Joe Bochynski



social: @joe.bochynski

city: Brooklyn, New York

Do you recognize yourself in your work

Yep, but isn’t that usually the case? Carl Andre once suggested that whenever someone is speaking, they are speaking about themselves. Unfortunately that seems to be true, and it certainly applies to art making.

Unable to attend Bushwick Open Studios, I found myself scrolling through Instagram constantly, and consistently drawn to pictures of three large scale ceramic totem poles. Immediate reaction: What is this magic!?

I found out that the artist behind the figures was Joe Bochynski. Tall, gritty and warm hearted are a few words to describe Joe. He is equally passionate about art, math and contributing to society through his work.

Incredibly funny, intelligent and constantly surprising, such as his response to my asking what music he recently enjoyed:

Yelle “Completement Fou”, because it’s true and Madonna “Bitch I’m Madonna Ft. Nicki Minaj”, because it’s about attitude. Music videos are very important to me, it’s a medium that fits our time perfectly, and few musicians can manage both sides of this format. If I was more skilled, I’d want to be an artistic director for music videos.


I’m an artist currently making ceramic tile mosaics.

I’ve worked at a number of art museums along the way to NYC, and now am a freelance art installer at a few galleries here.  While I’m currently working in tiles, I began as a painter as well as have completed a number of projects in video, sculpture, installation, and works on paper.

After my grandparents retired from their combined beauty/barber shop, my grandmother became an avid crafter. Well, actually a hardcore crafter, traveling to regional craft fairs around Buffalo with painted wooden objects. My grandfather would cut and assemble the different wood figures and objects and she would paint and decorate them. She sat me down at some point and helped me complete my first dedicated pencil drawing. Before that, I had drawn like most kids; stopping when I got tired. She pushed me to finish a rendered copy of Santa Claus in his workshop based on a painting of the same scene. That’s when things got serious.

I’ve found that the result of studio inquiry is not exactly solutions, but in fact simply more inquiry. Each project more or less grows out of an unresolved quality of the previous project. You could say that what I’m currently working on is the n’th iteration of that first pencil drawing of Santa Claus. At some point, things got much more interesting when questions of craft (as in the case of an academic reproduction Mr. Claus) gave way to questions of meaning.  

How do you know when you're finished with a piece

Well, with tile work, you’re finished after you grout. That’s a little tongue in cheek since it’s a medium with a specific procedural path.  Maybe I could say a piece approaches completeness first, after the formal elements such as color and composition are resolved.  And second, after enough hints and nods are in place to lead the viewer towards my own questions or concerns that began that piece in the first place.

For example, in 2011 I wanted to articulate the phase-shift that I was experiencing as I moved to a new city—nostalgia for the past, excitement of the new.  I knew I hit that mark while editing the video “Implant” (2011) which to me is sincere, funny, succinct, timely and neurotic.


Does your work environment influence your workflow

Yeah, but it’s totally pragmatic: If I use it often, I need to be able to see it at eye level and reach it quickly on my pegboard.  It’s New York, so my studio is as small as possible. Occam's Razor keeps my collecting habits in check.

I have a small collection of how-to books. Typically older, functional volumes which offer advice and diagrammatic instructions for home improvement.  Pre-internet information. I really like the idea that you can improve your basement, and hence yourself and the world, by putting hammer to nail. Not only that, but there are photos and illustrations to help you along the way. It’s my version of the myth of Modernism.

Do you feel that having an 'assigned' creative space enhances your productivity

Sure, but it’s more a question of mess. In the studio, I make a lot of messes, and there are things which really shouldn’t be left out in a living space—dangerous for the art and the people. The ideal space would have a garbage drain in the middle of floor, so at the end of the day I could just hose the walls and floor down and wash away all the little bits and scraps.


I read a New Yorker profile of Ryan Trecartin where he talked about this city being an amazing place to view and talk about art, but actually not that great to produce art. That may seem upsetting, but for me it’s true: You can see some of the best art around, you can speak to amazing people about art endlessly, but to have a studio and make anything at human scale, it’s tough. The numbers don’t add up if you’re young and emerging. I look forward to having a studio in my hometown of Buffalo one day, which has a thriving art community of it’s own, and can facilitate wonderful things. You need a foot here, but the other should be elsewhere.

NY does not directly affect my work, but this landscape is all about infrastructure to me. It’s a creative and unusual use of space everywhere you look. That excites me because it’s impractical everywhere else, but logical here. Space is micro-managed in a frustrating and fascinating way.

The art community here is unique because it’s not one community, but hundreds of communities, interwoven like the rhizome. Working in Chelsea, the Lower East Side, but with a studio in Bushwick has been fabulous. These are all different worlds with overlap. My wife’s a Physical Therapist, and I’m so happy to be witness to something other than art as well. I connect [to the community] by looking someone in the face and saying ‘hi’. It’s beautiful.

Any hidden New York gems you're willing to share with us

Nan, a much more savvy New Yorker than I, shared North Dumpling with me. It’s on Essex near Delancey. Super cheap, super salty, and I always need to stop by on the way home. Also, the Wave Hill Gardens up in the Bronx. Simply transformative.


When my wife and I take little adventures, we are always finding ourselves in the least scenic locations. I don’t know why, but we always end up walking along a guardrail next to a busy highway in thick brush, looking at billboards for bait shops and close-out sales. For example, we found the only ugly part of Milan to drag our suitcases through near the edge of the airport.

Anyway, a few years ago, while on the way to the beautiful DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, we stopped in the downtown of Waltham. It was noon and the sun was overpowering and casting no shadows. Parched, we walked the empty allies of Waltham. Then I saw this short retaining wall, covered in yellow vinyl siding, that no longer had anything to retain. It had this phenomenological presence when I approached it. Neither sad or functional, it sat there like a self-actualized Buddha. It sat next to a dusty, vacant parking lot with weeds the way a Donald Judd box resides at the end of those majestic galleries in DIA:Beacon.


For me, it’s largely a question of completeness. If the work is truly complete, then it’s a success. If it’s not complete, it’s not art and cannot succeed. I see a lot of incomplete art trying to pass as complete. For example, most things in a gallery will have a decent kernel of an idea worth exploring, but usually they don’t take it all the way because completeness is really, really hard. So the viewer is left with a half written sentence.

Artistic communication requires a viewer: from me to you. Hence showing art is necessary for success. However, [gallery representation] is by no means sufficient for success.


I’ve recently begun a year long project on the meaning of civically engaged artists who still make discrete art objects. This series of panels, objects and an artist’s book are for a solo show I’ll have in late spring 2016.

I’m really interested in this question of how an artist, like myself who likes to create discrete (distinct and separate) things in the studio can at the same time be an active citizen who creates positive change. The best example of an artist who makes this type of positive change (but through social practice and not specific art objects) is Theaster Gates. What are the possibilities for artists to contribute in a meaningful way like Gates, but still maintain a traditional studio practice?

Near the end of his career, Rothko, abandoned all attempts at responding to those who inquired after the meaning and purpose behind his paintings. Finally responding that silence is 'so accurate'. How would you describe the meaning and purpose behind your work

Creating meaning through the interpretation of art or the world is a circular process, as in hermeneutics. You begin with a question, and you get a small answer, then you move a little to the left, ask a different question, and get a slightly different answer. Soon enough you’ve circled the thing you’re asking about, and you can move in closer with more and more precise questions. There is no center, just endless depth in this process, and that’s magical and a good thing.

[June, 2015]