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Artist Interview: Elliott De Cesare

Wednesday 03 May 2017

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Elliott De Cesare grew up in NYC around Art with both of his parents being Visual Artists. His parents were both New York based artists, who attended the school of Visual Arts. As a child he always encouraged to create and did just that using different found objects and materials as well as different media; This is the same way he works today. After high school he went on to spend a year at Parsons School Of Design, and then transferred to the School Of Visual Arts. He has freelanced in and around NYC as a Window dresser and prop stylist on fashion photo shoots. Elloitt was honoured to showcase his paintings in the infamous Bergdorf Goodman‘s Mens Store Windows in March of 2016.

What are your fondest memories of New York as a kid?
My fondest memories of New York as a kid were going to work with my dad on the fashion photo shoots he would direct on location around the city.

Who were your inspirations and did they impact your art? 
My earliest inspiration as a kid was definitely Michael Jordan. I realise though that I share that love with probably many other kids my age who grew up in the 90’s. In my eyes there was nobody cooler than Michael Jordan. Whenever I encountered any kind of open container like a trash can or a bag of some kind, I would take the opportunity to run up to it and slam some sort of object into it as if I was dunking like Jordan. I do not think Michael Jordan influenced my artwork, but he was somebody who inspired me to ‘do something’.

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Aside from Michael Jordan I grew up immersed in the art and music scenes of NYC. People like Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Klaus Nomi, Andy Warhol, Larry Rivers, John Sex, and many others were all household names, and definite influences to my early notions of what art was and could be, both consciously and unconsciously. We had lots of photographs from this period around our house growing up, and most of the photographs were taken by a close friend of my family, a photographer named Joseph Szkodzinski who I think was one of the best documentarians of that scene in New York in the 1980’s. So as a kid, of course, naturally you ask who the people are in the photographs, so this was one reason why some of these people were initially brought to my attention. Also if anybody wants to see some of these photos in person, Joe’s photographs will be included in upcoming exhibition at the MoMA called “Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978– 1983”.

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My parents who were my biggest influences are both visual artists who were practicing in NYC during these times, and they were also associating with a lot of these people during that period amidst the NY art and nightlife scene. My mom was an assistant to Larry Rivers who’s work I have always loved. One of my Dads closest friends was John Sex, who was also a visual artist although he was mostly known for his performance. Together they painted all of the murals at the Veterans Administration in the Bronx. All of the halls were filled with these very surreal landscapes of images that they had created together, it gave the building a very illusory feel to it, and some people complained because it was to unreal and dream-like for the sometimes mentally ill veterans in the facility.

My parents also both studied in school under Elizabeth Murray, and Hannah Wilke, so those two names were talked about from time to time because of the relationships they had with those two artists. Then of course the earlier icons of the New York avant garde painting scene were common to hear around our house, Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Willem De Kooning, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella. Then there were of course many other artists of other mediums, writers, architects, poets, musicians, people like Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson, Dylan Thomas, John Zorn, Yoko Ono, John Cage. The list could keep going, but these are a few particular familiar names that come to mind.

Show me your all time favourite piece of work and why?
I’ve seen so much art, and like so many different types of art, that its hard for me to remember a ‘favourite piece’ but one of my favourite artists is a artist named Jack Whitten. I had him as a teacher in school and he is a very well know contemporary artist. He was definitely a big inspiration of mine, mostly for the fact that his artwork seemed to me to come out in every aspect of the way he lived his life, his humour, his interests, the way he spoke. I really related to the way he thought and to him as a person. So when I am asked that question right now, his work is what comes to mind, because of who he is, and the concepts that are intrinsic to his work. Also he is somebody I admired for how intelligent he is while simultaneously being extremely unpretentious and nonchalant. There is a really great interview with him in the February edition of the Brooklyn Rail, here is a piece that was shown in that article.

