Artist Spotlight: Anthony DiMaggio & Chris Peterson

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Anthony DiMaggio and Chris Peterson, both hailing from the Hoosick Falls area, were brought together by a force larger than their artwork alone. The two share many of the same perspectives and philosophies, often expressed in their work, and have taken it upon themselves to make it their life mission to not only uphold the values behind what they’ve deemed Life of Worth but to share those values with other like-minded people. Life of Worth began as a simple motto and grew into an artist collective, and arguably, a lifestyle.

Not only are these gentlemen extremely talented, but it is clear that they are very humble and honored for every opportunity to be able to share their work and viewpoints with others. From hosting art nights to inspire others to create in a comfortable, collective space, to hosting group shows, Life of Worth is working on building something greater.

I took the time to talk with both founding members in advance of their group show, which is opening tonight at the Flying Chicken in Troy and features the work of a handful of locally based artists. Hit the jump to check out our full interview and be sure to stop by the Flying Chicken as part of this month’s Troy Night Out.

Tell us a bit about yourselves. When did you first discover a passion for the arts? How did you get started? Both working together and separate?

Anthony: My name is Anthony DiMaggio, I am a 24 year old art school dropout from Upstate living in New York City, and I make paintings that are sometimes pretty, and sometimes pretty ugly. Currently I work the front end at a tattoo parlor in NYC and paint tattoo art.

Like most kids, I spent a lot of time when I was young drawing and coloring in coloring books. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I discovered I was spending more time than most doing so. Chris is a few years older than I am, and was always making art, so I just thought it was what kids did. I remember one time when I was maybe nine, I asked him to draw me Rob Zombie. He knocked it out in green crayon in just a few minutes, and I thought, “Man that’s the coolest thing. I want to do that someday.” I’ve still got that thing somewhere.

I would say that my “start” came when I was in middle school. My art teacher, David Hammond, really gave a shit and started to really push me. He was always asking “So, you’re taking my studio class next year right?” I credit that man for almost everything I experienced and decided about my life over the next four years of high school, and I’d like to take this moment to thank him (apologize to him for all the other teachers who would call him, pissed off for going to his room to paint instead of their class.)

When I dropped out of art school and moved home, I immediately set up a studio space. I was still driven, I still needed to make art. Shortly after moving back I met Existing Artists, and began showing with his collective around Albany, Troy, and Schenectady.

I suppose how Chris and I started working together is a story I’ll save for Chris, even though I think I tell it better.

Chris: I don’t think there was ever a time, as a kid, that I wasn’t drawing. My interest in art continued all through high school, and I had strongly considered art schools after graduating in 2000. Instead, I entered the working world, and I almost completely stopped making my own work for the next 10 years.

It wasn’t until circumstances brought me back to Hoosick Falls, NY in the summer of 2010, that I seriously considered taking it up again.

Anthony likes to take all of the credit for that fact. He simply wouldn’t take “no” for an answer when it came to me picking up paper and pencil. He was fully aware of my squandered abilities and repressed passion for the arts. One night he literally threw a bic pen and a discarded dirty piece of paper at me, and he told me I wasn’t allowed to hang out in his studio if I wasn’t doing work. That piece of paper turned into “Bad Sushi”, which became the template for the “Purge Series” later that year.

What is Life of Worth all about?

Chris: For me, its a direct response to the harsh advice foisted upon myself and other aspiring artists during the transition from childhood to adulthood. Much of this talk regarding the real world and smart career choices is well intentioned, but it often destroys or greatly deteriorates one’s confidence and desire to make art a vitally important and powerfully positive part of their life. Life of Worth essentially functions as an art collective. Our aim though is to not only to promote the art, but also the people, and the benefits of being a continuously working and passionate artist. My transition from art as a forgotten dream to art as a very real career and lifestyle most certainly improved every aspect of my own life, and ultimately saved it. We want to share, advocate, and encourage this lifestyle for others.

