When galleries ask him to paint prettier women, Joseph Lorusso tells them no.
The internationally recognized artist from Kansas City responds by saying, "There are a lot of painters out there who paint beautiful women. If you want that, go call them." As a genre painter, he's inspired by ordinary things and scenes from daily life. He says "there's a lot of beauty and dignity in everyday people," and prefers not to idealize his figures.
Nor will the 46-year-old elaborate on the stories in his works. "It's boring if I spell it out for people," he says. "My whole approach is to try to give the viewer a starting point, as far as subject matter and what's going on."
Take "Longing," one work from his upcoming solo show at the Hayden Hays Broadmoor Galleries. It depicts two couples at a restaurant. A bottle of red wine and several half-full glasses rest on the table. One of the men has his head buried in his arms, presumably passed out from drinking too much. His female partner gazes at him, perhaps with longing or disdain, while the other couple makes out.
Lorusso says he expects several people will approach him at the opening to share with him their different interpretations of the painting. All he does is give people a starting point, and they provide the meaning.
This approach has served Lorusso well, if his accolades and representation mean anything. Beyond having shown nationally and internationally, his works hang in galleries in Santa Fe, and Scottsdale, Ariz. He's been featured in American Artist, Southwest Art and American Art Collector magazines, among others, and he's won numerous awards, including a blue ribbon for Collector's Choice in the prestigious American Art Invitational at the Saks Galleries in Denver. He's also worked commercially, having been employed as an artist for Hallmark Cards, Inc.
Lorusso's study of the Italian masters shows in many ways, including color choices that are well-suited for his subjects, often figures set in earlier eras. He approaches color primarily through value and tone. Instead of using the bright, vibrant colors often seen in Impressionistic paintings, his are subdued. "And when you use color relationships that are greyed down, they tend to have more of a tonal feel and tend to look more nostalgic or aged," Lorusso explains.
While he's hesitant to give his style of painting a label, Lorusso says the artists he admires most are the post-Impressionistic American painters, such as John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler. He also appreciates artists such as Norman Rockwell who have acquired the technical skill to paint well but are also able to tell a good story.
According to Lorusso, even Michelangelo can be viewed as a master storyteller. "Look at the Sistine Chapel — it's just a big illustration on the ceiling. Not to demean it, but isn't that really what it is?"