Exclusive Interview with Victor Grasso, 2nd Prize Winner, INPRNT Traditional Art Award, 2019 Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize
Stylistically daring artists often employ overt theatrics, in many cases, to show-stopping effect. Visual creators who tread the road less traveled are particularly fortuitous when their efforts adrenalize the beholder. Ahhhh, but the mother of all creative jackpots? When the product of one’s heart and soul inspires the beholder to see the world in truly unexpected ways. A left-of-center vision can be wildly innovative and yet still lack that golden quality that compels the viewer to swoon at a cellular level. Victor Grasso’s bewitching body of work, however, dispenses with the smoke, mirrors, fuss, or even muss. He elevates his canvases to an alchemically entrancing state just by crystalizing the drama inherent within… SIMPLICITY.
To enter the 2020 Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize in any of the four Award categories: INPRNT Traditional Art Award, Yasha Young Projects Sculpture Award, ZBrush Digital Art Award or iCanvas Photography Award, and for your chance to receive global exposure for your work + share in over US$35,000 in cash and prizes, click here.
The self-taught painter demonstrates through his noir-steeped portfolio that embracing less can, indeed, result in so much more. More drama! Definitely far more intrigue!! Pure storytelling that soars high upon a sea of raw emotion. While our white-noise laden culture continues to roar, Victor Grasso is artistically audacious by exercising canvas candor. He bucks elaborate compositional trends, instead by turning his observational dial up to 11. In his hands, capturing the symbiotic relationship of mother earth to muse yields intoxicating results.
Victor Grasso’s stripped-down approach to his craft manifests transfixing maidens of myth. They exist in a space and time that is refreshingly unencumbered by the trappings of our modern world. The figurative painter’s nature-ensconced divinities shimmer and glimmer. Not with the bells and whistles of modernity, but with an inner truth that is as precious as the winds of time.
You are cordially invited to further explore Victor Grasso’s exquisitely inspiring and ultimately empowering universe. Within this days-of-yore realm, nature-imbued maidens seem to instinctually know that embracing less rather than more is what truly amplifies the beauty of one’s spirit.
You… have to possess an unabashed and delusional belief that what you are creating — what you have to make — must exist on this planet.~Victor Grasso
Anytime something I make resonates with people, sparks an emotion, or creates tension, I’ve achieved something more than just a pretty painting.
Hearty congratulations to you for earning Beautiful Bizarre Magazine’s 2019 Art Prize for the INPRNT Traditional Art Award category! Your 2nd prize-winning entry, A Darkness to End All Daybreaks, is quite a stunner. It’s as mythically magical as it is devastatingly heartbreaking. When that concept came to you, did you have a hunch that it was going to be a portfolio cornerstone?
Thank you — I dig your intro and description of the piece. To place in the Art Prize among so many great artists is an honor. I knew that my concept was powerful. I had a story to tell — a story that happens to us all. That relatable quality makes it a universal tale. It makes the work ambitious enough to shine. I knew that if I could get what was in my head onto the canvas, then it was going to be special.
That particular painting makes the onlooker say, “Ohhh, for the love of all that is right and good in this world, we MUST spare the unicorn! Somebody hurl that ax right off the nearest cliff!” The weight of our modern world is so metaphorically resonant within that image. The loss of childhood innocence is palpable. That downcast vibe could even apply to the dashed hopes of any type of activist or eco-champion. No matter your walk of life, you can look at A Darkness to End All Daybreaks and experience a windstorm of emotions. How does that feel, knowing that your canvas generates such intensely affecting kinetic energy?
It feels awesome! Anytime something I make resonates with people, sparks an emotion, or creates tension, I’ve achieved something more than just a pretty painting. “A Darkness To End All Daybreaks” is the story of growing up. It happens to us all (there’s no getting around it), so it is a story for everyone. When we’re children, we all have a sense of wonder. We are all artists, and we all have soaring imaginations. It’s only when we grow older that these things fade. The wonder is forced out of us, and it ultimately dies. I told this story by combining one of the things I hold most dear in this world — my daughter — with subjects that I find interesting like mythology, fauna, and death.
Is being an independent thinker something that you were born with, or was it the result of your upbringing?
