Inspiring People

Artist and Art Professor, Carl Titolo

Carl Titolo

Carl Nicholas Titolo

Education: Certificate, School of Visual Arts

One-person exhibitions include: Double Vision Gallery, Los Angeles; Project Room 88; Martin Sumers Graphics; Open Studio; Terry Dintenfass Gallery; Mongerson Gallery, Chicago

Group exhibitions include: Rice University, Houston; Rare Properties; 450 Broadway Gallery; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Minnesota Museum of Art; Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock; Visual Arts Museum; Affordable Art Fair; Tyler Morgensen Gallery, Chicago; Karen Lennox Gallery, Chicago; Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington; Chiavari Gallery, Parma, Italy

Collections include: Cranbrook Institute, Detroit; Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock; Mulvane Art Center, Topeka

Awards include: Gladys Emerson Cook Prize, National Academy of Design; American Academy of Arts and Letters; Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award

Hands down one of the most engaging conversations that I have had the pleasure to have. Carl Titolo is candid and real. I appreciated the wisdom that he so generously dispensed and I will enthusiastically take many of his golden nuggets of wisdom with me into tomorrow...

DR: Tell me about your work?

CT: It's been more than thirty years that I have only been working on trying to capture Italy's digital soundtrack, which is pretty much our traveling time, my wife and I, going to Italy, from the food to the people to the culture to the soundtrack.

Being influenced by something is one thing but our life totally changed from our first trip to Italy. I have become obsessed with recording the actual walk. I imagine I will b doing this until I die. The great luxury is that I can see a plate of food and fill it with cypress trees rather than asparagus. The lifestyle in Italy has figured out the priorities or the order of life that Angela and I are most influenced by. It's a somewhat small list. It's important to:

  • Sit with people
  • Share food with people
  • Sit around the table


  • Take those walks.

My work is all figuratively based but as I work on them they are somewhat non-objective images. There will be occasions where I will stop in the hill town and do an image that looks like what was out the window but most of the time they are poetic composites.

I want someone that has never been in Tuscany to look at an image before they go to bed at night and feel like they have been to all of Tuscany within one image, which has nothing to do with a specific house but has to do with the smell and the music and the sound of the imagery. Someone that has never driven on the Amalfi Coast, which may take three hours, I may do a folding screen and if they accept that they are miniature spectators they can travel through the screen and at the end they can have a sense of what the Amalfi Coast is.

The same thing with the meal. I would like them to be able to taste the food from the paintings. I would like them to have these images at the foot of their bed before they go to sleep and to take a vacation from their mind. James Ensor, my favorite Belgian painter, said:

"Why take a vacation when you never have to leave your chair to take a splendid trip".

I would like people a to be able to go to Italy through their own imagination.

DR: What is the thing that you value most about your life?

CT: I'd have to give you four things. I am one of those people who makes people crazy with lists.

There is no question that anything that I say today would have been said if I wasn't with Angela. The concept of having true blind support reminds me of what my mother used to say:

"It only matters if you give a blind person money if nobody's looking"

Angela has been my fuel, my spark and my inspiration. Of all of the patrons that I have had that have paid the rent and the Con Edison bill, it's infinitesimal compared to me being able to pursue my selfish passion of recording Italy as Angela was home toiling with Risotto.

The second thing is the work, and the work is always the second thing. The way that I found that out is when Angela was ill, the work didn't matter. It became very clear to me. But I have painted through wars and hospitals so clearly I know what matters.

The next thing would probably be The School of Visual Arts, the school that I went to in 1964, the school that I haven't left.

I have been teaching at The School of Visual Arts for forty one years. They leave me alone. No one bothers me. They are not sure what I do but they are afraid to let me go because they know I do something.

The last thing would probably be Italy. It's in our blood. Our parents spoke Italian at the table. We eat Italian food. They told us stories about grandfathers and grandmothers in Italy coming over on the boats, being orphans at sixteen years old, coming to America to Little Italy or East Harlem, starting a life, becoming bakers and factory workers.

The first time we went to Italy it all felt right. It felt like people enjoyed the things that don't cost money, which is a very odd thing to say. It's much nicer to have a Barolo bottle of wine but when you are in a hill town and someone is gathering their own fruits or bringing a chicken snack and they are making homemade wine it somehow tastes much better there than it does on 3rd avenue. It's the attention to sharing a cup of coffee with somebody...

Carl Titolo (b. 1946)
Passaggiata Sud Italia
Acrylic on Wood
5 x 7 inches
Signed verso

It seems in Italy that they have time. I don't mean that they can spend an hour with you but if you walk through the streets and you see somebody in Rome they always have an espresso with them. It's not about the time. It's about the respect for relationships and how they matter. It doesn't mean that we don't have them here but it seems here we are on such a treadmill that everyone is saying, "Let's have lunch" but no one actually eats.

