Rodney Durso (Mixed Media)

Rodney Durso (Mixed Media)

Based in New York, I live and work in West Chelsea. My training is in graphic design, branding and advertising, but as far as fine art I’m mostly self-taught. I spent the first 20 years of my career running a design firm here in New York City, called Stormhouse Partners, but at some point found myself needing new and different challenges. So, in 2006 I put down the computer and picked up the paintbrush. It’s a very different experience to be staring at a blank canvas or sheet of paper on a Tuesday morning at 10am, as opposed to working from a creative brief, managing a design staff, a client budget and with the calendar clicking away. Creating art is a much more introspective, self-reflective and monastic type of practice, and requires me to dig deep and wide in order to create something new and interesting each day.

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Photo by Michael Mansfield

Career Summary

My career in the arts has been varied and interesting and only in the last few years have I started to get active in residencies, gallery outreach and group shows. My first few years of work were only about self expression with little regard to the larger art world as a whole. Early on I self-produced many shows here in my Chelsea studio, which was mostly about showing friends, family and colleagues my work. Then about 3 years ago, I hired my first studio assistant, and more recently a studio manager. It’s been through these changes that I’ve started to make more serious inroads as a professional artist. Now, as I create my work my studio manager does everything short of making the art herself. With her help I’ve applied to residencies, group shows and grants. Last Spring I was accepted into the American Academy in Rome for a three week residency. The experience was fantastic – yes living in Rome was wonderful – but having a studio space in the academy and living and working with artists of such a high caliber was seriously inspiring.

Working Environment

My work space is great and I couldn’t be more grateful for it. Our studio building is owned by a family that are true patrons of the arts. They probably could have sold-out to condo developers many times over, but instead have stayed committed to keeping the building solely for artists, designers, photographers and architects. It’s a wonderful community of creatives and a great place to come to 2-3 days per week. My best time to work is alone and usually after 3pm, that’s when the administrative worries, emails and phones calls from the day are behind me and I can change into my painting clothes, crank some loud music and get into the zone. I have a corner of my studio where I’m free to get messy and make mistakes. I like to work fast and when I’m feeling fearless, when I’m not concerned with the result – that is when the best work happens. Thinking too much about the work usually holds me back from doing the most interesting art. Working in far West Chelsea, the biggest impediments are being surrounded by constant construction noises, smells, dust and the occasional dynamite blasts! A few summers ago, as they expanded the subway system we had daily dynamite warning whistles and blasts. Our entire neighborhood is under redevelopment (as we sit directly next to the High Line) and there’s a new building going up on every corner, which keeps it interesting and exciting and very noisy too!

Method and Approach

My work is a mix of many things, and is created in a number of ways. Sometimes it’s created viscerally — with brush in hand — through physical movements fueled by loud music, emotion (and caffeine), and at other times it’s more of a meditation, working slowly and in a deliberate and organized manner. Either way, the work is made spontaneously with very little or no planning, pulling from moods and feelings, with influences and ideas from music, advertising, architecture and design. In fact, I have always been influenced by these many disciplines, especially in the abstract form. For example, I see similarities between the work of Klee, Miro or Kandinsky and free-form jazz, both expressing similar ideas in different mediums — aural and visual. I also find great comfort in the form and shape of good design, and I sometimes bring that love of organization, methodology and hierarchy into my work. I love watching a narrative unfold, but often I have no idea what a piece will be about as I begin. As I start each piece a story organically unfolds, and the work comes to life. My work thrives by not having the rigid, practical constraints of my former design practice, and instead I find a balance that allows me to work free-form and unstructured, using nonsensical bits of text, signs and symbols, blobs of colors, pieces of collage and scribble without purpose other than to elicit a feeling.

Marketing and Promotion

We use most of the normal marketing tools and ideas, including social media platforms, email blasts and a web presence. We also do a bimonthly new e-newsletter that we produce in-house. The newsletter summarizes what’s new in the studio as well as recent shows, sales and other interesting happenings. We also do a local artist spotlight. This is an interview of a local artist that I know or whose work I’d like to know better. We also use MailChimp to blast the newsletter as well as other invitations. Three times a year we have open studio events, two are called High Line Open Studio and one is called West Chelsea Arts Open Studio. These are held in October, March and June. We do that in October, March and June. Being directly next to the High Line is a great advantage as the area is always teeming with tourists, neighbors and gallery-goers. During these open studio days we get more than 100 visitors coming through the studio doors. Much time and effort goes into this event as well as others. I treat my studio like a startup business, and I would say that all artists should think this way. We always have to be on the look out for new and engaging marketing and promotional opportunities. My next promotional effort will be a short film, of about 2-3 minutes, that we can host on the website and as way to let viewers have a more intimate view of my studio and my work.

