“I want my work to bring comfort and peace…”
Paul Zimmerman in conversation with Joe Ferry
Paul Zimmerman: How did you get interested in art?
Joe Ferry: I went to a Van Gogh exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I think it was 1987. I’ve loved Van Gogh’s work since my undergraduate days at college. That 1987 exhibition was the start of my painting career.
PZ: You have had a long career in the music industry. Is there any connection between music and art?
JF: Oddly, no. There is no connection between my music career and my painting career. Except on the signs of the buildings in my paintings: I like to use certain artists with whom I’ve worked (Dr. John being a frequent name that appears on the signs) or whom I admire (Thelonious Monk being a favorite).
PZ: What is your artistic process? How do you create your paintings?
JF: I usually know what I want the finished piece to look like before I start. I’ll sketch it on a piece of paper, make notes to myself and let it simmer in my brain for a few days. I paint the night sky first, including the stars which I flick onto the canvas with a toothbrush. Then I’ll block out the buildings, roughly, and make sure I’m happy with their height, width and angles. Next come the lamp posts, telephone poles, etc. That’s the rough painting. That will sit for a few days and then I’ll often change things a bit. Then I put the colors onto the buildings with a painter’s knife. I’ll work on each building, applying color on color, until I get the look and feel I’m after. I also paint the signs but I leave them blank until I’m almost finished. Then I put the moons in the sky, the constellations and colors and such. This part will get several changes before I’m happy with the sky. Finally, I decide what purpose each building will serve: Dr. John will often be a “chemist” of sorts and offers “remedies”, Monk is often the artist performing at the music club, etc.
PZ: Do you have any particular goal in mind when your start a new piece?
JF: My goal is always to make something that I find calming – then my ultimate hope is that the viewer finds it calming. I want my work to bring comfort and peace to the people who collect the paintings or who obtain the books or prints.
PZ: How do you know when the painting is finished?
JF: That’s difficult to say. At times, a finished painting will sit on the shelf for a year because I feel there’s something missing but I don’t know what. I’ll stare at it, glance at it for months and then it’ll hit me. I need to change the color of a building or the name on a sign. Then there are times when I know it’s done immediately and it’s hanging in a gallery the next day.
PZ: Has your practice changed over time?
JF: I just try to get better at expressing myself. My early paintings were much simpler and not as developed as my work now. For instance, I put every star in the sky with a thin brush, making dot after dot. I didn’t blend reds and blues and other colors into the sky. I just painted a black sky. As time went on I started flicking the stars into the sky with the toothbrush and using various techniques, usually my hands, to blend colors over the black of the sky.
PZ: Which artists are you most influenced by?
JF: I love Debbi Chan’s work. I love Fabienne Delacroix’s work too. Both artists are brilliant.
PZ: How would you define yourself as an artist?
PZ: What are you working on now?
JF: Actually, right now my work and I are being photographed by renowned photographer Jerry Reganess – in addition to Artifact NYC there are some magazines and hardcover books that will be including my work at various points in 2022. Plus Jerry wants to use some of the photographs in his own photo exhibitions.
PZ: How does the pandemic influence your work and sensibility?
JF: I only allowed it to freak me out once – I don’t remember the date but it was in 2020. I made a Basquiat-influenced painting with half the painting being the moon and the other half being a building on which the sign read “Fear”. Then a few months later I lost my mom (she passed on 12/20/2020), my best friend died on 5/29/2020 and my dog Mimi died on 9/17/2020. I made several paintings in 2020 but I only allowed one trip off the edge, with the “Fear” painting. Which hangs on my living room wall.