Artful Joe

A visit to the in-home gallery of Joe Salvaggio, a local retired engineer

Joe Salvaggio in his home gallery.

Joe Salvaggio in his home gallery.

“If you want to sell something, don’t put it on the wall,” warns local artist Joe Salvaggio.

Salvaggio has a habit of mounting new works on his living room wall. Trying them out for size. Seeing how they fit.

“You’ll get stuck with it,” he adds with a resigned chuckle.

It isn’t so much that Salvaggio is short on buyers. But the sale of a painting, it seems, just doesn’t lend as much satisfaction as the conversations and contemplative time the painting inspires when it’s up there on his wall. And besides, Salvaggio has his most thorough critic—Sylvia, his wife of 52 years—on hand in his in-home gallery.

“She doesn’t like this one,” says Salvaggio of a quiet, luminescent Nevada landscape piece. “She doesn’t like the owl.”

“I don’t like the owl,” Sylvia agrees.

“She thinks it’s too small,” Salvaggio explains.

Salvaggio, a retired engineer and a Rochester, N.Y., native, got the first hints of his artistic side as a child, when he “used to draw all over the backs of books.” After high school, Salvaggio got a stint doing window design for one of New York’s most posh clothing outfitters.

“That was a very sophisticated kind of art,” he says of window design and signing. “Signs were not like ordinary signs. [They had] a lot of fancy script.”

Salvaggio dabbled in art off and on during his years as an engineer, working predominately in oils. He began working in watercolor in the late 1970s, and the switch in medium marked a turning point in his artistic career. Today, watercolor and gauche—an “opaque kind of watercolor"—are his two favored mediums, although many of his works are done in oils, acrylics or with mixed media. His works, no matter the medium, all have an impressionistic softness about them, but also a shadowy ambience suggestive of the darker side of life. One, a portrait of his wife’s childhood doll, is strangely haunting.

Two of Salvaggio’s favorite subjects are wildlife (especially wolves) and landscapes, although variations on and deviations from these themes are fairly common. One, which he calls a surreal space scene, shows one of Jupiter’s moon’s looming large, with a satellite sailing past the moon’s gleaming edge.

Salvaggio’s favorite work—and probably mine as well—shows a safari landscape. An African elephant dominates the foreground. In the background, a clouded sky glows orange, illuminated by the setting sun.

Impressed by the painting’s colorful exoticism, I ask its title. Salvaggio scratches his head.

“I title [paintings] when I get to the gallery, but when I get back home, I sort of forget,” he admits.

In the in-home gallery, where spectators are few, titles cease to matter. It’s the artistic content—and the lively conversation it sparks between husband and wife—that are paramount.