Anthony: Basically, when I dropped out of school, I was still extremely driven, extremely motivated, and painting my ass off. But I worked part time at a hardware store and lived with my parents. I was full of potential, and I fucking hated that fact.. Life of Worth was born of my justification of that. Yes, this is WHAT I DO: but it is for the purpose of WHO I AM. Life of Worth was my response to the idea that your job is who you are and that safe choices now will make you happy later. College. Safe Career. Miserable Job: Fuck That! Find me those willing to struggle. Find me those willing to really work, for what they want from this life. Life of Worth is the shared ambition to make our passions our purpose, and the acceptance of the struggle and sacrifice it may require.

What are some of the things you are working on?

Chris: Well having just finished off a series of commissions for a new t-shirt company, and having finalized the first LoW show, I’m ready to start playing again with my own style. I’ll probably try to push back some of my current commission deadlines, and work on something personal. It feels great to be approached for work, and I’ll still be promoting Life of Worth, probably even harder with the show out. Sometimes you just need to make the work for the sake of making the work though, and open yourself up to the possibility of communicating something personal again.

Anthony: Aside from personal projects, and getting ready for the LoW show, I stay busy with t-shirt, and album art commissions. Original art commissions are always great, and so much fun. Some clients have such great ideas that I would never think of in a million years. I’m blessed that they can share a piece of their mind with me and I can share a piece of mine on paper right back. Currently I’m working on the glass of Widow Jane bourbon next to my keyboard.

What themes occur/reoccur in your work?

Chris: A large part of my work thus far deals with depression, and the desire to break free of it to pursue “something greater”. Much of my work is dark as a result, but I think most people, sense the brighter side, and find the encouragement I’m trying to relate. Sometimes though, I just create out of a desire to draw something I find interesting. Thats how it all started when I was little, and that impulse still wins out at times. I didn’t have anything to say back then, I just wanted to draw something that looked cool and got me excited. It might not be art to some, but occasionally you just want to share something rad with people, without pretense or presumption.

Anthony: Haha, well I definitely have on reoccurring character. I started painting it back in maybe like 2008 or 2009. It’s an octopus with a unicorn horn, a HornPus, if you will, Terror of The Deep. haha.
Anyway, I first painted it as a one off, but started to do him over and over. Eventually, i suppose he started to represent me. Times when I was hurting, he would be bandaged, if I needed to be picked up or was feeling down he was riding a balloon. Eventually, through LoW, he grew into a strong, giant, Chtulu-esqe beast. He’s a fucking monster.

Over the past few years tattoo imagery and themes have been a huge constant in my work. I have always gravitated towards clean, bold lines and bright colors and traditional tattoo art fit that bill perfectly.

What mediums do you work with?

Chris: I try to keep myself open to new styles, techniques, and media. Lately though, I’ve been more selective, choosing the medium based on speed, comfort level, and desired final aesthetic. Right now, I’m churning things out as quickly as I can to meet deadlines, so its all about microns, sharpies, colored pencils, paint pens, coffee stains and acrylics.

Anthony:These days, I work mostly in micron markers and sharpie, using liquid acrylic and various inks and coffee on paper. I still love the smell of spray paint and paint markers though.

Do you like to document your process from the beginning to finished product? 

Chris: I’ve considered it, but never really taken it up. When I’m working on my own stuff, I’m typically not operating in a self-aware manner. All that exists is the piece, where it is at the moment, and where I want to take it. For this reason, I rarely work on originals during Grind Night. I’ll send photos of sketches and progress if I’m working on a commission, simply to expedite the process. That’s about it.   

Anthony: I love to document my process. I love time lapse videos, pictures, whatever. To me, the process is whats important. There are so many choices to make, and so many more choices because you made that ONE choice to do THAT. The process is what is fun. The finished product just exists, but the process is alive. To me, a piece is finished when I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. Generally, that involves cramming as much detail, color, and line work into it as possible. If I go back to it the next day and cant see some stupid tiny detail to cram into it without making too, too busy, it’s finished.

When does a piece feel finished to you?

