On Parenting, Painting and Jazz: Tina Joy Sclafani (Interview)

Artist Tina Joy Sclafani
Courtesy the artist

Before artist Tina Joy Sclafani’s upcoming two-person exhibition JAZZ opens at the Hudson River Music Hall, I sat down with her at Al Safa.

So you are from….
I am from Farmingdale, Long Island, originally. Then, when I met my husband, he was going to St. John’s, in Queens. We got married shortly after and moved out to Bay Ridge when I was pregnant with my daughter, and I loved it here. I have a greater sense of community and appreciation for different cultures.
Going back to your time at CW Post….
My practice was very much about me back then. I did a lot of self-portraits. It was more of a personal search. I was researching a ton of Munch and stopped painting. I was also trying to [immerse myself] in Munch and study Christianity because it was Munch’s upbringing and [it conflated] with my own personal search for god. After I moved to Queens and was pregnant, I was taking care of my son and didn’t really do much. I wasn’t really putting anything down. Things were brewing. I was always taking pictures.
Did things culminate for you when you started making work for your upcoming show? Or had you been working prior?
Most of the stuff has been found since December. I hadn’t been doing anything [prior]. I thought a ton about it…How I see the world and have a more connected sense. When I was in Long Island I felt separate and alone and didn’t trust anyone…
But now you trust people in Brooklyn?!
I totally trust people in Brooklyn! I leave my stuff wherever I am at the park, with my kids in park, doing my thing…So when I started making work for this show, I had wanted it to be about jazz and parenting, particularly in Bay Ridge…it’s what my life is. I work once or twice a week, but my real job is my kids. The main work in this exhibit is a picture of my friend Burt and his son, Ollie. Ollie is playing the piano and Burt is on the guitar. The canvas I found in the trash in front of their apartment. That is what I feel the essence of Brooklyn is—you use everything completely. That was important for me: everything was going to be created on, found, or…handed down to me…that represents Brooklyn: sharing, giving, community. I learned that everything has value, living in Bay Ridge.
Innocence and the way that children do things is the same thing musicians bring to jazz. The impromptu “I’m doing this and this is right” and no “am I doing this right?” Kids are just, like, “I’m doing this.”
A painting by Tina Joy Sclafani
Courtesy the artist

Do a lot of those ideals translate over to your practice?

Yes! I’m a very impetuous person, especially when I’m creating. I don’t make any plans…I just paint. Whatever it is, it is. To me, it’s more the process and feeling than the final product. I’m surprised when people tell me that they like what I’ve made because I have less a connection to the end result. I’m like that with everything but the photographs.
Those have been a component of your work…
When I take photographs, even when I wasn’t painting, I was fascinated with the era of the 50s, and I tried to capture that in Coney Island through color in the photos. My whole family is originally from Brooklyn during that era, and I felt like I could understand them better by connecting with those motifs and this place. Certain practices here helped me understand them better, as well, like purchasing your groceries from different places…your meat from here, your fish from there and your produce over there…that didn’t happen in Long Island.
My kids are also an important component. The joy and sorrow of being a parent. It was something I hadn’t intended. They bring me a joy that I never knew was possible. I didn’t want to escape my children to make my artwork; I wanted to embrace them in it, so a lot of the times I would paint and draw with them. That got out of hand. [Laughs] That’s why there is more photography used in the upcoming show.
Layers are also important.  There is never one thing going on. Sometimes things match, sometimes they clash…very much as in life…I’m always looking for abstraction….give people another way to look at things.
Are you interested in showing in Bay Ridge?
Absolutely! Everyone knows me as a mom…and for being late! So I don’t feel anyone knows me as an artist. I would love for that to change.
How would go about doing that? What’s stopping you?
If I wasn’t so lazy and shy. I’m not pushy. This interview is the most ballsy thing I’ve done. What I’ve always wanted to do was to teach kids art, not in an instructional sense but how to show kids life through the processes of art. It’s not about me…my own artwork doesn’t always get to the point of what I want to say, but I feel like I have a message I want to bring. To get people to look at things differently.
The opening reception for Tina Joy Sclafani and Matt Daly’s two-person exhibition JAZZ, at the Hudson River Music Hall (10 Maple Street, Hudson Falls, NY) is on Sunday, July 19, at 1pm. There will be live music, good food and great art! For free!
Photographs by Tina Joy Sclafani
Courtesy the artist