Olivia Shih: Hello Vincent, and thank you for agreeing to this interview! Could you give us a little background on yourself and your work?

 

Vincent Pontillo-Verrastro: Prior to jewelry, I was a classically trained trumpet player studying at Interlochen Arts Academy (a small, intense, and immersive arts boarding school for roughly 400 high-school students in northern Michigan), which is where I took my first jewelry/metals course in 2004.  

 

OS: Was this the class that tempted you to enter the world of jewelry?

 

VP: Definitely. After graduating in 2006, I began my undergraduate studies at CalArts (Valencia, CA), which encouraged a highly conceptualized methodology of making, blending experimental sound production, performance, and visual art. Things happened, and I dropped out of school and moved back home to Lancaster, New York with no set goal in mind… Serendipitously, I learned that SUNY Buffalo State College offered a BFA Metal/Jewelry Design degree and applied for admittance within a few days.

 

Vincent Pontillo-Verrastro, decorticate, PLA, maple, fox fur, leather, paint, thread,

photography by Vincent Pontillo-Verrastro

OS: Does your training as a trumpet player translate into your jewelry?

 

VP: I like to think that my background in music directly influences my past and present studio practice: practicing orchestral repertoire instilled me with patience and dedication – to achieve an exact note, pitch, lyricism, intonation – and these qualities allowed me to work with metal.

 

Back to my background… after I received my BFA, I did my graduate studies at Indiana University, Bloomington (IUB), studying with Nicole Jacquard and Randy Long, and received my MFA Metalsmithing and Jewelry Design degree in August 2015.  

Currently, I am an Assistant Professor of Metals and Contemporary Art Jewelry at University of Wisconsin – Stout, where my research focuses as an extension of my graduate studies, incorporating 3D scanning (using a David-SLS system) and SLA resin (using a Form2).

 

Vincent Pontillo-Verrastro, thoughts on fertility, wood, latex, steel, sterling silver,

cotton,paint, photography by Vincent Pontillo-Verrastro

OS: How did gender and the body first find its way into your work? Why are these subjects important to you?

 

VP: My husband, Aric Verrastro, and I developed a show together (newNORMAL, fall 2013) while we were at IUB. In this show, we each made a body of work commenting on how we felt about being a gay, married couple, in the USA at that particular time. This included thoughts on fertility, in which I question how the inclusion of a child signifies the completion of a family unit and adapt the latex condom as a metaphorical protective device of choice against our heteronormative culture.  

 

This subject was, and still is, important to me because it reflects my life. By creating jewelry, I am able to wear this subject matter, provoke conversation, and create a direct dialogue with my audience.

Vincent Pontillo-Verrastro, thoughts on fertility, latex, muslin, paint, 18 kt, nylon,
photography by Vincent Pontillo-Verrastro

OS: As you’ve mentioned, you tackle the idea of fertility from the standpoint of a gay man in your 2013 collection, thoughts on fertility. What exactly do fertility and reproduction mean to you?

 

VP: Although my ability to independently reproduce with my husband is a null and void topic, I usually arrive at a state of bitterness (and jealousy) while discussing procreation. What does fertility and reproduction even mean anymore? How does any married couple confront the expectation of including a child in their lives?

I am not in the position to speak for others outside of my own experience, but the question remains the same: If I cannot have a child biologically with my husband, am I, and is my relationship, considered less fertile compared to my straight counterparts?

 

I have not arrived to a conclusion, and never expect to do so, yet hope to continually create jewelry which prods interrogatively, asking more questions than providing answers. These two words, fertility and reproduction, reside within the act of being productive and nurturing something, which I hope resonates with my audience/wearer of this work.

Vincent Pontillo-Verrastro, thoughts on fertility (installation), 2013,

photography by Vincent Pontillo-Verrastro

 

OS: Lately, you’ve revisited thoughts on fertility in the studio. Why are you looking back at this work?

 

VP: I feel there is still a connection I have with this concept, and that my previous series had just begun to touch on how I can connect to and express these ideas. By continuing to make work with these thoughts in mind, I hope to develop a further conversation regarding artificial modes and methods of reproduction.

 

Vincent Pontillo-Verrastro, graze, PLA, deer hide, mink fur, graphite, leather,

thread, photography by Vincent Pontillo-Verrastro

OS: Your more recent collection, Analogue, is a body of jewelry that pivots on the shaving brush, which was once a simple utilitarian item but is now a status symbol and luxury item for men. Why introduce this sensuous experience into jewelry for men?

 

VP: This work started as an examination of how objects can be socially cisgendered, as a means to teach boys how to become men, and girls how to become women. I am interested in the mnemonic device and in making this work sought to present a comparative relationship between haptic inference and intimacy.  

 

Although – when this work was shown at .M Contemporary, Sydney AU – inference went straight out the window and became actuality.  

 

Watching the audience from across the room, many unabashedly became participants while rubbing their faces against this work installed modestly on the wall. This intrigued and pleased me – but how odd?? When would this interaction ever be socially appropriate with other art media?

OS: I love this aspect of contemporary jewelry, how it begs to be picked up, caressed, and worn.

 

VP: I know what you mean! I regularly am confronted for touching artwork and don’t know how to keep my hands off!!  Apparently I appreciate the tactile experience, and not display cases surrounded by intimidating brute staff…

Vincent Pontillo-Verrastro, sceafa, PLA, thuya burl, fox fur, leather, paint, thread,

photography by Vincent Pontillo-Verrastro

 

But yes, the traditional shaving brush originated as a utilitarian item and is now a rather obsolete/luxurious practice, but it’s inherent relevancy within the coming-of-age period is fascinating to me, especially when coupled as jewelry object.

 

I did not intend for this work to engage with a male-only audience, but to reflect on a perceived universal male experience in which one is allowed to experience self-reflexive moments.  

This personal moment of grooming, manicuring, immediate self-awareness, vanity, and presentation encapsulates how I feel jewelry operates as a socially prescribed object:

 

Intimate.

Personal.

Experiential.


OS: Some people don’t realize how much of themselves an artist has to expose to create work that resonates with their audience. Thank you for sharing your story.

Find out more about Vincent at his website.

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