From California Kid to Austin Artist:
The Evolution of Finding Yourself
Words By Camille Smith Photos By Eric Morales
If you google Joseph Magnano, the first image to appear is his mugshot. In March of 2014, Magnano doused the wall of the PRADA MARFA art installation in blue paint and littered the place with TOMS brand paraphernalia and philosophical queries, in an installment he called TOMS Marfa. The act got him arrested, and the subsequent attention has impacted him both personally and professionally. “It was a nightmare. You tell yourself this is gonna be hot, this is gonna be awesome, the art world is going to embrace it…instead it turned out to be a consequence.” In the wake of his arrest and proceeding soul searching, Magnano found himself asking, “How am I gonna grow from this experience? Am I just going to be considered a vandal, or am I going to be the artist that I say I am and continue to keep growing?…It’s been a very humbling and humiliating experience.”
In the aftermath of TOMS MARFA, Magnano switched gears. “I grew up from that experience. I don’t really want to be a rebel artist and I’m really not. Getting arrested cost a lot of money. That’s not who I want to be… I don’t really feel like getting ridiculed by the public that doesn’t know me. I’d rather sell a painting to someone that makes them happy. You gotta find the balance between your happiness and the person’s happiness that’s buying it…I gotta find something that connects. Texas has really given me the space to connect.”
Magnano got his start doing commissioned cow paintings after a mural he painted at Baylor University ended up in the newspaper. Magnano has a deep affinity for the gentle giants and loves spending time just sitting and observing them. “Cows are awesome. They’re not just meat…they’re super curious. The cow paintings express love and happiness and color.”
When not painting cows or doing commissioned pet portraits, Magnano explores more subversive subject matter in his personal work. His latest series is entitled Return from Autonomy and centers on modern day issues such as technology, capitalism, isolation, ego and communication. They feature bold lines and bright colors and utilize whimsical imagery.
Magnano has found a niche in the Austin art community and now calls the east side home. While working the Cherrywood Art Fair, Magnano hooked up with Brian Johnson, who’s affiliated with Big Artist Little Artist, and is excited about the opportunity to work with kids in the community. He empathizes with the way kids think and creates pieces with them in mind. Magnano enjoys advocating for the arts and is a champion of his fellow artists.
When asked about his goals for the future, Magnano replied, “I think my next phase in life is to focus on community, friendships, and family and keep making art and keep building on that. Right now I am going through a process of transformation, self-forgiveness, slowing down, removing the ego, and focusing on nonviolent communication. It’s a practice.”
How He Got Here: Magnano grew up in the California suburbs and recalls thinking that southern California was the place to be. “I would have loved to have stayed in California but that’s all I would have been, just a southern Californian and that’s all I would know… I’d have my prejudices and judgments to the rest of the world based on my southern California opinion of things. You definitely need to go out and see the world.” Magnano has always loved creating art but didn’t know quite how to make a career out of it. At age 33, he said, “It’s now or never.”
He quit his job as a fungi salesman and professional chef in Nevada and made his way to the east side of Austin via Seattle, San Francisco, and Brooklyn.