Exhibitions and Shows

I exhibit my work in group shows, art fairs and galleries. We look for any and all group show opportunities both in the US and abroad. Currently I have my work in a show in Lisbon, Portugal and last Fall I had a booth at the Parallax Art Fair in London. Art fairs are a good way to get out and show your work and meet lots of people, the problem is the cost adds up and in the end it’s a very expensive proposition. I would say it’s worth doing one or two a year at most, but choose carefully as there are so many average art fairs that are just in the business of selling you space. The art world is quickly moving to a pay-to-play model, so I’m extra careful these days, when I get an email from a gallery that wants to “work with me”. The best way to find a legitimate gallery show is just research, research, and more research. Find the gallerys whose work seems to fit with yours and start a conversation with them, email or regular mail or in some cases in person, but in New York City, it’s basically impossible (and a really bad idea) to walk into an established gallery and introduce yourself as an artist, you’ll be met with blank stares, or at best they make actually say “we’re not looking for new artists right now”.

Obstacles and Challenges

The biggest obstacles are current trends in the art world. There’s a trend in both conceptual and installation art, both of which don’t align with my interests. The art world, I believe, has run out of ideas. I think the curators always want to see something “really new”, or something that’s never been done which tends to lead to a kind of shock-art, or works that just grab your attention but have no depth. I see a lot of work that’s based on what I call “curator speak”. It’s work that needs to be explained, and my feeling is that if you have to tell me why I should like something, then I don’t like it. I recently saw a piece in London, at the Saatchi Gallery that exemplifies this point perfectly. In one of the premier gallery spaces on the 2nd floor at Saatchi was a life-size taxidermied donkey on a blue bean bag. Yes, that’s correct, in a 1,500 square foot gallery space in one of the most prestigious galleries in London, this was one of their “top” exhibits. I prefer beauty in art. I prefer art that moves me the moment I see it. I prefer art that evokes a feeling, art that in a moment makes me feel alive and calm at the same time. I’m never concerned with the name of the artist or the provenance of the work. For me it’s, “does it move me?”. Explanations about the meaning of a piece are fine and can enhance meaning, but for me the first encounter and that first moment you see a piece is how I judge the success of a work of art.

Tips and Advice

As I mentioned earlier, treat your studio practice like a start-up business, be an entrepreneur, or as I like to call myself, an Artrepreneur. If you don’t enjoy that aspect of it, find someone who does. Unfortunately our art is a product and we must treat it as such. Art, on it’s own, has no intrinsic value, so it’s up to each of us to find and communicate that value to our audience. You should ask yourself these questions. Who is my audience? Where does my work fit – in terms of price, style and value? Find those outlets that match. You absolutely must always be talking about your work and take every legitimate opportunity to show it. I find there are great e-commerce sites that do well selling my works, one is www.artfinder.com, but there are many. You need multiple platforms to show your work, some I’ve mentioned, but find the ones that fit your taste, interest and budget and, as I’ve said, be aware of all the opportunities to “work with” galleries that really just want to sell you a place on their wall. Also, be vigilant about building your email list and keeping it current and clean. I would say I’ve got about 500 solid emails on my current mailing list and when I send my bimonthly newsletter, at most I’ll get 1 (one) unsubscribe. I also like to see (in MailChimp) how many times each person opens the email. These tools are great for keeping up with the fans of our work. I sometimes think it’s nearly impossible to really make a living as an artist, but if you’re passionate about what you do and you’re having fun, the money will come. Good luck and be in touch!

Ashleigh Dix View posts by Ashleigh Dix

Hey there, I'm Ashleigh Dix, a self-taught mixed media artist born in Zimbabwe and schooled in South Africa where I worked in the domestic and commercial art sector after which I spent a few years travelling around the world before moving to London and finally settling in Kent. Welcome to my mixed media art website and my blog where I regularly interview artists from around the word.