Friday, August 1, 2014

August's Peculiar Person of the Month: Artist Jason Rondinelli

David Rondinelli

Jason showing that he is the proud
winner of the family "thin" gene.
Here at This Peculiar Life NYC, I have a special interview. In celebration of his birthday and wonderful new art series, I've decided to shine a little light on my big brother Jason Rondinelli. An accomplished art teacher at Montauk, IS 223 in Boro Park Brooklyn, Rondinelli started out in the heart of Steel City. Raised amongst the mill's smokey cumulus clouds of Clairton, PA Rondinelli found his inspiration hidden in those clouds that would soon become the basis for his first art series Smoke and Mirrors.

The series is a composite of installations that combines everything from marbled paper, collage, and still life constructs made out of actual mirrors.
 Rondinelli is also the father of a two-year old daughter, Annamia, that he co-parents with his partner of eight years.

Before becoming an accomplished artist, he was, of course, forced to co-habit a shared room with his younger brother. He was often held hostage by him with a Nerf riffle and Barbie Doll, while being forced to draw scantly clad Disney characters for his brother instead of doing his homework. Rondinelli had this to say of the experience.

"I had a charmed existence for the first two years of my life until my brother was born. Talk about disappointment. He was this very loud albino child that ran around our yard naked and had a diet of breast milk and apple juice until he was 10."

Awe...he really does owe it all to me.

Rondinelli moved to Brooklyn at 18 where he studied Art Education and Drawing at Pratt Institute which would eventually lead him to make his family very proud as August's Peculiar Person of the Month! Read all about the brilliant thought process and intricate construction that went into creating these signature art pieces.

This Peculiar Life NYC: How long did it take you to complete this series?
Jason Rondinelli: To complete the Smoke & Mirrors series took about 10 months. I spent two months experimenting with different materials and processes to determine the direction of this series. During that time, I completed one or two pieces that interested me. I created a body of work following their trajectory.

TPL NYC: How do you go about planning a series of this proportion?

"Smoke and Mirrors"
JR: All of my work begins with making marbled paper. I like to start with marbled paper because the patterns are very loose and organic. It frees me as an artist from making contrived marks. I also like the way marbled paper plays with the proportions of paint I apply. The flowing liquid determines how much one color will spread over another. Equal amounts of red and orange paint dripped on the carrageenan will be moved around to create different proportions of color. The results always surprise me. From the marbled paper, I create collages, still-life and installations. The process of making these forms is completely spontaneous. I spend hours shifting the papers around until I develop a composition I like.
I think of each form like an Eco-system; I try to make all the pieces work together in harmony. Like an actual landscape, nature always finds a way to balance itself out, and I use that as a model for how I develop the collages. Whatever parts are not useful become recycled for another piece. After making the collages, I develop paintings from them. I create cropped compositions of the collages to make a painting that’s not merely a representation of the collage but an image independent from its inspiration.

Jason making art at Montauk, IS 223

TPL NYC: How did you choose the theme for the pieces?
JR: The theme emerged organically. Lately, I have used my work as a way for me to work through life’s challenges. I’ve always felt that my thought patterns were scattered. I’ve tried, through meditation, to focus my thoughts. For several years I would meditate along the Varazanno Promenade. During the meditations, what I noticed was the way the environment re- balanced itself after Hurricane Sandy or human intervention. The water found new places to flow, the rocks re-oriented themselves and plants still took root. It caused me to reflect on my own arts making practice and I started to think about developing a process that was more organic and flexible and less pre-determined. The content of this work is about my observations of nature’s transient elements melting from solids to liquids and it has also functioned as a vehicle for me to be more fluid with my process.

TPL NYC: What are the materials you used to create the art?
JR: I have always been attracted to paper as a painting surface and as a sculptural material. Since this series is about transformation and impermanence, I like using a material that is delicate and impermanent. For the collages, I use colored charcoal paper, vellum, acrylic inks and broken mirrors. For the paintings, I use Arches’ Cold Press Paper and Windsor Newton Watercolors.
TPL NYC: What made you decide to make it into a series as opposed to just one piece?
JR: I wanted to spend some time really exploring this new process of working. After the first painting, “Smoke & Mirrors,” (the painting, not the whole series) I wanted to create images that were less representational and bordered on abstraction. So I created paintings like "Caldera" and "Currents." I also wanted to create a body of work that ranged in its level of being more final. I think a question that burns in every artist’s mind is, “when is it finished?” This is a particularly grueling question for a watercolor painter because a watercolor artist cannot use white. If you want an area of the painting to be white you have to preserve the white of the paper. If you later decide an area is too dark there’s no going back, leaving little room to edit. Although I can’t “undo” values in a painting, I can explore the level of completeness in a painting. Some paintings like "Both Sides of the River," are very finished while others like, "Morass," are less complete. I

I’m pleased with the results even though completeness is a question I will always pursue. In regards to the collages, I love making multiples because they are so much fun to make and the results are always surprising. As I mentioned before, the paintings have to be pre-planned but the collages are a complete spontaneous process. I love laying out all of papers on the studio floor, cutting them up and placing them in new configurations.

