In the Studio with Joseph Algieri

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Globs of resin, swirls of vinyl, piped loops of ceramic. From his studio in Brooklyn, artist and designer Joseph Algieri creates works where the natural order of things seems to be encouraged. Foam is left to settle into pools. Chaotic splatters create winning design motifs. The genius is in its irregularity, its imperfection. Let the chips fall where they may.

Of course this chaos is all by design. Algieri starts from a place of simplicity and builds upon a work until all evidence of its previous state has been obliterated, consumed. The results are physical manifestations of challenging the status quo. What makes a lamp a lamp? Can’t a container look like anything, so long as it contains? It is liberating, really, and makes a viewer reconsider not just notions of function, but of (quote, unquote) beauty.

Algieri has shown his work around the world. Last year, he was one of 15 boundary-pushing artists selected for In Good Company, a group show in New York City curated by designer Fernando Mastrangelo and Architectural Digest writer Hannah Martin. The same year, Algieri was part of the Capitalism is Over: New Times New Rules exhibition at Milan Design Week. While he works on an upcoming show, Algieri lets us into his studio to talk his books at the racetrack, garbage heap marriages, and his formative years as a pyro kid.

Former occupation and your most notable memory there:

I used to work at Benjamin Noriega. We were installing a house in the Hamptons in the spring of 2014 that had the most impressive private beach. I just remember being in that expansive house and thinking about what a process it really is to put something like this together from the ground up. I essentially got to live someone else’s life for 10 hours.

Your first experience with art/design as a child:

I was a huge pyro. I burned everything. If there was anything within arm’s distance of a heat source, it got burned. My parents were particularity unhappy, but that element of melting is still prevalent in my work today. The melting acts as transitional phase anything can go through, and the way I render that is by showing that process at a particular point — slowly melting down but not totally gone.

joseph algieri

What did your parents do for work? Were they interested in the arts or design?

My dad is a gearhead; he builds engines and loves cars. It’s truly his real passion. My mom raised us, and to this day sees it as more of an occupation. Since both of them come from low-income, working-class backgrounds, art wasn’t really their forte. They like racing and going to the beach. I hated the track, and would bring a book or roll around on the bleachers.

How do you discover new materials? 

I can sample something from anywhere: online, my Tumblr archive from six years ago, random design magazines. I like to find stuff. I get inspired at dollar stores and looking at trash on the street; I look at composition, see what materials are “married” to each other in a heap. It’s something I’m always observant of regardless of where I am in the city. You can’t avoid it.

joseph algieri

How does trial and error play into your process?

It’s usually a fail. I like to push material boundaries and sometimes structural boundaries. But the thing that makes it enjoyable is making compromises with myself and still staying true to vision.

Least successful experiment in the studio:

I tried to fill a balloon with expandable foam to create a large soft mass. The air in the balloon shot the foam back out and all over me and my clothing. It was a pretty gross mistake. Nothing is more awful that trying to get curing foam out of your hair.

joseph algieri

Most surprisingly successful experiment:

Creating a rig for my ceramic wiggle planters that collapses after I’m done with the construction. Clay is delicate and shrinks; if I had a rig that couldn’t collapse, I would never have a planter to show. I was particularly proud that I managed to follow an order of operations with real success.

How do you know when a piece is “done”? 

I go through the motions when I make something new. I’ll log and photograph a piece as I’m making it so I know whether or not I enjoy the direction I’m going in. There has to be an obvious balance in my eyes in order for me to decipher “done.”

joseph algieri

How did you find your current workspace and where is it?

I moved with friends from a previous studio. We were in Bed-Stuy in essentially a condemned building. My friends found the spot where we are at now in Bushwick and built it out.

What do you eat for breakfast?

This morning I had a black tea and two cigarettes.

joseph algieri

What’s a day typically look like for you, from start to finish?

When I’m on my own accord, I wake up late and work late. I work much better later at night than early in the morning. I’ll work straight for four or five hours, have the fastest lunch and work until 9:30 or 10. Usually, from there, I take the train to the bar. I’m not really into being stupidly drunk, but I have a makeshift family at my bar, so if I’m out, I’m there to socialize. Bedtime is anywhere between 1:30 and 3.

Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?

I love the radio. WQRX, WFMU, CBS. Anything fun and local. I love ’80s music, particularly Italo Disco and synth-y French pop. I also like to rally some some low-brow ’90s Euro house. But then there’s days where it’s four hours of just awful one-hit-wonders or something equivalent. If I need a guilty pleasure, I’ll put my headphones on.

What are you currently working on?

I’m making a testa di moro (head planter) for a group show in November.

What material do you go through the most of?

Clay… so much damn clay. And expandable foam.

joseph algieri

What medium/ tool/ color are you most interested in presently and why?

I have some things planned this year with a bunch of handmade bricks. I’m doing my own research into the history of them and I want to take my time ideating. I like the earthiness they can have, and I want to see if I can compose that with some of the high color that I have already in my studio.

What book/ film/ work of art most recently captured your attention and why?

Santa Sangre directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. It’s a gory mess, but the bizarre antics and scores are simultaneously mesmerizing and absurd. Even the setting in urban Mexico has so much personality and quirkiness to it that keeps you enthralled. Also it’s roughly 30 years old, and I do tend to pull most of my inspiration of aesthetics from then verses something more recent.

Words to live by:

Never settle. I’m always looking to do more.

Photos by Atisha Paulson for SIXTY Hotels

Jenny Bahn

Jenny Bahn

Jenny Bahn is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, specializing in music, fashion, the arts, and culture, both high and low. Her work has been featured in Cereal, Lenny Letter, and more.