New York artist Joseph Cavalieri has exhibited his on-glass paintings internationally for the last 15 years. He recently debuted his series of oil works on canvas along with a new identity, Josefiná Cavaliná. “Stillness” ran earlier this year at the Studios of Key West.

Kevin Assam: What do you think about gender reveal parties for soon to be born babies?

Josefiná: I’ve never been to one, but would totally agree to going as long as there’s another party when the kid decides to switch genders. I imagine David Bowie having multiple parties as he grew up and decided if he was gay, straight or bisexual.

What did you think of your name at 16?

At 16, I went by the name Joe. I was in high school in Pleasantville, New York. Friends from back then still call me Joe. It wasn’t my name of choice – too plain. I always felt that “Giuseppe” would be more appropriate, but probably too ethnic for my parents. Joe replaced Joey. I switched to Joseph at age 20. Joseph Cavalieri is now Josefiná Cavaliná, created / born November 2019. She is the feminine soft side of me. Josefiná creates my oil paintings. The inaugural exhibition of my work is happening at the Studios of Key West (TSKW).

You work with a lot of stained glass. Where were you when you saw your first set?

When I was in high school, two of my five sisters took a stained-glass class and taught me the basics. Years later, starting in 1996, I took a bunch of classes at UrbanGlass in Brooklyn. I was working full time as an art director at GQ magazine. This was a great time to learn a bunch of techniques during weekend classes, then try to mix those techniques with my graphic design knowledge. My next art directing job was at People and then Good Housekeeping magazine. During these jobs, I set up my own studio, worked after hours, and started to show my work in galleries.

Tell me about your earliest pieces. What was the ideation process and how were they initially received?

When I first started painting on stained glass, I experimented and made works that look pretty primitive now. I was trying to master the techniques and decide on what images to use. The technique is complicated: cutting glass, painting and firing the glass in a kiln, then soldering the work together. It was a long time from the initial design to the final work. Once I got a hold of the techniques, I experimented with different themes that you normally would not see in stained glass – comics, muscle men, fables, and two-headed birds. Some works were only text. I entered the work into as many group exhibitions as possible. New York openings were lots of fun and my coworkers from the office would come. One opening, a drunk lady walked into my glass. She wasn’t hurt and the glass survived. I helped escort her out of the gallery.

How would you first come to Key West and discover the Studios’ residency program?

I heard about the residency through a local curator, Hal Bromm. He highly recommended applying. I had done seven residencies before I applied for the 2012 residency at TSKW. It was good timing, happening right after hurricane Sandy hit New York. My building in the East Village was flooded and had no electricity. At that time, I was buying a new kiln. I had it delivered and hooked up during my residency, then shipped it back to NYC when the residency ended. I remember when I arrived they showed me the Mango House. It was twice the size of my NYC apartment. I thought I would have to share the space, but it was all for me. Good times!

And you’ll be returning for a new exhibition?

Yes. I applied for an exhibition in the Zabar Project Gallery and was accepted to show. My original project was my glass work, but at that point I had just started oil painting. So, with the approval of TSKW, I will be showing my oil paintings. This is my inaugural show in this medium. I am super excited to show in Key West. Since my residency, I have been back four times to teach and have made many friends. The title of the show is “Stillness” and opened Thursday, January 2nd.

Will you swear off the use of chickens, roosters, six-toed cats, and other heavily used Key West placemat icons from future works?

For sure, like images of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, there are certain themes I will be glad to swear off, including those Key icons you listed. I have three series to paint after my ceramic series with a New York gallery space ready to show them. They include themes of architecture, religious statues, and action figures, larger scale than my ceramic works. I am set for themes for the next three or four years.

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