JeanPaul Mallozzi: Emotional States

Jean Paul Mallozzi, Purify (study), detail
Artist JeanPaul Mallozzi, a native of New York City now working in Miami, is a kind of psychic Surrealist who creates dreamlike personal narratives that attempt to glimpse his subject's psyches. Entrancing, memorable and unnerving, Mallozzi's works are uncannily emotional.

I recently spoke to JeanPaul Mallozzi and asked him about his history, his ideas and his recent work.

John Seed in Conversation with JeanPaul Mallozzi: 
JeanPaul Mallozzi: Photo by Juan Pablo Castro
Tell me a bit about your early life and how it shaped you.

My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Italy and Cuba and settled in Queens, NY where I was born and raised. Being the youngest of four siblings in an immigrant household, telling my parents I wanted to be an artist didn't really inspire much confidence or praise: just eye rolls and heavy sighs. Thankfully my older sisters and brother had my back, but I still had to work hard to prove I was actually a good artist. I struggled like most artists to develop real confidence in my skills and techniques and I think it was harder because it was instilled by my parents in me to be humble. It wasn't an easy mental balancing act.

It's on Shuffle, 20 x 16 inches, Oil on board
Talk a bit about your experiences in art school, and about what happened when your portfolio was stolen.

RISD was intimidating as HELL. I received a scholarship to attend -- that blew my mind -- but once I was there I realized that I was placed in a small pressure cooker loaded with talented people. The do I really belong here? thoughts made regular appearances. It was a hard time to keep the increasing self doubt in check while tasked with an intense regiment to make "quality" work for studio classes every week. However, all that time spent honed and strengthened my skills and brought out speed which is a great asset to have in this field.

As far as my portfolio being stolen, it was literally the last day of my Junior year in college and I was moving my stuff out of the apartment. I left the portfolio downstairs for a few minutes. When I came back from bringing down another box it was gone and I was beside myself with disbelief. Three years of work gone and most of it not photographed at that point.

Some time later I found out from a girl who contacted me after she saw one of my pieces -- one of the few I had a photo of -- on MySpace I had as a profile picture. She told me she bought one of those missing pieces and that it was hanging in her living room. She said it was sold by the "artist" who was trying to get across the country. She was kind enough to send it back to me. But that theft basically left me unable to get commissions/jobs for a while because I did not have enough time to develop that much new material in a year.

So I spent the next few years saving money doing other jobs like waiting tables, gallery assistant etc. Eventually I got into a studio residency and quit my "day" job. I spent all my time making a new body of work with no prospects just hoping something would happen. Fortunately, something did. I was picked up by a gallery in London and it snowballed from there.

Keening, 42 x 42 inches, Oil on linen
Have you always been a representational artist? Were you able to find mentors and friends who supported what you were doing?

Representational work struck me as a kid and I have a huge love for it. I was in awe of artists who were able to create a convincing alternate reality of their own and be baffled as to how they did it. I've had some great mentors like Nick Jainschigg and Shanth Enjeti both of whom have had a profound influence on me and my work. Nick being a master at painting realism taught me a lot of nuts and bolts. Shanth was teaching Character Design at the time and I'll never forget him telling me that while I can paint very well..."if the concept is sh*t and it's painted beautifully, it's a beautifully painted piece of sh*t".

Lynn (commission), 30 x 22 inches, Graphite, watercolor, gouache on Rives paper
After college, I sought out Steven Assael whom I was lucky enough to take an independent studio class with as I held down a full-time job in Manhattan. I distinctly remember being the youngest student in his class at the time. So after work I'd go there, paint, and do the hour and half commute back home to Bayside, Queens. Thankfully, I had some good friends to reassure me that I wasn't wasting my time.

Tenacity, 58 x 41 inches, Graphite , watercolor, gouache on Rives paper
Your art often refers to emotional states: were you always tuned into your own emotional states and the emotions of others around you?

As I got older I found myself "reading" other people's emotions a lot especially during long train or bus commutes back home from the city. I would just sketch them in my book capturing their energies, their moods, their stories. If it wasn't on their face, then I'd key in on their body language. The way they sat or slouched, held their bags, talked on phones. Also, I come from an upbringing where pretty much everyone wears their emotions on their sleeves. When there's laughing, it's loud. When there's a fight, it's very loud! In both cases, neighbors have ended up coming over to join the party or calling security to keep the noise down.

