TAKEAWAY: In the absence of formal training, a creative can find ways to master their craft through observation, hard work, and creativity.
“The biggest way I’ve learned is going and looking at art. I just stare at a painting, and I get yelled at all the time for being to close to these paintings, but I’ve got to see how these people put this paint down.”
Cape May, New Jersey, realist painter Victor Grasso is by any definition a success. While on my cross-country road trip this summer interviewing creatives, I had the good fortune of meeting Victor at a show of his work at the Soma New Art Gallery in Cape May. The show had only been open for three days, but about half of the paintings had little red circular stickers next to them. I asked Victor what they meant.
“It means those paintings have been bought. We sold a bunch of them at our opening night reception.”
Victor allowed me to take some footage at his show, so you can see some of his art (and those red stickers) in my video interview with him below. Both the professionalism and the creativity of Victor’s art leaps out at you. But Victor has never received formal training as an artist.
He grew up in an artistic family, with many painters and sculptors, and that surely helped him develop his artistic eye. But at eighteen, when many go off to college, Victor went to work full-time painting murals in casinos during the building boom in Atlantic City. By twenty-two he owned his own mural company, and his own art was already being shown in galleries.
“I would paint anything wherever I could to make a living… because I never wanted to have a boss again,” he told me. He’s still his own boss.
Victor’s art captures iconic images of south Jersey, with its wide beaches and open marshes. He is inspired by Andrew Wyeth, who used a realist style to make his “mundane” part of the world inspiring. Of course, Wyeth never painted a woman in a bikini hitchhiking while holding a 6-foot-tall swordfish, like Victor did. (Two bidders fought over the purchase of that painting, “A Road Worth Traveling,” on opening night.)
We talked in the Boiler Room bar at the historic Congress Hall. Unfortunately, the battery in my lavaliere microphone was dead, so the built-in camera mic is picking up Victor and some patrons’ voices bouncing off the stone walls. After that I always carried spare batteries.
Victor is proud of what he’s accomplished, but is the first to admit a tinge of jealousy sometimes when he thinks about the missed opportunity of art school. Are you a creative with formal training in your art? Or are you self-taught? I’d love to hear your story below.