Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Billy Basciani Interview

It was a dark and rainy day, not the kind of day you would expect for the first day of fall. But I promise you that the rest of the article is sprinkled with hints of autumn. I met an artist, Billy Basciani, at Market Street Grill for lunch and shared his enthusiasm for his upcoming show at Sunset Hill Fine Arts Gallery in West Chester. Just as all of these interviews have gone, it was full of surprises.

The first surprise was; that lunchtime at Market Street was busy. But, that is coming from someone who doesn’t usually get out of the studio for lunch much. My ignorance shined through as we stood there chatting away about the art world waiting to be seated only to find out that there you seat yourself. The couple behind us kindly pointed this out when they asked if we were waiting for a “special place” to sit.

Once seated, the conversation quickly went to art. I’m not the pontificating type so it was easy to relate to Billy the struggling artist type, struggling in a good way, struggling to find his voice, his style, something I can relate to. Growing up in Chester County, his protégées and friends, Andrew Wyeth, Bill Ewing, Bo Bartlett, have been the definition of Chadds Ford. He learned by tradition, traditional painting, and by making his own paints, another surprise. To me that’s a little crazy.

The next surprise was that it’s not really a struggle but a journey for Billy. And, to sprinkle the conversation with a bit of autumn, I popped open a bottle of Iron Hill’s “Imperial Pumpkin Ale;” another pleasant surprise in that it had more of a nutmeg flavor than a pumpkin taste.

Let the interview begin…

Billy Basciani

How did you get started making art?
I started at a young age. Actually my mother took me, when I was about 7 or 8 years old, to an art class at Delaware Art Museum. They would teach, you know, pottery and painting. So, I was doing stuff there. My first private lesson was when I was about 9 or 10 at the York Lynn Center for Creative Arts.  There was an oil painter there. He gave me a few private lessons.  I did a few pieces there, some master copies. You know, pick it out of the book and just paint it.  My father was friends with Bill Ewing. So he was like, “My son likes painting so why don’t you come check it out.”  So he came over one day and saw my paintings on the wall and asked, “Who did these?” He was like, “My son did.” “No kidding!” He said he could give me lessons and that’s when I started studying with Bill Ewing. I was about 12 years old at the time.  I started the traditional apprenticeship with him. 

Did you receive any formal art training? Where and what did you major in?   
Yeah I did, from Bill. Then after high school I got accepted to the Academy of Fine Arts. Then I got hooked up with Chadds Ford.

Can you describe your work in general for the readers? 
Lets see, I was classically trained, so my first couple of shows were more traditional paintings with under-paintings and glazes; something Ewing would do. You could definitely see his style coming out. But, I would say for the past year and half I have gone through these changes. More or less getting into more of what’s me. Some people might say that it has a dream like quality. Some may say it’s impressionistic. I say it’s more of a personal impressionism.

Where is your studio?  
[After graduating,] I got a studio up at Chadds Ford [but it’s] not [my studio] any more. I am in the process of building a new studio. But I was there. [That studio] used to be Ewings studio, Jimmy Lynch was in there, [and] Bo Bartlett. So it had a major lineage.

Do you paint from photos or do you paint plein air?  
No, no photos. I figured if I can’t do it from life, or I can’t do it from my imagination, I make myself figure it out. I really don’t want to let the camera decide. Part of what my process is: is going through it, being on sight, [and] getting the vibes from certain things. Certain things come out that you can’t really capture with a camera. 

How do you choose your subject matter?  
I let it choose itself. Wherever it comes to me. If I am away on vacation or somewhere else, I always have my stuff with me in case certain things present it self to me. 

How did Andrew Wyeth inspire you? 
He is a great person, kind and gentle. He would do anything for anybody. Every summer when I went to Maine, he gave me his studio to use. So that was my place to paint for four years. He would come and say a few things but didn’t say much cause he didn’t want to influence it. You know, like I don’t want you to paint like me. I want you to paint like you.  He showed me to be yourself, and what comes out hopefully people will look at and notice.

