Emerging painter Jono Pisano sits on a chair in the middle of his studio, a large room located within a family warehouse in Makati. He discusses art, his artistic process, those who inspires him, and how the idea of time draws his attention. The 28-year-old sounds like a modern day philosopher, yet lacks any sense of pretentiousness. He is simply a young person pursuing a passion, and has decided to immerse himself into an artist’s lifestyle completely.
The walls in the studio may be mere concrete, but his paintings cover every corner of the room, adding life and much color through his images. These works, from his recent show called Breakpoint, were presented at the Joya Gallery earlier this year. The title of the show refers to the breakpoint in a tennis game, where the opponent is a point away from victory. “Right now, I’m obsessed with parallels and host lines, things being placed beside each other,” he shares about his latest collection. These are inspired by photographs commissioned by Albert Khan, a philanthropist and architect who gained prominence in the early 20th century.
Each piece from Breakpoint is split by a line, with two different images on corners of the canvas. His inspiration for the collection was Khan’s archive of over 72,000 photos shot around the world. He flips through a large coffee table book of these images. “Whenever I’m doing a collection or body of work, I start by thinking of what I want to do and what I want to learn. I’ve been obsessed with this [Albert Kahn] book. He sent out hundreds of people during the turn of the century to see how others lived.”
Jono explains that he goes through the book until he sees an image that inspires him. He marks his choices, and draws out his own interpretation, before heading to the canvas. “I keep adding a little more of myself to it. Maybe the narrative isn’t even there yet, but as I paint, it adds there.” The result is a collection of paintings that shows a patient who has taken the pains to educate himself. Pisano received good reviews from the art community.
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Perspective from the Fringes
“I studied in eight different schools, but I was born here,” says the half Filipino-half Italian painter. Jono can be considered somewhat of a nomad, having moved to Reno at a young age, then Sydney shortly after. He completed his high school education at the International School Manila before moving to New York City to pursue a degree in Fine Arts History at Parsons. Despite a drifting childhood, he admits that jumping from place to place and experiencing different cultures helped him develop an eye for art. “I was always at the fringes. I was also always an observer, which is a great thing for an artist. You can get a great perspective when you’re at the outskirts and see how groups really behave,” says the self-proclaimed introvert.
At Parsons, Jono discovered a love for the renaissance painters. That influence is apparent in his work. He does challenge the classical style by “loosening up the tightness” to render canvases that capture renaissance sensibilities combined with impressionism. His main goal is to avoid a flat look. “I want it so that you can feel the art. The brush is where it really matters. It’s all about painting and not just capturing the image.”
Something Special in Manila
After graduating, Jono and a couple of friends decided to open a gallery in Brooklyn (which later moved to Chinatown). He admits that although it was a fun and exciting time in his life, they never hit it as big as they wanted. They always had a large cluster of artists supporting them, but never any real buyers or collectors dropping in. “We were naïve to think that putting up good shows were enough,” he laughs. When the gallery finally folded, he decided to return to Manila. His New York friends questioned his return back home.
“The capital of the art scene moves depending on the economics of the capital,” he says. Jono strongly believes that “something special is happening in Manila.” He is impressed by contemporaries who are challenging the way the world is perceived. Jono loves the use of irony in the art of the new generation. He noted that Chinese collectors are becoming more important; they are the main catalyst for the recent success in the Asian art scene. There is no indication of regret over moving back home from the Big Apple, a major art capital of the world.
The Discipline of Nine to Five
“It’s all about momentum,” Jono says when talking about his day-to-day process. “Art and creativity are all about building and keeping momentum. Flow is so important, and constant distractions like our phones prohibit us. What stops me is second-guessing myself. There are so many insecurities surrounding the making of anything, that when you can work quietly for a little bit, that’s good. That’s why I like working at night.”
Although he admits that mornings are rather slow for him, he still wakes up for work at 8 AM every day. He typically ends at five, but when the canvas is small enough, he brings it home and continues to work in his mini studio. He stays in the Makati space only if the canvas is too large to move in and out of the room.
He had to learn how to have faith in where he’s going and what he’s doing. “No one is telling you if it’s worthwhile or not. You, yourself, need to think if it’s worth it and hopefully, it will eventually be for somebody else, too. My gallerist once asked me, ‘Do you want to be famous?’ I don’t even want to think about it. I just want to make things that will be worthwhile later on and that can grow in time.”