Meet the Art Academy of Cincinnati’s New President: Joseph Girandola

Joseph Girandola will assume his position as the Art Academy of Cincinnati's new president Aug. 1

Jul 26, 2019 at 10:42 am

click to enlarge Joseph Girandola - Lukas Kalinoski and Chelsey Hughes
Lukas Kalinoski and Chelsey Hughes
Joseph Girandola
As the school year approaches, Over-the-Rhine’s Art Academy of Cincinnati will welcome Joseph Girandola as its new president. It’s a position he’ll officially assume Aug. 1 in succession of Mark Grote, who served as interim president following former president John Sullivan's retirement last June. This year also marks the Art Academy’s sesquicentennial.

Originally from Baltimore, Girandola was classically trained as a stone carver in Florence, Italy. Though he has since veered from the practice, he says his time spent there allowed him to hone traditional skills.

“Like the act of drawing, the act of putting pencil to paper, you have to be trained in a way that allows you in the future to have the freedom to then start breaking the rules,” he says. “And I think that is the strength of the Art Academy of Cincinnati.”

Though he’s now primarily known for his three-dimensional drawings that utilize an array of unique mediums, it was stone carving that led him to experiment with the classic DIY Americana treasure duct tape.

As Girandola tells it, he would ask his parents to mail duct tape from the United States to Italy so he could tape his hands and create makeshift gloves. The stiffness of the tape would help him lock his wrists. (The hammer used in stone carving is 32 to 48 ounces, he says, and easily damages the wrist if you don’t use your shoulder and lock your wrist to hammer.)

“At the end of the day, I'd cut those makeshift gloves off,” he says. “I loved how the duct tape looked — from all the debris in the studio, the dust from the marble and how they caked those makeshift gloves. So I started making kind of drawings out of tape.”

His first duct tape drawing was of the gilded-gold baptistry doors of the Duomo in Florence, crafted by Renaissance artist Lorenzo Ghiberti. Other duct tape works by Girandola include depictions of his first car — a 1980 Ford F250 pickup truck — and a 1968 Mustang, which he restored with his father.

Outside of the personal, one of his favorite pieces involves the Taj Mahal. When he went to India and saw the building, he says he knew he wanted to investigate how to construct it out of tape in a highly detailed way. In the drawing, the architectural icon is backdropped by an emerging sunset in which orange-red strips meld with a mellow blue, both in the sky and mirrored in the reflecting pool.

Despite having worked in administration at multiple institutions — including the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning for seven years — he says he has always regularly practiced his art. He credits that to mentors throughout his life who have done the same. In fact, he considers the act of being a mentor to students as part of his practice.

“To see students succeed in creative endeavors in arts and design, and really leading their lives forward to then become mentors themselves — that is the point,” he says. “I believe I am here to mentor and educate in a way where the students can become those mentors for others.”

While working with graduate students at DAAP, that kind of mentorship is something he says he often saw in former Art Academy students. Since the Art Academy is located in the heart of OTR, he says its students “know completely how to engage in an urban environment and solve problems.”

“Sometimes in a large-scale university like the University of Cincinnati, it's very tough to navigate and break down those pathways to get to find the right piece person to talk to,” he says. “So I relied on the Art Academy grads who came to UC to really open those pathways up (for other grad students).”

When asked what he hopes to bring to the Art Academy as its new president, Girandola cites the importance of engaging with the surrounding community and collaborating with other regional art institutions and organizations to position the school as the “leading beacon” of creative problem-solving in city. Inclusivity and diversity are vital components of that goal.

“To be bold, to be fearless is easy to say, but it's difficult to walk,” he says. “For me, that is much easier done when you do it together with like-minded individuals, and like-minded individuals who are fearless and bold can succeed in this world.”

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