It has to be an innate trait. God… life would be so much easier if I just followed the leader. But what fun would that be? This isn’t to say my parents were not supportive of the way I saw the world, though I’m sure there was worry at times. My Grandfather, a World War II veteran, was also a woodcarver and sculptor. He was the first person to push me at a very young age to question the standards of life as I knew them. Things like religion, war, school, and art were often queried while I drew skulls and exotic animals at the kitchen table.
Catholic grade school nuns informed your mother that you were creatively “demented”. Did that fan the flames of your outside-of-the-box perspective of art?
My mom has a flair for the dramatic. It is no surprise that a lady of the cloth would be concerned about a child’s inclination to draw monsters. My brown paper book covers were covered in horned beasts, medieval weapons, and skulls. I found the “Hell” panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights much more interesting than watered-down 1980s religion textbook illustrations. Alas, I am an extremely sensitive person, so fanning the flame you ask? I’d say that the nuns in my school poured gasoline on my artistic perspective.
Have you ever been tempted to reconnect with any of those nuns? Maybe just to thank them for the hater vibes that motivated you to carve out such an outstanding career for yourself?
No, I’ve honestly never thought of that.
Please name a few proud papa moments when your children have run with their very own demented creativity torches. The simple fact that your daughter, Gray, asked you to draw a murderous penguin proves that she is definitely not the postman’s child!
She is most definitely not the postman’s child. My children’s creativity makes me proud — it doesn’t have to be dark or demented. I think my daughter was humoring me with her request for a murderous penguin sketch. She really just wanted to see how many Instagram likes it would get (I jest).
My daughter’s “Diagram of a Shark” comes to mind, which is a drawing of a complete set of giant shark jaws. Every jagged tooth is covered in blood, flanked by notated shark fin types and an illustrated great white. Gray has a profound love and knowledge of sea life. She seems to love drawing angler fish, cookie-cutter sharks, vampire squid, and, of course, narwhals.
My son Ash’s wild Jean-Michel Basquiat-style people drawings also make me smile. Their over-extended, witch-like fingers are always reaching out in an, “I’m going to scare you, BOO!” position. During one of our museum trips, Ash stopped dead in his tracks at a large color field painting by Joseph Marioni. Upon viewing the piece, he began laughing. My son then turned to me and said, “That’s just a big yellow square.” I nipped at him, explaining the importance of abstraction, but, at the time, that may have been a bit much for a 5-year-old. Needless to say, over the next two months, he made 40 color field studies with every color in his crayon box.
You possess refined canvas skills, which, for a famously self-taught artist, is particularly admirable. Your extensive knowledge of art history suggests that your appetite for learning and growing as an artist fuels your inner fire. You also seem to have a fan-boy appreciation for the efforts of your fellow creatives, whether they are from antiquity or you rub shoulders with them at Beautiful Bizarre Magazine art show openings. ;)
Nice plug, BOOM! I just love art. Art is everything to me. Art is a friend, art is a chronology of history, art is a documentarian of nature, art is a teacher, and art is life. Although academia wasn’t my path — I did not go to art school nor study at ateliers — I love to learn. I’m a ferocious seeker of knowledge, of craft, and of stories. There is never an end to the process of painting; it’s not like it’s a new thing. People have been pushing every medium of painting to achieve perfection for hundreds of years. It would be foolish to think I could even scratch the surface of the skill and knowledge that’s out there. But what a way to live life; new wonder lies eternal when you recognize how the few items you have fill your medicine bag. There’s my flowery contribution to this interview…
Throughout your artistic career, you’ve derived great inspiration from many notable literary classics that you filter through a cinematic lens. What is it about embracing one’s bibliophile and/or a cinephile leanings that paves the way for greater depths of artistic originality?
Drama. You can learn a lot about dramatic imagery by watching a movie. Everything from lighting to palette to composition; it’s all there in a movie. But brass tacks, picture making is what I do and I love stories. They go hand and hand. A movie is both a picture and a story, turned on and moving as thousands of still images come to life. I have a long-standing love affair with cinema. I draw great inspiration from what a film can convey, especially dramatic imagery. But without a good story, the imagery can suffer. I guess I really just want to be a film director…
I have always been and always will be my own worst critic. I’ll never be satisfied. This is where the pressure lies. Not in outdoing myself, but in the constant battle with the monster that is self-doubt.