I shouldn't generalize like that because it's unfair to do that. There are a lot of great people that have coffee...

Our experience has been that we have tried to live our lives here in Manhattan for the last thirty years, as if we live in Italy. It is possible if "The Summer House" is not quite as important as having time where you have nothing to do. If having that time becomes a priority for you and if you enjoy doing nothing and sharing nothing with someone you enjoy being with, it seems a lot better than being somewhere with people you don't want to be with doing all of the things that people think are the successful things.

I think that if you are using the ruler of measurement of what success is based on many people, you are using the wrong ruler. Everybody wants more space, more time, more freedom and then they want to cross their legs and drink god wine. That is clear. But it all depends on what you are willing to do to drink that good wine. If you are making your fortune from somebody else's misfortune then you have to sort of move far away so that you don't have to ever make contact with that person you took advantage of. It's not about being a good person or a bad person. It is about being able to sleep and being able to look in someone's eyes and say: "You know, the reason I have this is because I screwed twelve other people but it really doesn't matter because we will move now and we will never have to see them again."

The distance between the people that you screw, well I think there should be a law:

If you screw someone they should move into your house

If you have to get up every morning and before you go to bed and face someone that you have taken advantage of to get what you want then that's perfectly fine...

I really think the answer might be: A Simple Life, and then, and then you get to cross your legs, travel first class and have a house in Italy. All of that stuff is perfectly wonderful bit it should never be first on your list because if the other things are not clear you will never be fulfilled with all of that. Never.

DR: We have talked and we have agreed that struggle makes people interesting so I am curious about what you struggle with.

Carl Titolo (b. 1946)
Mixed Media on Wood
7 x 5 inches
Signed verso

CT: People who have known me for a long time know that I have never had a regret, ever, about anything. Acknowledging the struggle...maybe it's a different word. I have more frustration than struggle. I am really fortunate because on that list that I talked about earlier there s no struggle. It's only as I get further down the list that it becomes a frustration and the frustration is primarily work related.

I find that as I get older, looking at what I do, I get more impatient with the lack of substance in our society. As I have said, I am either a great artist or the worst artist in the world. There is no way of knowing which I am but the frustration that maybe a somewhat struggle, is that in truth, I don't seek people out to see what I do. I am one of those people that hasen't learned that they won't come to me. So I am in sort of a holding pattern.

Angela and I have both decided that if this is what our life is and we will die in this fourth floor walk up as things are now, we will deal with it while we still have each other. The truth is, if I wasn't with Angela I probably now would be sitting down on Spring Street in some art bar networking and not resenting myself because I wouldn't have to look in Angela's eyes to remind me that I have changed my list.

The struggle is the frustration. The struggle is carrying laundry, after the Laundromat ,four flights up. The struggle is not having an elevator after forty one years. It's maybe not having money for something very simple or not being able to buy something for somebody that I want to buy something for. But, as far as our life? If it doesn't change we will be content until we die. Do I want it to change? Yes. That is where that frustration or struggle is. So the struggle is really based more on other people than myself. I can't work harder. I can't paint better. I try. The weird thing is that our life can only change from the outside and I spend most of my time inside. I'd rather work than go out and push the work. So if all of the energy is in the work, things may not change.

No one has ever asked me about struggle before...

DR: Fill in the blank. In my life, I hope that_______:

CT: In my life I hope that Angela and I die being hit by a scaffolding in Piazza della Rotunda drinking cappuccino.

Life is about traveling time and not about arriving.

People have done what they didn't want to do their whole lives so that they can do what they want to do. I think that Angela and I are sort of existentialists that believe in the future, sort of like a daily thing. Today I am concerned about today. I will call Angela later and ask her how everything is going at work. We'll talk about what we are having for dinner. We will go for an amazing walk after dinner. "We had an amazing day!" I don't want more than that day. What I want is, I want to change the stairs. I want to change that. But as far as the day, there is nothing that I want to change. There are all those extra things...I don't think I have answered your question...

DR: Sort of...I think...

CT: A friend of mine who just passed away who happened to be our very first patron said

"Carl you really don't give people answers you sort of surround them and you confuse them so much with your chaos that they think you answered them".

There is an order in chaos.

I remembered seeing a special where they put a big speaker in the square in Russia and after a year they analyzed all of the sound that happened in a year and through all of that chaos they could figure out by the sound whether it was a particular holiday or this or that. So, even though it seemed as if it were chaos there was an order in chaos. Our life is pretty much that disorder that Angela and I know. We have a very orderly life that seems like we don't know where we are going but we do.