Chris: Honestly, when I can’t cram anything else in!  I tend to overcomplicate, and its something I’ve been working on lately. Once I really get going its hard to stop myself, it becomes a kind of mania, and if I can’t get to a place where I’m working intuitively, I begin to second guess every choice. At that point its best to step away for a while. Its not uncommon for me to have two or three pieces going at the same time, doing 90% of the work for each in its own marathon session. When I finally go back to a piece, I usually see that last detail or two it needs for me to be satisfied. It may seem like a strange way to work, but it keeps me from becoming stressed on it.

What risks have you taken in your work, or any particular challenges you’ve overcome that you’d like to talk about?

Chris: A lot of my work tends to be deeply personal, so it could be a bit of a risk to put it, and consequently myself, out there. I seem to have an increasing tendency to be open about my issues though, from struggling with depression and OCD for most of my life, to my bouts with alcoholism. My artwork helps deal with these issues, so the gain for me is two-fold.  I work through something personal, and I get to create a new piece at the same time. These are the pieces that people seem to respond to the most. They can see that its honest; they can relate or empathize.

Anthony: I think, as artist, we all take risks and face challenges everytime we put our work out there in to the world. We have spent so much time and effort to create this work, and so much anxiety comes from the question “well what the fuck do you think?” As much as any can claim, “I make my art for me” lets be honest, it doesn’t matter if you’re a painter, poet, actor, author, whatever: you put your work into the world hoping that people can and will identify with it.

What are you using as reference, listening to or reading to help inspire your art?

Chris: I always need music playing, and I often work with headphones, a result of working in the same space with other artists. Even if the music doesn’t necessarily provide direct inspiration, I find that the isolation it provides helps me to focus. Most of my work mix is stuff from Maynard James Keenan & old Deftones. Invariably, I have to work to music I know well. Otherwise, I get distracted by unfamiliar lyrics and sometimes startled by unexpected beat changes, screams, guitar solos, etc.

Anthony: Tattoo art, comic books, graffiti, horror movies, punk and hardcore music, the list of references that I use or that inspires my art just goes on and on with new things added daily. As I become more comfortable and more defined in my own style, I expand my visual language, and my list of influences just grows, but music, movies, and tattoos are a constant.

What advice has really stuck with you? What was the source?

Chris: Do work. Don’t talk about it, be about it. Fear profits a man nothing. Adapt and overcome. Destroy your potential. These are the words that bounce around in my head incessantly. Not advice so much as mantras.

Anthony: Art is smART – David Hammond, all those years ago. Thank you for that, sir. Never Sleep. Stay Busy – Destroy Your Potential – those are mantras that roll through my head constantly.
Who has taught you the most about your art?

Chris: My mother and sister taught me that it was a part of who I am. Anthony taught me it was who I could be. Mary has taught me to be less hard on myself about all of it. Truthfully, when it takes over your life and influences almost every aspect of it, everyone teaches you a little something. Even a stranger’s unexpected small compliment can make you feel talented, respected, courageous, valued.

Anthony: My family and friends taught me I had a talent. My teachers taught me to harness it. Chris taught me to make it who I am. The people I work with at my shop teach me daily to surround myself with those better than me and to never stop learning, never stop pushing. Those who teach me most are those who humble me, and those who drive me to constantly be better. Thank you all.

Where can we check out your work next? 

Chris: We have a show opening July 25th at The Flying Chicken in Troy. It will be our first show put on by Life of Worth, and we are looking forward to more shows from LoW in the near future. My work, when I have something new, typically hangs first at the Flying Chicken, but I’m looking into more venues all the time, especially for selling prints and stickers.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Chris: If people are interested in learning more about Life of Worth, the show we are working on now, shows in the future, Grind Nights, the artists we’ve featured, and anything else LoW related, they should check out our facebook page. We have been working hard over the last six months to push the possibilities of what this collective can do and mean to the people involved. To further this growth, we’ve recently teamed up with Mary Greschak and Existing Artists to push our capabilities even further, tapping in to their advice, encouragement, and amazing capabilities as promoters and artists. If nothing else, I want to introduce the visitors to amazing people doing what most of us were told is impossible, being adults and artists.

Thanks again for taking the time, Anthony and Chris!

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