Several intriguing film and art mash-spirations have led to your most eye-catching canvas creations. Your 2017 painting Chum was the result of visual cues derived from a knife-wielding, Jaws-era Roy Scheider along with the pitcher pouring maiden of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ The Source. Similarly, your painting Float emulated the billowy essence of the Kate Moss hologram that Alexander Mcqueen projected during his Macbethian 2006 Widows of Culloden runway show as well as William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s lovely Neoclassical nude from 1882, entitled Evening Mood. Can you offer any other examples of film/art mashups that you’ve employed in recent years? Perhaps there’s a wild idea in your sketchbook that you’re currently toying with?
It’s one of those things, I think, where everything you’ve ever seen is stored in your brain’s filing cabinet, somewhere in your head. The good stuff — the stuff that really resonates and gets you cooking — is in the top drawer. It’s easier to access when you don’t have to bend down to open the bottom drawer because that’s too much of a pain in the ass. That bottom drawer only contains shit that you’d need in case you should ever get audited.
So yeah, I made a painting called The Dolphin. It’s a portrait of a woman lounging in an ornamental chair with a fully articulated dolphin skeleton hanging on the wall behind her. I drew inspiration from a multitude of sources to create my own “Odalisque” — a beauty in waiting, an iconic maiden, a gorgeous mystery. Ingres’ Grand Odalisque was the blueprint for the painting. It’s one of my favorite Ingres paintings and it has been in that top drawer of my brain filing cabinet since I first saw it at the Louvre in Paris.
I mixed it up with an amazing visual from Sophia Coppola’s film, Marie Antoinette. The dolphin skeleton was inspired by Damien Hirst’s Natural History Vitrines, such as floating sharks, sliced up cows, etc. And finally, I threw in a textured, kind of dingy olive green background as a nod to Gerhard Richter’s abstract work titled Abstraktus Bild (1994). And there you have it, Grasso Gumbo.
Do Lady Gaga-esque fan expectations of your canvas imagery motivate you to conjure up increasingly more imaginative storytelling efforts? Does the pressure to outdo yourself ever mess with your head?
No, creating for anyone’s expectations other than my own is a folly. I have always been and always will be my own worst critic. I’ll never be satisfied. This is where the pressure lies. Not in outdoing myself, but in the constant battle with the monster that is self-doubt. The constant questioning of myself. Is this any good? Is this idea stupid? Did I apply the paint well? Is the palette nice? Is there a story? That’s what messes with my head, but it’s not real. It’s me messing with me, you know? Sometimes I’m a pain in the ass to myself.
Have you ever shelved an outlandish canvas concept? Would you be willing to explain to our readers why you decided against bringing it to fruition?
Well, it’s not a painting concept, more of a sculpture. Yeah — let’s call it a sculpture. I really wanted to acquire a 1969 Ford Mustang muscle car and ram a giant spear through the hood. It would have been standing nose first on a marble plinth, diagonally rising in the air with the spear anchoring it to the plinth. This would create a V composition with the car and the spear. It was going to be called The Death of Bucephalus after Alexander the Great’s mighty horse.
The idea came to me around 2008, when the stock market crashed. The big banks went under and car companies were in a world of trouble here in the US. I thought the piece would have been apropos. It never came to fruition other than a drawing in my sketchbook. I couldn’t get a gallery nor investors to spring for the car. That car model was really expensive.
You inject your art with a signature Grasso flair. It is, at turns, foreboding, mischievous, heady, disarmingly intimate, and sublimely seductive. The beholder is compelled to study your canvases… linger… savor… and contemplate. This seems like the master plan of an artist who is methodically carving out a creative legacy. Guilty as charged…or are you actually just winging it?
What you see is a culmination of who I am, on an innate level. My personality, my emotions, my lust and fantasies, my story, my loves, my surroundings, and my life. I imbue my work with all of that. I strive to create something deeper than just a pretty picture. Don’t get me wrong. I love painting beautiful women and cool-looking animals — it’s a boy’s fantasy come true. But how it’s done – making the imaginary, the improbable and the fantastic seem believable – that is what excites me. As far as a master plan to cement a legacy, no. I don’t believe that I’ve even scratched the surface of legacy building. I do try to create compelling work that holds up to the standards I set for myself.
