San Francisco

Joe Oddo

Joe Oddo Studio

I went to Joe Oddo’s studio. He had mentioned that the work in a group show at the Oakland Museum earlier this year was a couple of years old, and that it was hard for him to think about it because he was so thoroughly into his new work. I wanted to know about that so I persuaded him to take me to see the new work. I can’t reproduce a picture because nothing is finished and decisions for major changes are still coming up. He is working with both spray gun and brush and is carefully eradicating evidence of undercoats with each change of mind. The description I will make is tempered by the knowledge that I am writing about work in progress by an artist whose mind is in a state of constant re-evaluation, and who may remove and change whole sections of the painting. He is superimposing images in a climactic slam-bang way in his heart paintings. They are the ultimate comic book image. Did he want to round the edges of the heart? He did that but discarded it as too heavy, and besides, the spray gun makes it possible to model the paint into very rounded forms. The heart is metal flake from red into the deep violets, and a splat form is next, but only the silhouette of the form gives us that information; from the edge on, it is a target, but only the positive of the target is opaque, and the negative is sea and sky behind the target in an artificial color. Centered on target is a dangerous moll with a cannon and a look of angry certainty and intensity which makes her lovely face more beautiful. The instrument in her other hand is a flash form—but what should occupy the flash? Lightning zigzags? Molten slug? Or perhaps a reverse back to sea and sky? Though this is not resolved, Oddo has begun to paint the next: heart, splat, sea and sky, and the torso of the man who is to be tattooed. Oddo has done his basic research on the art of tattooing. Perhaps he will give this seafaring man a veritable shirt of tattoos. The artist got tattooed himself as part of the research, and has studied the conventions of drawing that tattoo artists subscribe to, what colors they use, etc. These paintings are in a place which the art movement crowded through: Pop art; but this artist is of a mind to make Pop masterpieces that will be jewel perfect and ultimately far out in their resolutions, whereas the crowd made fast, slick paintings when they went through this genre. Why? Because it speaks to the fantasy centers of his own proletarian youth, the fetishistic rituals and low life symbols. It is too hard to really do heart paintings; it has to be a piece of your life.

Knute Stiles