John Vitale 

You do work in a wide range of sizes, from canvases that are as little as 9x12 in. and as large as 8x7 ft. What poses more of a challenge to you? Is it trying to fit all of your ideas in such a confined space or working with a canvas that seems limitless? Additionally, what do you prefer?

I think if I had to choose, I’d 100% choose larger scale. I would honestly love to paint at a scale so big that I’d need a studio with 15 ft. ceilings so that I could be more ‘in the moment’ with my movements and strokes; a scale where I can't necessarily make out what it is that I'm doing until I take breaks to step back and see what I have actually done. I really resonate with the process of action painting in that way. I have always been enamored by painters that have worked in such a large scale that they have to rely on things like ladders or scissor lifts, and then physically having to step away in order to see their progress and gauge what their next move should be. To me, that is exciting and feels like a full immersion. There's a lot of natural intuition to explore when working in that kind of range. It changes the whole process of making art for me personally. Painting is a spiritual act and I have a tendency to get very obsessive-compulsive, which isn't bad, but I'm constantly trying to find ways to free myself and evolve out of the neuroses that I battle with and loosen up more. Less premeditated decisions and more being in the moment. I think that’s apparent in my work… it's a constant struggle between OCD and complete chaos.

That being said, I really enjoy small works as well. It’s not necessarily the first thing I'd choose, but I can appreciate and also enjoy it as a learning experience. They definitely both have much to offer to any visual artist. It's a challenge for me to loosen up while working on small pieces. It's super hard and doesn't always work out.

Your paintings are accompanied by such poetic titles: Tapestry from an Asteroid, In Two Places at Once, It Came Out of the Sky, Sound of the Rising Sun, Green Jade Represents Heaven, etc. Where does such lyrical language arise from? Does your work emerge from its title or does the image you create decide its name? Also, based on the titles, do you have a particular interest in space and skies?   

Honestly I'm not the biggest fan of most of the titles of my paintings. I never used to title my work and went through my first couple solo shows just running the old “untitled” a lot. For me, that was maybe just a safe place where I could protect my work from extra outside criticism, having been relatively new to the art critique world and trying to guard my privacy around my work. However, I realized that part of the story of the work was a name. No one even considers getting a pet or having a child without giving it a special name, and my paintings are so personal to me that not naming them became sort of ridiculous at some point. I listen to a lot of music in the studio and some of the titles just come to me in those magic-feeling moments when I crack the code, figure out a piece, and happen to be listening to this or that during that process. And so maybe the title becomes a sort of homage to the song or artist for helping me on that journey to reach that defining moment. I can say that 99% of the time I land on a name pretty sporadically as I'm finishing a piece. Sometimes it’s that song I'm listening to or something from an album that I was running while working heavily on a piece, and I extract something that hits the mark for me. Other times, just a fleeting thought or feeling but it always has to feel authentic and that it has a connection to the work. I think with abstract work you can sit around overthinking for days trying to find a title that seems to fit the piece unless you just follow your gut.

I think in regards to the names you are referencing, that’s actually interesting to hear. I’ve never noticed a correlation to the sky or outer space. But there is definitely something there now that you put all those titles together!

You’ve stated that “Colors are like sounds - they vibrate”. Elaborating on this, are there specific sounds that you associate each color with? Or is there a melody that plays in your head while you paint? What is the importance of color in your work and, personally, what are the components of a harmonious painting?

I think that thought came from being in the studio at one point and noticing how some colors are so powerful that they almost feel audible. Or reverbatory moreso. Like seeing certain hues of color in their richest forms can be moving and almost feel transcendent. Color is sort of everything to me in my work I think. I use a lot of negative space a lot of the time, and so the color choices to me are extremely important and play a really powerful role in the painting. Sometimes it takes ten paint-overs to get one small color to click and balance with the rest of the piece which can sometimes end a long war and lead to a piece being resolved. And so I suppose that's the harmonious bit explained as well. Color is very powerful. For me, it can almost be overstimulating at times, even. Finding that balance in a painting is everything. It’s all the emotion, all the energy that I want to express and when it finally comes together I always instantly know. The relief of figuring out a painting is real! It can feel pretty euphoric.

At this point in your career, is it more important for you to have and maintain a solidified style or do you welcome (minor to drastic) change in your artistic practice?

I think about this a lot actually. It’s not uncommon for artists to stick to a certain style for years, maybe decades. Especially when it seems to be working for them. I really enjoy the work I’m doing currently and I am also noticing that there are some people that resonate with it. I always trust my gut and my intuition, so I trust that I'll know when it’s time to move into a new chapter. However, in the time being, I love exploring subtle new directions in my work and in my process, but I also feel like I am really still learning from what I'm currently doing and have not even remotely mastered it yet.