What do you believe are the key aspects to becoming a widely acclaimed and creatively evolving artist?
Never think that you’ve got it figured it out. What you think you know, you don’t. There’s always more to know, learn and relearn (what you think you know). Practice is key. Know that your ego is an undulating beast. It moves, it falls, and it rises. Have blind courage, I guess. It’s very difficult when you do one thing that works or you have had success with. Then you abandon it for something different, and then return to what you have abandoned and give it new life. You also have to possess an unabashed and delusional belief that what you are creating — what you have to make — must exist on this planet.
You are pretty diligent about showing appreciation to your Instagram fans for their accolades. Have you ever received a fan comment that was outstandingly kooky? What about one that made your heart soar into the stratosphere?
I’m most moved when people say I’m their favorite artist. That’s unbelievably flattering and so mesmerizing to me. I mean, there are quite a few Picassos out there, you know? It’s something I never thought I would hear while I was toiling away in my studio for 20-something years. But, there is a key point in someone stating, “You’re my favorite artist.” Not for my undulating ego, but because being an inspiration to anyone is an important achievement for an artist. To have a profound effect on another human being, inspiring someone in such a way that it compels him or her to create something, is a powerful accomplishment. This is what keeps creativity alive. To inspire — one of the pure truths of art. Outstandingly kooky comments, you ask? Oh yeah, every time someone says, “Amazing work, send me a DM to be featured on our page.”
Do the business aspects of your profession, such as self-promotion, bookkeeping, etc., chip away at your creativity spark? If so, how do you continually fan the flames of your inner muse?
This is a tough question because inspiration lies everywhere, no matter how heavy the business aspects weigh on my shoulders. I’ve been doing the business part for so long that it has become second nature to me. That’s not to say that it isn’t a grind. There are times when it’s overwhelming and I’d rather be painting. I find that being away from the studio only makes me hungrier to get working again. Therein lies the great quandary. What do I do? I find that no matter how deep the rut, just getting started on anything is the key (although sometimes, that is easier said than done).
I marvel at the beauty and ferocity of nature and its fragile balance. By combining feminine beauty with raw nature, you get that fierce and innocent tension.
Have the three key stars of your artworks — your childhood sweetheart/longtime wife Alicia, Julie Menz and Bela Lotozo – ever found their canvas celebrity status to be a little overwhelming? Sometimes, when people are exposed to recognizable faces via our internet culture, they are inclined to imbue that sense of familiarity into their online behavior and interactions.
I don’t know if the women who model for me have ever been overwhelmed by being the subjects of my work. They seem to appreciate it when people recognize them in the paintings. As far as online interactions with their own media… well, you’d have to ask them. What I do know is that my wife, Alicia, as well as Julie and Bela, really respect the art. That is part of why I stick to using the same muses over and over again in my work. There is an understanding of what I am trying to create and a mutual regard for the paintings.
Do muse hopefuls ever try to sell you on why they should be your next canvas maiden?
I’ve had a few hit me up over the years but I have to have a connection with my muses. That’s not to say I wouldn’t meet with someone new. But, I’m kind of shy and it takes a while for me to get to know someone.
Do your painted ladies recognize the empowering mystique of their gorgeously Grasso-ed visages? You habitually elevate their naturally radiant faces with adornments borrowed from Mother Nature. What a refreshing take on feminine beauty.
Thank you. I remember asking Bela if she sees herself as I paint her. She just looked at me, not saying a word, and shook her head. I think that reaction says a lot about my work. No matter how aesthetically beautiful the woman staring back at you from my canvas is, no matter what sea creature or land animal she is wrapped in or adorning, she radiates an innocence that establishes a connection that resonates with the viewer. One of the reasons I think that this works is because my muses are not professional models. They are friends and people I have a connection with. There’s an established rapport. They’re akin enough to understand the story I am trying to tell.
We are deeply entrenched in a hyper-polished, selfie-obsessed glamazon era of smoke, mirrors, and deep-seated insecurities. Your figurative art, however, seems to champion the idea of stripping everything down. You showcase the true essence of real, radiantly-relatable, self-confident women. You also depict the beauty of being at one with the earth. Yes, no, or happy accident?