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If you could go anywhere with anyone who has passed, who would it be and where would you go? What questions would you ask them?
If they weren’t to upset by coming into contact with a time traveller from New York I would go visit some old relative of mine in Italy or somewhere in Europe before they came to New York. I preferably would want to catch them on the ship they would be sailing over to America.  This way they wouldn’t be able to run away from me, and I think it would be more dramatic/interesting a setting to approach them there. The first thing I would ask them would be, “Where are you going?”.


If you had to leave NYC, where would you move to and why?
At the moment I would probably want to move somewhere in Europe to continue working on my artwork, I’m thinking Germany or France would be nice.


What new bands are interesting you? What old bands do you like?
Currently on my own time I am not listening to a great deal of ‘new music’ consistently. I do go out a lot to shows to hear live music pretty often though, and I have a lot of friends in different groups and bands who are making a lot of really great music in the NYC underground scene, so I try to support those people and to see them when they’re performing. One band I have been listening to lately is a group called Cellular Chaos and I started getting into them because of their drummer Marc Edwards who is a pretty well recognized free jazz drummer.

I originally knew of Marc Edwards because he was a drummer who used to play with Cecil Taylor and David S. Ware, who are both two pretty important jazz musicians that came out of New York. I heard an interview with Marc Edwards on the radio a while back where he talked about his time playing with these people, and he then went on to talk about new projects he had been working on and one of them was Cellular Chaos. I really like the idea of somebody going from one genre of music to something completely different, and in this case Marc Edwards had gone from playing free jazz to a weird kind of hardcore-ish experimental band. They describe themselves as ‘no-wave’. I like them.


Otherwise though to be honest I don’t listen to a lot of music that’s too hard/ loud these days. I’ve been listening to a lot of old pop songs from the 50’s and 60’s and a lot of early 20th century ‘American standards’. I also listen to the radio a lot and I like three radio shows they have Sunday mornings on WKCR that I’ve been listening to for a pretty long time. First there’s a show called Amazing Grace which is gospel music from the 40’s and 50’s, then there is the Moonshine Show, which plays traditional southern string music, then lastly there is The Tennessee border show which is a broadcast that focuses on traditional 20th century country music. These three shows go from 8am – 12pm and at 12.00 I then like to switch the dial over to Johnathon Schwartz’s show on WNYC. I also like to listen to a show called “New Sounds” that’s on WNYC, and they play a big variety of various different types of music every broadcast, so its always a surprise. I’ve also been listening to a lot of disco lately, 80s dance music and new wave too, I’ve been going to 80’s night at Pyramid Club for a pretty long time where they always are playing lots of good music, and its one of my favourite places to go dancing. One of my favourite things to do is to pick up records being thrown away on the street. I like thinking about the person who might have used to own it, and what their interests were, then when you put it on you can be transported by the music and travel to a different reality you might not be used to, I like the surprise of that experience.


What’s your all time favorite quote?
William Blake; ‘Create a system or be enslaved by another mans’.


What are your thoughts on the Millennial generation?
I think given our development of, and access to new technologies, it leaves us with the potential to be able to do a lot of really great things in the world we live in now, but it will all depend on how we utilise and control the information and technology so that it does not harm us in the end. One of the biggest problems I have observed about the Millennial generation lies in the way which we have dialogue and share our views amongst each other and other people. Through social media you can now get a glimpse into the minds of other people, and share your opinions/ views on a global scale. This can be something that is very good, however I feel that there is a overly self righteous nature to how people express their views, and how they respond to other peoples views. In my opinion the generation is in its own way becoming extremely dogmatic in their interactions with people of different opinions then their own. It seems that it is more important to berate and attack people who think differently than you rather than try to understand that person and why they may think that way, and this is a very dangerous way to be. I see it as a kind of “book burning” attitude on thought, and unfortunately I think the generation is becoming very “medieval” in this way, and not quite as progressive as people would expect in 2017.


You can follow Elliott on Instagram here