Changing the Face of Cows: Meet Texas Artist Joseph Magnano

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Joseph Magnano is a contemporary artist. He works predominantly in the medium of painting, and focuses his attention towards cows. Joseph has been showing his cows in Texas since 2014. He was recently the featured artist in EASTside Magazine ATX. Joseph is known in Waco for the “Progress” painting of Baylor Stadium. In 2015, his mural concept was selected by the city of Georgetown for Chet Garners building from the Day Tripper. Joseph lives and works in Austin.

When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?

I never really grasped the concept or understood what wanting to be an artist looked like until my thirties. At the age thirty-three, I made the big decision to quit everything cold turkey and make art full time. I wanted art to be my job.

Has creativity been a lifelong pursuit and passion?

Oh yeah. I’ve been making things since an early childhood. I think if I would have been more technical and structural in mind, I would have been an architect or something. Maybe an astronaut, LOL. I always make time for art. As an adult, I really got to explore my creativity through my career working in kitchens.

How have you honed your skills? Did you seek out art education or are you self-taught?

When I made the decision to make art full time, I moved to Seattle. I attended the Mark Kang-Ohiggins Atelier at the Gage Academy. Though I was comfortable in creative expression and exploring concept, I still was insecure with my technical skills. I wanted to go further with it and break down the ego complex I was having about being a natural artist or a taught artist. Humans have been making art forever, so I wanted to learn the old ways of the masters and I got that Renaissance experience with Mark. The uniqueness of his Atelier was that, I could maintain my abstract contemporary expression without going full blown classical. That one year experience of nose-to-the-grind-stone studying art was the bulk of my art education. I did get accepted to San Francisco Art Institute with a Presidential Scholarship. I stayed there for a year. As well, I dabbled in some anatomy and figure classes in New York City.

What is your preferred medium?

I paint with acrylic.

What is it about acrylic that allows you to be most expressive?

I started using acrylic in 2004. Working in one medium has been important because it allowed me to ask myself; “Do I want to paint or do I want to play around?” I have enjoyed embracing that medium and making structure and formula with it. As fast as my brain goes and the way I layer and mix…I love its quick drying time. Sometimes I think about expanding into other mediums…just to really switch things up. I used to get sometimes weird with my relationship with acrylic paint because I have been asked by oil painters, “When am I going to take the training wheels off?” I guess if someone gave me an art residency, I would get crazy and go into my oil period. I seem to be doing good at creating the illusion of oil paintings with my acrylic. Commonly I get asked “Is that oil?”

Why cows?

Ah man. Me and cows. They really are like big ol’ doggies. We just bonded. It happened when I moved to Texas in the summer of 2013. As cliché as it sounds to come to Texas and paint cows, I believe I am being pretty authentic about it. As an art maker, I find the cow to be such a fundamental subject matter that anyone can relate to, but the depth in that subject is endless.

Do you have ties to ranching or dairy farming? Is your passion for cows a reflection of early experiences?

I didn’t start creating ties until I got the opportunity to do commission work for a farm in Abbott. I got to actually interact and hangout with these cows. It touched me a certain way. And from there, it was like…I paint cows, really good, and it makes me happy. I think my passion for cows comes from my curiosity of them, which is influenced by my time working in kitchens. It’s about getting to the source. Other than that, it’s a love for animals, compassion and connection to nature…these cows are like wildlife to me.

Do you prefer painting beef cattle or dairy cattle? What’s the major difference, if any, from an artistic perspective? Do you have a breed that you prefer to paint? What makes that breed special to you?

I have no preference. I wouldn’t know the difference. It’s all wildlife to me. If I was in Africa, I would paint rhinos and elephants. Painting cows is also a learning process. I have had patrons come look at my work and give me education on horn development, types of horns and posture of the animal. I get really excited to know that my paintings are showing up anatomically correct to spark the viewer in conversation.

What is your ideal painting situation?

I enjoy painting in my studio space. When I am outside with the cows, I am up close, taking reference photos, really getting in the herd and feeling their energy. My brain is remembering that feeling. I take that back to the studio when I go and start painting. When I am outside, I just want to be outside.

If you’re looking at a herd of cows, how do you choose your subject?

Oh, I just get in there and start taking pictures and really capture them in their natural actions. I like to look for interconnected-ness. Them either engaging with me or with each other. The energy is always high at first because they want to know who I am, plus we got the cowcake out. It’s wild. Then everyone slows down and naturally set up for some family shots.

What makes a “good” face?

I guess the ones that got something to say. It’s those cows helping me develop my titles.

What do you want to people to take away from an encounter with your art?

Well, that’s a tough one, because art is such a personal experience for the viewer. Ultimately, happiness and childlike joy. I like to think of my paintings as a “de-stressor”.  I love the personal connection with a viewer and even more so when they take home that painting to be happy about…that’s golden. It’s like a family moment.\


See all of Joseph’s work online at JosephMagnano.com

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