Moodswing: Mad, Glad, Sad, Triptych, each: 30 x 22 inches, Mixed media on Rives BFK
The eyes and figures of your heads often feature stylizations and bits of abstraction. When did that start, and what are you trying to suggest with these images?

I had a literal moodswing in my apartment over five years ago and I wanted to reinterpret that visually, and thats where my personal work started took over other projects at the time. The stylizations and abstractions mimic facial features like eyes and smiles/frowns. Over the years, the abstractions have become more controlled and recognizable. I tend to do the highly abstracted faces with contoured lines when the figure is in a heightened emotional state, usually when they're in some sort of movement. Emotions are amorphous and different spectral colors give off different frequencies that people respond to. Its there like a keyhole to show the viewer the energy present inside the person at that moment.

Lie With Me, 24 x 18 inches, Oil on board
Tell me the story behind "Lie with Me."

The title has a double meaning. The first taking the title literally. The other side, I made this painting during a time when I was head deep in a rough relationship. I found myself "going through the motions" knowing things were at an end, just waiting for one of us to make the move to end it officially. I wanted the guy's gestural face to mimic a sad smile looking down on her, but the woman looking at you (the viewer) as the object of affection. You become the greener pasture. It's about having the courage to break away from something you know isn't healthy for you any longer.  

What will you be showing at Copro Gallery? Nathan Spoor was incredibly kind enough to invite me to show at this year's group exhibit called Suggestivism: Chronology. It's a recurring group show Nathan spearheads and this is the 5th installment; the last one being held in Rome, Italy. All the exhibiting artists portray figurative work that all suggest there is something more there than it seems to be on the surface. Here is how Nathan explains the show's theme:

At it's basic level, Suggestivism is based on the artist's specific and unique vision, a psychological or even mystical manifestation brought into reality by the artist's personal aesthetic. It's often representational, almost always in fact, but it is never restricted to being figurative or needing to include the figure.

I find myself in the company of incredible artists that I respect so much including Nicola Verlato, Aron Wiesenfeld and Marco Mazzoni.

The exhibit is currently running until September 6th. Due Venti (Two Winds) I created for this show as a farewell to a theme I was exploring. The girl carried off by two winds which are represented by two birds in flight while listening to her headphones plugged into a flower suggesting she's literally seeing the world from a different place--not plugged into technology but into the natural world. It's the last in the series so I thought it appropriate to send her off in style.

Due Venti, 24 x 18 inches, Oil on board
What direction is your work taking right now?

I've made a conscious shift and am bringing the optimism that some of my works on paper give off to the canvas. We've all reached out for help at some point in life. I'm portraying people who are asking for help, comfort, release and having that help manifest as a "familiar" or spirit guide. I'm also building on the colors fields around the face and eyes, allowing them to show through in certain areas: I'm letting paint be paint.

Purify (study), 10 x 8 inches, oil on board
Also, these works will be much bigger in scale ranging between 3 feet to 8 feet. I bought a bunch of canvas rolls for that reason. Thanks Pearl Paint! The small study Purify portrays a girl that has removed the negativity in herself and that manifested into a small iridescent-dark kitten dripping in her hands. The energy around her face and eyes suggest she's found a rose-colored view on the world as she looks straight at you.

Sketchbook Page
How do you keep yourself humble as a person and as an artist?

Honestly, I'm constantly reminding myself how precious and awesome being able to do this for a living is. I've had it taken away from me once already and I'm elated and relieved that I was able to get it back. I am beyond grateful for any gallery exhibit I participate in, any sale made, and any person and collector in life or via email/social media who tells me how they appreciate the work and how it's affected them. I never take any of it for granted.

Steven (commission), 30 x 22 inches, Graphite, watercolor and gouache on Rives paper
Where can your work be seen?

I'm happy to be participating in a few more shows this year out in the California: Smoke & Mirrors at Marcas Gallery, Tres Años at As Issued Gallery and I also am in a show at Flower Pepper Gallery. I also currently have a large piece on display at Gitana Rosa Gallery in Chelsea, NY. I will be locking myself away painting in time for Art Basel Miami. My studio is currently in the Art Center South Florida, in Miami Beach.

Some Current Exhibitions: SUGGESTIVISM: CHRONOLOGY, curated by Nathan Spoor
August 16 - September 6, 2014
Copro Gallery 2525 Michigan Ave, T5
Santa Monica, CA 90904

Marcas Contemporary Art
Opening: Sept. 6, 2014, 7 to 11PM
305 E. 4th St., #103 Santa Ana, CA 92701