What are your thoughts on perfection? 
Perfection? There is no perfection. 

What is a favorite technique that you would share with a novice painter? 
I’d ask them which one they want to learn. I’d give them all, any of them. If somebody didn’t know and they were asking me what would be your favorite thing, I would say probably, under-painting. Sculpting it on the canvas, drawing in glazes, and adding in colors. Building up the layers, which is traditional.  

“How do you decide when an artwork is done?" 
I guess it just goes with your gut. When you feel like your doing more damage to it then helping it, you know. 

Who has been the biggest influence in your life? 
I would say… I am a real family guy. My father gave me my work ethic. “Get up in the morning, you’re not sleeping all day. You’re getting up and going to the mushroom house from seven o’clock in the morning to seven o’clock at night.” My senior year when everyone went on senior week, I was in the mushroom house working. I appreciate that, you know. 

What is this Painters Folly…it sounds fun?  
What is Painters Folly? I’m not even really sure what it is. Its pretty much a way for some artists to get together sometimes, show our work and talk about each other’s work. I think we’re trying to really reach people that really care about artwork.  And explain to them what we do, the process of what we do, and show them.  It’s a culmination between teaching people about painting and explaining to them a little about what we do, instead of just throwing a painting up on a gallery wall and telling people what they think it is. 

Artists that influenced you? 
I would have to say my teacher Ewing.  We still get together every once and a while. I used to want to be like them old masters. You know them old old masters. The older I get I’m more into like Gustav Klimt, Dega, Manet, and Monet. It changes all the time. Before, in my prior shows, it looked like maybe three or four artists. It’s more or less focusing down now, it’s more me. It just feels good now. I like the colors, I like the paint, I like to push the paint. You know, I like to just have fun with it. 

Do you have any habits or morning routines you do before going to the easel? 
Mixing up paint. The white that I use is lead, lead powder. Toxic. Work with it in care. I get up, get out there, and mix up a nice big pile for the day. If I have to get my canvases ready, I’ll do that. Get my mediums, my jars, my pallets, and everything I’ve mixed up for what I need to do. 

You have a unique way of signing your paintings that include your initials in a vertical box. Why?
It’s funny in a way. Certain paintings call for it, and other ones don’t. Certain ones call for my full name, now its just Basciani. When I first started I it was Billy Basciani, to William Basciani. It’s almost like a time line. How I have signed it, has changed. Now it’s just like WB with a box around it. But the box thing kinda came. It is almost like an Asian twist, some kind of monogram around it. Like an illustrator thing. Some composition around it is nice. It’s a balancing thing. If it’s heavy on the one side, it balances it out.

What are you eating right now? 
Tex Mex salad. It’s really good too. 

What was your favorite meal? 
I’d say my mum-mums cooking. 

What does home mean to you? 
Home? Family…friends, people I’ve known forever. 

Money is OK, but it isn’t what life is about. What is it about? 
I think life’s about finding some peace with yourself. Getting to go out and do this wonderful thing that you love, everyday.
Your best birthday? 
Maybe, my last one. My Thirtieth. I had a nice big surprise party.

All my questions were answered and I finished up my gooey awesome Chipotle BBQ Cheddar Cheese Onion sandwich. Little diced pieces of tomato in the sandwich were a surprising treat. Billy wrapped up his Tex Mex salad because he didn’t have the time to eat between my questions. The scenario plays out like any meal out. The waitress asks, “How is the meal?” just as you take your first bite. I mistakenly asked a question every time he went for the salad. We walked back to Sunset Hill Gallery over the red brick, darkened from the rain, avoiding the puddles. During our walk, Billy shared a story about last year’s pumpkin carving in Chadds Ford and how he strapped a light to his head and captured all the pumpkin action on canvas with his brushes. It is no surprise that this starry night event carved out in oil paints is in the show. 

“Dare to Dream” is the name of Basciani’s show at Sunset Hill Fine Arts Gallery the show is up until November 4th. Opening night is Friday, October 7th during West Chester’s Gallery Walk 5 to 9:00.

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