Was there an exact point in your life where you made the conscious decision to be an artist? Or did you cultivate a passion for art from a young age and knew that it was something you would want to pursue into adulthood?

I never had any like, “aha” moments. I have been doing creative things since I was old enough to understand that I was doing those things consciously by choice. It’s just a way of living and moving through my days that clicked. Some people love math, or debating, or whatever. My son has such a creative mind, but he’s like an engineer. For me, it was always being creative and making things out of nothing. I was obsessed with music, playing drums, and skateboarding in elementary school. All of which led me to visual art. In high school, I was building my own canvases in art class and I think at that point I felt like painting was easily something I could see myself doing in some manner for the rest of my life. Although at that time, I had no idea how to turn that feeling into an actual lifestyle or profession. And while art was an elective course in my high school, they certainly were not trying to stress that there might be any way for you to feasibly make a living doing it after graduation when you enter the “real world”- beyond maybe being an art teacher. Before I really dove into my current painting career, I spent the better part of two decades using my old skateboard shop that I owned, and later my skateboard brand both as incubators for my creative outlet through more graphic design and branding angles. Now I've kind of come full circle and get to do it all. They all inform each other now, and it is all contributing to my survival as well as the richness of my life experience.

Skateboarding is another passion of yours and you currently own “The Killing Floor” (to put it lightly: a hardgood brand that promotes the ideas and aesthetics of skateboarding). Where did the origins for your company start from? What is it about skating that draws you to it? Finally, what would you like others to know about your brand and the skating community in general?

Skateboarding is literally the glue. In order to try to explain the impact that skating has had on me and my work, and my life in general, to people that don’t skate is so hard. Not to make it sound exclusive or anything, but there is an almost zen-like quality, and a sort of earned understanding of life that can be gained through participating in skateboard culture, especially from my era, that can't be replicated or even necessarily understood if you don't have the experiences of it. I tell people pretty often how skateboarding has basically taught me almost every valuable lesson in life that I have now applied in my evolution as a human. It’s weird and I'm sure hard to understand if you haven't experienced it, but it's a craft that requires and demands so much of you that it forces growth so quickly that you almost progress at a hyper intelligent pace into your adult life. What we choose to do with that magic is up to the individual, ha. But there's a tremendous amount of wisdom to be gained from exploring skateboarding, especially from a young age in my opinion.

Last great piece of media (book/show/music/movie)?


An Agnes Martin biography I just recently read, Into the Wild, The Art of Solitude by Stephen Bachelor is great. How Music Works by David Byrne.


I just recently rewatched Do the Right Thing and fell back in love with it, and fell more in love with Brooklyn. Escape at Dannemora was good. Just watched Sorcerer and really enjoyed it.


Lately in the studio it’s been all things Brian Eno, Bottle It In by Kurt Vile has been in the mix, Mac Demarco, Ty Segall, Sabbath, Lee Hazelwood, and Gil Scott Heron. I’ve been getting back into 90’s East Coast hip hop again lately as well…

And lots of Jazz is always in rotation.

John’s Instagram:

Interview by Tiffany Kang.

Court Tree Collective was established in 2013 by a group of artists and creatives with the primary purpose of representing and supporting the work of emerging and established contemporary artists. Since its opening Court Tree Collective has been a staple to south Brooklyn’s emerging art scene and in a short time has exhibited a number of important exhibitions. In addition they have curated a number of exhibitions at satellite locations throughout the states and abroad.

We are a family-run art gallery specializing in emerging artists to offer a unique and intimate experience for art enthusiasts. Court Tree Collective showcases outsider art, which often defies traditional artistic conventions, alongside works by up-and-coming artists to add depth and diversity to the gallery's offerings. Visitors can expect to encounter raw, authentic expressions of creativity that challenge perceptions and ignite curiosity. By nurturing rising talent and championing unconventional voices, the gallery plays a vital role in fostering a vibrant and inclusive art community.

Our gallery is curated by artists for artists, which fosters a dynamic and supportive environment where creative visionaries can thrive. With firsthand understanding of the artistic process, the curators can showcase works that resonate deeply with both artists and audiences. This curated space celebrates diversity, innovation, and experimentation; it provides a platform for emerging and established artists to connect, collaborate, and showcase their talents. By upholding a community-driven approach to curation, the gallery becomes a vibrant hub for inspiration, dialogue, and artistic exchange.︎



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