Saturday, February 21, 2009

Joel Griffith, Painter of Tivoli

Tivoli has a few painters, but none more identified with the Village than Joel Griffith. You've probably seen him beside the road under a big straw hat with his easel and brushes. You may even have wondered - how could he be painting... that? He is engaged by the details of this place, and not just its obvious postcard shots (which abound).

Joel's style is documentary and experiential. Yes, it's realism, but with a point of view. His canvases are quiet and still. That stillness makes you see the beauty of a landscape and its all-too-human interventions. Having grown up on Broadway, Joel has had the luxury of time in observing his subject. Rusty train tracks are as beautiful as the Catskill sunset they frame. Utility poles and worn black top enliven views toward the river.

If you have a keen eye, you will have noticed a deepening of his technique as time has passed. His rendering has become so sharp that it is hyper-real. His more recent paintings of trailers fit uncomfortably within the genre of house portraits. And, the discomfort works. The shipping container quality of these little boxes plopped on their lots catches you off guard. This is Joel at his best.

These days Joel is as likely to complete an entire painting in his studio as out in the elements. While he loved having us peer over his shoulder and make inane and witty comments, he has tired a bit of painting in public. You will still find him contemplating a view, perhaps sketching a detail, but his painting is done largely in his studio. He's often working on six or more paintings at a time. He says, "It's like dating a bunch of people. You get tired of one and move on. When you come back, you remember what you liked about it in the first place." His studio is above the Black Swan, pub extraordinaire. It is tiny and smells of oil paint, Lestoil and last night's beer (the last two contributed by the pub). His palette is just an old pizza box, which he flips over and uses twice.

This would be a good point to mention that Joel makes his living largely with his art. When I visited, he was nearing completion of a lovely wedding gift commission, a big canvas of farm fields where the couple were married. Over the course of two mayors' terms of office, the Village of Tivoli commissioned seven paintings which are on display in the entry of Watts DePeyster Hall. On your next trip to the Library, take a closer look.

Joel has just come to the end of a two-year period of intensive painting. He hints at a possible stylistic change, which has happened before in his 20 years of painting. For now, he's packing his bags for a month in Brazil. He may paint while he's there, but as he says, "I could paint one church, or visit ten; and I'd rather visit ten." Have a great trip, Joel. We'll be looking for you under your straw hat again in spring.

1 comment:

  1. Joel's a wonderful fellow human. I've known him since we were in 6th grade, trying to understand the social matrix of this place, staying up all night recording mixes off of WDST and composing commentaries with a casio and boombox.

    I hope we see each other again.