Surrealist sculptural artist Joseph Ursulo creates balance and harmony in his work by forging natural bonds between two seemingly incompatible objects. Creating unison where one might not expect, Ursulo's sculptures aren't just for aesthetics - each work is deeply rooted in social context.
"A sculpture made from objects which don't appear compatible is a physical, visual declaration that people - in spite of how incompatible they may appear - also can be united. It’s just a matter of finding the connection point. For me that’s what art is all about, finding the connection point. I see myself as a matchmaker rather than a creator in my work as an artist."
You say “I see myself as a matchmaker, rather than a creator in my work as an artist”. What is it about sculptures and creating sculptures that allow you to feel so connected to your work?
a. When I call myself a matchmaker, I mean that I make art by cleanly fusing images that do not appear related.. The technique was founded by the Surrealists, by artists like Man Ray and Salvador Dalí, and continues today with Instagram superstars like @smcmennamy and @tonyfutura. My own contribution to the genre is that whereas most of these artists work in two dimensions, I work in three. Although this may put a limit on the objects I can combine (I can’t manipulate physical things with Photoshop) it also keeps my work grounded in the material, three-dimensional world - which is the world I occupy too. In that sense I feel closer to my sculptures than I think I would if they were digital images or photographs, because the sculptures are stuck in this crazy world same as I am.
What is your view on ‘aesthetic’ and its role in creating something that can connect with your audience? Should aesthetic ever be valued over concept or substance?
a. ‘Art for art’s sake’ is the idea that an artwork should be judged only on its aesthetic qualities, and not for any underlying concept in the work. The irony of course is that ‘art for art’s sake’ is a concept in itself, and so any artist who tries to distance their work from concepts by focusing on pure aesthetics is inadvertently applying a concept to their art. As for myself, all of my works begin with an image, not an idea. The image has to be attractive, otherwise I won’t pursue the sculpture, no matter how interesting the idea is. And I know that this is true of my audience too. Connecting with art is like connecting with a potential lover: even if somebody is interesting to talk to, you’ll never discover this if the person isn’t attractive enough to make you want to start a conversation.
Where did you grow up and do you think that’s affected, at all, your vision as an Artist?
a. I grew up during the mid-90s in the suburbs of New Jersey. I was raised by television and spent my adolescence at the mall. My brain was flooded not only with objects - which now serve as my artistic materials - but also, perhaps even more importantly, advertisements. Advertisements are clean, direct, straight-to-the-point, uncluttered, and yet subliminal at the same time - all qualities which I strive to emulate in my sculptures today.
What was your dream growing up as a child?
a. To compete in an Olympic footrace around the rings of Saturn and win a bronze medal.
What has become most important to you or your work at this moment in your life?
a. It’s important to me that my art connect with folks who know little or nothing about art. I am an art librarian by profession, and I can’t tell you how often patrons complain to me about how difficult going to MoMA is. The art there doesn’t make sense to them, they tell me, and they are too intimidated by the art to ask for help from museum staff. Basically contemporary art has become the Latin Bible of the Middle Ages: nobody but the priests can understand it. Personally I don’t want to make art like that, I want my sculptures to be accessible, engaging, and enlightening for everybody. Now if only I could get the pieces into MoMA...
Is there any specific moment(s) or memory in your life that pushed you definitively towards the arts or to pursue your creative ambitions?
a. It wasn’t a moment or a memory that pushed me into the arts, it was my mom: she literally pushed me in my baby carriage around the Metropolitan Museum of Art when I was a toddler. I’m told that Picasso’s paintings used to make me cry, but whether I was crying out of awe or confusion, my mother could never guess.
Who or what would you say is your biggest inspiration(s) and how do you think they/ it have influenced your work?
a. I’ve already talked about the influence of Surrealism on my hybrid sculptures, and I think my use of common, everyday objects makes my debt to Pop art evident. Less obvious though might be the importance of words in my work. I take inspiration from fused, portmanteau words like bromance, Spanglish, Pastafarian, and sheeple, and words also influence the meanings of my sculptures in the form of their titles. Titles are a very important part of my art, and in some cases I can’t even show a sculpture without its title because the piece will be grossly misread. I invite you to visit my website and guess which sculpture I’m talking about.
What does your work mean to you? If anything at all?
a. There is this general feeling that an artist is the most qualified person to interpret her work. That whatever she says about the work is completely true and the final word on what the work means. This is why artists are afraid to interpret their own work. If they do, people will take what they say for gospel, and the conversation will be over. But this is baloney. Once an artwork is out in the world, the artist has no more authority on what the work means than a gardener. So rather than look to me to tell you what my work means, I invite you to show some of my sculptures to a gardener and get his opinion.
What is your definition of ’art’, even if it’s total bullshit?
a. Art isn’t about how you paint a canvas, but how you frame a canvas. And by frame I don’t just mean the wood you lay around the canvas’ edges, I’m talking about the building in which the canvas is hung, the other paintings that hang beside the canvas, the people that stand in front of the canvas, and the conversations that those people have about the canvas. Art, in a word, is context. But of course another word for context is bullshit.