Yes, definitely. There’s just something fresh and extremely powerful about a woman exuding confidence. Exploring herself in a new way in order to extract an attitude or an untapped emotion. A certain je ne sais quoi, if you will. The result can be stellar, like aged whiskey. The wheat has no idea of what its potential is. Once it has been guided through the distilling process and stowed in a barrel for years, well, what comes out at the other end is interplanetary.
But let us come back to Earth, which, in one way or another we’re all part of, where I’m hoping we can all relate. Amongst the earth, there is flora and fauna. I’ve been enthralled by the animal kingdom as far back as childhood. I marvel at the beauty and ferocity of nature and its fragile balance. By combining feminine beauty with raw nature, you get that fierce and innocent tension.
You are the father of a lovely young daughter who you have immortalized upon canvas several times. She is also prominently featured in your Beautiful Bizarre Magazine 2019 INPRNT Traditional Art Award-winning painting, A Darkness to End All Daybreaks. Do you take greater pains to represent women in a far more respectful and naturally resplendent manner?
I respect women and think that they are naturally resplendent. Honestly, I wouldn’t know how else to represent a woman other than the way I do. I’m not sure I take greater pains, now that I have a daughter.
You and the ocean are kindred spirits, and that reverence takes flight in so many of your works. Have you observed any notable changes in the natural environment of Cape May that concern you, not just as a lover of the great outdoors, but also as a parent of two young children?
I grew up in a small shore town on the Atlantic Ocean, and I still live at the beach. The environment, especially the sea, is very important to me. I’m in the water so much, whether I’m surfing, paddle boarding with the dolphins, or just swimming around with my kids. There are great efforts in Cape May to protect and preserve the natural environment and the beauty of our surroundings. Noticeable changes do occur, though. Beach erosion is unavoidable, especially with hurricanes and high tides. With this, the beaches change. Beach replenishment efforts have been happening for a long time here.
You have earned great accolades throughout your artistic career showcasing our planet’s natural wonders upon canvas. Is creating art that inspires positive eco-action part of your grand plan?
It was never a statement that I was overtly trying to address, but I am okay if people see that in my work. Ecology and environmental protection are important subjects and should be acknowledged. For me, my paintings have always been about wonder. The wonder of the ocean, the natural world. Both are just as magical as the mythology and fantasy I grew up reading. I’ve always wanted to show the wonders of nature intertwined with people, and to tell stories that were important to me or those that I found interesting.
Despite your approachable vibe, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi swirling around you that is quintessentially artsy. Due to your higher profile in the art world, do you feel like you have to continually cultivate a “look”?
I don’t know. I mean, I’m an artist, I have an ego and a few times a year I have to show up at an opening. But continually cultivating a look? No. I’m me. I know as an artist that what I look like is part of the whole package to some, but my work is what I hope people are really looking at. That’s what is important. That’s what transcends.
Victor Grasso-themed art films seem to be floating around every corner of the internet. In those videos, you appear to be quite comfortable discussing your craft. One of your colleagues even commented that you “like to be the center of attention”. In stark contrast, you savor the solitude of your creative existence and have also mentioned being quite shy. Huhhh?
Acting, my dear.
We would love to hear your thoughts on the Beautiful Bizarre Magazine Art Prize. What was the process like for you? Did it meet your expectations?
Taking part in the Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize was a fantastic experience. The promotion of the artists is both valuable and focused, and working with the Beautiful Bizarre team is a pleasure. It rose well above the expectations I had.
Why did you enter the Beautiful Bizarre Magazine Art Prize?
Well, I am not one for juried art competitions but Beautiful Bizarre Magazine produces such an amazing and relevant publication. They do a tremendous job promoting artists and are so supportive of the arts. That’s why I knew the Art Prize contest was going to be something special, and it was. The contest came full circle when the finalists were asked to participate in a group show. The artists got to meet each other and enjoy everyone’s work. That’s what an art contest should be.
What do you feel you have gained from this experience?
The Art Prize helped me to gain more exposure and I also made some new friends. I created a RAD new painting for the Beautiful Bizarre Magazine-curated group show, “Ritual”, that was displayed at Haven Gallery in Northampton, New York.
Would you recommend it and encourage others to enter? If so, why?
Of course! Artists who enter the Beautiful Bizarre Magazine Art Prize may get to see their piece hanging next to some other amazing artists’ work. They may even get to meet the artist who created it.