TPL NYC: You have several things going at once in the pieces. You have colorful imagery evocative of organic settings that are two dimensional, but you also have incorporated glass and 3D imagery. Why combine these two materials together?
JR: That’s a great question because the mirror does seem out of place amongst an otherwise paper construction. Texturizing paper can create the illusion of many surfaces but it can’t really replicate the reflective quality of water. In my collages, I use mirrors to create a surface indicative of a puddle of water or a crystal rock. For my paintings, the mirrored surface de-centralizes the lighting and reflects imagery in a way that further abstracts the painting. It opens up a great variety of compositional possibilities for a single painting that would be limited without the mirror.
"Quakes and Rainbows" with the mirror still life.

TPL NYC: How did you know when it was done? How did you know to stop at the number of pieces that you did?
JR: As I mentioned before, completeness is a question. I’m always asking myself. In this instance I called upon the guidance of two mentors of mine, Sara Jones and Andrea Wenglowskyj, creators of the creative agency, Kind Aesthetic. Their feedback was really encouraging, after nine months they felt my work was farther along than I did and changed my perspective on how finished a piece had to be. A month after the critique, all the work was done. Working with them has made it clear how important it is to receive feedback from other artists.
TPL NYC: Now that you completed the work, what is the next step that you will be taking to get the work out there?
JR: Since completing the series, I have been in two group shows this summer, Art Not Without___, at Amos Eno Gallery, on display June and July and Summer ARTiculated at Osilas Gallery on view from July 10 to August 10. In addition, some paintings have been printed in the July issue of Fresh Paint Magazine, and on their Studio Visit blog. I will also be attending the Vermont Studio Center in August. I plan to take this project to the next level by experimenting with larger scale paintings and installations.

"I Was So Many Things"
TPL NYC: What were some of the challenges that you faced while making the art? Was there a piece in particular that was difficult to complete?
JR: My greatest challenge when making any work of art always involves trying to over-control or over-work a piece. There was a collage I made called “Windward” that I must have assembled in a dozen different formations. Some parts of the collage I invested a great deal of time constructing but in the end the piece looked like a giant Christmas wreath. I really wanted the piece to work but it just didn’t come together. When I encounter a piece that’s not working, I have learned to disassemble it and use the scraps for another collage. Observing nature has taught me to be flexible, nature wastes nothing, matter cannot be created nor destroyed, and I find this really encouraging. Knowing this has given me permission to disassemble my work and create something new with it.
 TPL NYC: Was there one that you had an easy time creating?
JR: Yes, the collage hearth was made in one night. I constructed the center of the collage for a still life I painted in “Caldera.” I thought I wasn’t going to use it until I saw it lying next to some pink and purple marbled paper. I taped it to the wall and started shifting the papers around until I was pleased with the composition.

TPL NYC: Do you have a piece that is your favorite?
JR: I have two favorite pieces, “Caldera” and “Up Steam.” I like them for the same reason, to me they look like they are melting or evaporating before my eyes. They embody a sense of transformation I have been seeking to represent in this work.

TPL NYC: The work as a whole, what do you hope the viewer will experience while looking at it?
JR: I hope they pick up on the overarching theme, transforming elements, but I always enjoy hearing observations that are new to me. One of my friends noted the paintings appeared to combine disproportionate forms together. Another friend felt I was trying to control chaos in the paintings. I really appreciate these psychological observations because they do reflect my use of making art as a way to organize and focus my thoughts.
TPL NYC: About creating it, did you see the shapes and designs in your head and sketch them out, or did you just begin to build the pieces as you went along? How did you decide what folds, patterns, and glass should go where?
JR: There are three stages to making my work and each stage there are varied levels of control I have over the outcome.  I have the least amount of input over the pattern making process which usually involves marbling paper or creating rocky textures using cellophane.  In both these instances I determine the color choices and the general direction of a mark but the liquid or cellophane determines the overall shapes and proportion of the color applied. The second stage is making the collage. In this instance I choose where a piece of paper is going to go but I do not have a planned outcome. Finally, when I make a painting I have total control over every step of the process. I make several preliminary drawings and determine the final color and composition of the painting before I start painting it.
Jason shares birthday cake with his family
TPL NYC: Do you have any other hobbies or interests that you are pursuing?
JR: I have a two year old daughter and she is my greatest interest. I am constantly juggling family, work and my studio practice.

TPL NYC: What are your plans for the future? Is there a new project that you would like to create?
JR: Yes. The plan for the future is to make larger installations. I recently used my classroom to create five and half foot pieces of marbled paper. I’m used to making papers no larger than 24” so this was a big leap in scale. My plan is to create a watery like environment with the paper that people can experience on an immersing level.

TPL NYC: So this is about peculiar people and things, what is the most peculiar piece of art that you have seen? 
JR: I don’t know if I can recall the most peculiar piece of art I have ever seen, but there is an artist, Stephanie Patton, I’m looking at now that’s very original. She’s a multimedia artist based in Louisiana and she addresses issues of mental and physical health in her work. She also uses a great deal of humor. She has an amazing video called Conquer, where she removes band aids that cover her face and neck in a braid like pattern. The compulsive process of removing so many band-aids causes me to reflect on how healing often occurs after a great deal of work and momentary pain. The art making process can be like that more for me, full of lots of little painful steps. Check it out here:
TPL NYC: What is the most peculiar thing you have encountered while living in NYC?
JR: In 2010 my little brother went on a date. He’s a handsome eligible bachelor that for some weird reason doesn’t date that often. If you’re a decent guy message him for a date and lets make 2014 even stranger.

 Readers can see and follow updates of  Jason's work at and

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