Earth Sky Galaxy

May 12-July 31

The deeply hued watercolors of American painter and sculptor, Joseph Angelo Orffeo (1926-2013), will make a stop at the Hoyt Center for the arts, May 12-July 31 this year.  The private loan from the artist’s estate was made possible by the artist’s wife, Linda Orffeo, and New Wilmington artist, Wendy Warner, who studied with Orffeo while living in the Buffalo area.

Both Warner and Orffeo were influenced by Western New York painters Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) and Robert Blair (1912-2003).  Coincidentally, both Burchfield and Blair have also appeared in prior Hoyt shows.  While sharing many things with these men, Orffeo’s work has a distinct look of its own, resulting from decades of experimentation.  

“The paintings demonstrate a mastery of control over the happy accident,” says  Hoyt’ Executive Director, Kimberly Koller-Jones.  “Those familiar with watercolor knows the limitations of controlling a liquid, how it can run and bleed and move where you may not want it to. Orffeo seems to have been able to control that accident to ultimately achieve his intentions.”

“The direction of my work has always been mine,” he said in an interview. “My paintings are very personal, and they express how I feel about the social and political environment as well as the landscape I see around me.” 

Orffeo’s individuality eventually chose watercolor as his primary medium because it lacked the popularity of oil painting. 

“Many curators, collectors and critics reject watercolor for not being as important or assertive as oil painting,” says Nancy Weekly, Curator of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center.  “But (Joseph) had no interest in following the crowd.”

 In fact, she felt that because watercolor was rejected by the “would-be tastemakers” it was all the more attractive to an artist who wanted his individual thoughts and ideas considered.

Born in Buffalo, New York, in 1926, Orffeo studied at the Albright Art School and Art Institute of Buffalo in the 1940s.  He served in the Navy Armed Guard in the South Pacific during World War II before resuming his studies at the Art Institute in the 1950s.  While Orffeo preferred not to talk about the profoundly disturbing events he witnessed overseas, they continued to haunt him in his dreams and paintings throughout his career, evident in some of the few sculptures and figural paintings included in the show. 

“I couldn’t definitively say that The Group (4) represents the Holocaust,” says Koller-Jones. “But the skeletal figures certainly remind me of the hardship and famine that eventually took so many lives.”

In contrast, the bulk of work, mostly stemming from the last decade of the artists life, reflects Orffeo’s love of gardens, landscapes, the cosmos, and the world of his imagination.  Linda’s Garden, so named for the artist’s wife, for example, is a vibrant field of spring green dappled with buds of yellow, white and red.  The abstract quality of Orffeo’s landscapes are more equivalent to what he felt than what he saw.  Perhaps this is why Weekly feels these subjects better reflect the artist’s joy of life and experiments with color and form.

“He seemed always to be in a state of perpetual motion,” she said. “painting and connecting with people.”  The Burchfield-Penney Center holds over 100 pieces of Orffeo’s work.

A public reception will be held on Friday, May 15 from 6-8 pm.  Anthony Bannon, Director of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center will be in attendance, in addition to others like Warner familiar with the artist and his work.  Admission is free and refreshments will be served.  Gallery hours are Tuesday & Thursday 11a.m. – 8p.m. and Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.  The exhibit continues through July 31.