too many. You know, is it okay to release prints, or is that selling out? It’s nice to make some money so that you can keep going, moving forward. I think people realize that, but I don’t know exactly how that’s viewed by certain people, who could possibly bring you to a different level professionally.
Do you still have to submit your work to galleries, or are they coming to you at this point?
I haven’t been submitting. I kind of found – you know, I had gone to Copro, and then WWA, and I just kind of want to stick with those galleries, because they’re good galleries, and it’s not really viewed upon very nicely to go to another gallery right down the street. I see a lot of artists doing that, and the impression I get is the galleries don’t really like that. Gary at Copro seems really cool about it, but at the same time, it’s like ‘why don’t you just show here’, and why don’t I? Because I’m comfortable with it, and his client base is fine for me, and my work fits in there, so it’s a good avenue for me.
Looking at your body of work over the past five years is really intriguing. Your portfolio is peppered with these great moments when you branch out from your usual work, or so it seems. Daily News is a particular favorite of mine. What was the genesis of that one?
Well, like five years ago when I painted that, I was – I would say that five years ago is when I kind of got started wanting to show in galleries, wanting to put together a body of work, and kind of move forward with that. I was trying to find which direction I wanted to go, so I did some surreal kind of stuff, then more portrait kind of stuff, and then stuff like that, which just made you think more. Like, what’s going on here, you know, it just had a lot of questions behind it. I never showed that piece before. I can’t find the right show for it, or the right gallery. It’s not really edgy enough for some of the galleries I show in.
Another one I love is Blind Justice. I wonder if that might be a commentary on the lowbrow genre.
Hmmm – possibly. It was more like, just showing how silly violence can be. How people – you know when you get enraged, it’s almost like you have a blindfold. You can’t see reality. All you see is what you want to do, and that takes over, and that’s kind of my thought process.
Are you a Lost In Space fan? You use that robot quite a bit.
Yeah, yeah, that robot was THE robot when I was growing up. That was just the coolest robot.
It cracks me up that its name was B-9.
Yeah, I don’t think they ever said that on the show, but somewhere they said it, maybe in the scripts.
The seven pieces you had in the WWA show, ‘We Are Who We Pretend To Be’, did you do those specifically for that theme, or did they just happen to fit?
No, I did them all for that theme. The first one I did was the big robot one, and that I had done already. It just happened to fit. Then I did a different robot one. The others, I just had to branch out, with the masks and stuff.
I always like to ask, what’s your biggest pet peeve about the art world?
I can’t think of any pet peeves. Nothing really bothers me. I just try to do the best I can, and just try to nail everything, you know? The galleries have been pretty good to me. People’s responses have been good. They don’t have the best alcohol at openings though, so maybe that (laughs).
What’s coming up for you after the Gauntlet show?
There will be a show at WWA called “Gag Me With A Toon”, and there’s talk of doing a three man show or something like that at Copro, and a solo show at WWA in 2014. But it’s all talk right now, but hopefully it’ll happen.
“The Mashup Show” runs Jan 26. -Feb. 25, 2013Gauntlet Gallery 1040 Larkin St. San Francisco, CA 94109 650-209-0278 firstname.lastname@example.org
photos courtesy of Vincent Cacciotti