DR: Do you feel like you are somebody who has contributed significantly to the world while you have been here?

CT: Angela said to me one day that if I died it wouldn't matter...

DR: If she died or if you died?

CT: If she died.

I joke about picking tombstones. I am actually not going to have a tombstone. It's just a game. My tombstone says: "Don't mistake my exuberance for desperation". Angela's tombstone says :"She never put herself before anyone else".

I could expand on that and talk about it but it would be more boring than my last answer.

I think the contribution is what both Angela and I got from my mother clearly, which was to treat everybody as if they are important no matter who they are.

I would have loved to have met Angela behind the curtain, knew that I liked her because of what she said, saw her and she was beautiful and liked her because she was beautiful and then found out she was very rich. The last one didn't happen but if I had to pick two out of three, I got the right two out of three. She has taught me much more out of life than I have taught her. People sometimes talk to me before they talk to Angela because Angela is not concerned with giving the Jeopardy answer. You have to spend time with Angela to find out what she knows. Whereas I am out there with students and I am sort of used to saying "I better get them before they leave the room". So in some ways I have probably effected a lot of people more directly because of my teaching and maybe taught them that if they enjoy what they do and it may not be such an easy route, but it will make them a better person . So, maybe I have influenced some people in that way and maybe some people have become better artists but I am not saving anyone's life.

I think I have influenced people aesthetically. I think that I have influenced people more because of my relationship with Angela than I have as an individual. We tend not to complain and many people resent us because we are happy with less. That is an uncomfortable position sometimes because it's not to remind people of anything it's just that being less happy for somebody else's comfort is one thing that we try not to do.

DR: A hundred years from now what do you want to be remembered for?

CT: Probably what I just said about maybe affecting people and affecting the people that they affect.

There is a record called Compared to What. It was Les McCann and Eddie Harris. I play if for people and I played it for my closest friend who was going through a crisis a long time a go. It is a record that just talks about "compared to what". When I went down south and my father was dying and I came back my closet friend left that song, which I had given to him twenty years earlier, on my phone. Life is somewhat "compared to what", so no matter what happens 100 years from now, I think the things that are important now should be important then.

If there is anyone who remembers me or is influenced by me maybe they will be nicer to the people that other people have ignored or maybe they will spend a little time with that person who doesn't quite fit in and be able to give them an extra minute. People have done that for me and it changed my life.

My mother had one kidney and one lung. She weighed about eighty pounds. She had Paget's Disease and I never heard her complain - ever. People used to stop as she sat in her little beach chair on the driveway of the rented basement that we lived in. People would come up to her and say

"Millie I got such a cold. I'm so sick I feel so horrible".

My mother would have her oxygen tanks and she would always laugh and never say

"I can't believe that person is complaining about that to me."

When you are brought up that way you almost feel like someone is watching you. I'll complain about the humidity and I'll say that it sucks doing the laundry but I won't complain about anything big because I have already cheated death. I have been driving 110 mph while smoking hash in the ‘60's in Georgia. I should have been dead a long, long time ago. And, there are a few times that there has been sickness in our family and it could have gone either way and it didn't.

Our rewards are not based on "The summer house" right now. Our rewards are based on someone saying "You are going to be alright" or "Angela is going to be alright" or "Someone is going to have less pain".

I just remembered one thing because I have gone to a number of wakes recently. I find I keep saying the same thing to people, which I think is symbolic of life somehow, "When someone that you care about is ill there are only two things that you want: a miracle and speed...

We have had many miracles in our lives...

You have to be thankful when you get up in the morning that you got a day and you do with it what you can do with it and you spend less time complaining and bitching and you use that time instead to change your life if you don't like it. If you are one of those people lucky enough to have options and choice, then when you are thinking of complaining, pick up the paper and look at kids who are eating dirt or people who are dying because someone wont give them a nickel. I am not a big giver. That's really not the point. The point is, how can people complain to people that have no legs that you don't run as fast as you used to – I just don't get it...

Another non-answered question...

DR: So, I am asking this question again without any attachment at all to the answer and without any thought at all about any answer that has proceeded this...

CT: Well in that case I think that I am going to have to light another cigarette...

DR: A hundred years from now what do you want to be remembered for?

CT: My work is a minor thing. I actually think my work will be important a hundred years from now but that is chicken shit or maybe it's ego so let's make that one in pencil.

I want to be remembered for our traveling time and how we spent a lot of our life trying to take people down roads that would open their eyes to having a better life.

Thank you very much Carl...

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