Why This Cool California Artist Is So In Demand

By: Elana Castle

Joanna Cutri, a painter, sits at a table covered with paints, brushes, and other artistic supplies

Contemporary painter and collage artist, Joanna Cutri, shares her process, her life, and why her work has garnered the attention of the designer set with interior designer and Wescover journalist, Elana Castle.

Joanna Cutri has an impressive art pedigree and a stellar portfolio of work spanning over three decades. Classically trained, the artist has held prestigious residencies in Hong Kong and China (where she was dropped off in the ZhangJiaJie Mountains in central Hunan to paint for eight hours a day), a joint exhibition at a chateau in the South of France, and spent ten pivotal years in Bali where she produced a prolific amount of art to satisfy the insatiable appetites of local and global buyers and galleries. Whilst her work is drawn intrinsically from her personal experiences and unique view of the world, Joanna is also able to draw on the needs and desires of other designers and art collectors to produce unique artworks for their homes. – ELANA CASTLE

Two abstract, white, blue, and gray paintings framed and hung up on living room wall.
Solace painting by Joanna Cutri. Available on Wescover.
A white, gray, serene, abstract, monochromatic painting hung up on wall behind dining room table.
The Light, the Familiar, the Strange by Joanna Cutri. Available on Wescover.

AS A DESIGNER, I WAS IMMEDIATELY DRAWN TO YOUR ART. YOUR WORK IS DYNAMIC AND CONSTANTLY EVOLVING. WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO CREATE?

It’s actually quite simple, I love making art, I love the process, I love the not knowing, I love creating something out of nothing. I also love that when something is finished, I get to stand back and say I made THAT. I made that with my hands and it didn’t exist before and it came from me. The inspiration comes from knowing that this piece will be living in someone’s home in the world and they get to live with it everyday and eventually it will be passed down. It’s very personal and intimate to be invited into someone’s home and be a part of their every day, living environment. My artwork is going to live beyond me. That is really special.

 
YOU HAVE AN IMPRESSIVE ART PEDIGREE. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT HOW YOUR TRAINING HAS INFORMED YOUR CAREER PATH? 

I was definitely classically trained. I studied art in Cortona, Italy. I learned how to draw the human figure from cadavers. My studio practice and creative process was never the same. My teachers from the beginning really stressed the importance of learning how to draw. It all starts with drawing. Drawing changes everything in terms of how I abstract certain organic shapes or how I bring the element of line into a piece. Early on I always tried to collaborate with other creatives in different areas of the arts. I was always curious to know how sculptors, designers, or ceramicists approached a new project or how their perspective changed with the materials that they were using. Exploring new art materials or methods always managed to find its way into my work so it was never just a painting or just a drawing. It turned into a melange of materials and techniques that created a very dynamic and exciting surface.

 

paints on a table
A "melange of materials and techniques that created a very dynamic and exciting surface."
A "melange of materials and techniques that created a very dynamic and exciting surface."
A “melange of materials and techniques that created a very dynamic and exciting surface.”

YOU WORK IN AN ENVIABLE STUDIO IN NORTH COUNTY SAN DIEGO. LOTS OF SPACE AND BEACH AIR! THE BEAUTY OF CALIFORNIA CLEARLY INSPIRES YOUR WORK.

While most of the time it is the quintessential sunny blue skies, we do get the most ethereal misty foggy layers in May and June. The light is very different when that marine layer rolls in and this filtered softness just sits and changes the landscape. The lifestyle here in Southern California is really gentle and for a lack of better words, “cruisey.” So it’s no wonder that my work has taken a softer, more calming nature. Life here is less frenetic and intense, and it’s definitely coming out in my work. 

"I've had really good experiences working with designers and their clients so far. I actually love it more and more since there's a genuine collaborative dialogue happening and the art becomes such an important factor in finishing the project."
Joanna Cutri, a painter, sits at a table covered with paints, brushes, and other artistic supplies
Joanna Cutri
Artist

MY CLIENTS ARE ALWAYS DRAWN TO YOUR ABSTRACT WORKS, PARTICULARLY YOUR WHITE NOISE SERIES. HOW DO YOU ACHIEVE SUCH DEPTH, TEXTURE, AND MOVEMENT IN WHAT IS ESSENTIALLY JUST A PALETTE OF WHITES AND OFF WHITES?

The exploration of white was really interesting. Not all whites are the same, not all whites reflect light the same, not all whites dry the same. Ask any designer who has had to choose white paint for a project. They totally understand this concept about white paint. To achieve such depth and texture in white paint is a magic combo of acrylic, ink, and oil paint as well as glaze. Multiple, thin layers are key as well as letting each layer completely dry. Playing with matte and glossy was also a huge factor in creating this series. All the paintings change with the light of the day. A painting in the morning has a different feeling than it did in the afternoon or night. Also, exploring painting on paper vs. canvas was a game changer. These paintings on paper have more movement and translucency.  

 

YOU’VE BECOME AN INCREDIBLY POPULAR CHOICE AMONGST DESIGN COLLABORATORS. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?  HOW DOES THE PROCESS DIFFER FROM WORKING FOR AN UNKNOWN END USER?

I think paintings are a popular choice amongst design collaborators because my artwork is timeless and it also evokes a sense of calm and peace which clients want to bring into their space. These paintings have gravitas in their simplicity. 

When working with a designer rather than with an unknown end user, I know that this person has really thought about creating a cohesive aesthetic for their client. I really appreciate designers who understand that art needs to be incorporated into a project in a way that isn’t just about matching the sofa. Art completes the story and sets the mood. It’s the most delicate balancing act because art can make or break the room. I love working with other creatives because the dialogue and collaboration is just so much more fulfilling and dynamic. I have a huge respect and admiration for designers so I want to make the process as easy and seamless as possible. Plus, these collaborations end up becoming lifelong partnerships and alliances.

And The Fog Comes by Joanna Cutri. Available on Wescover.
Fascination by Joanna Cutri. Available on Wescover.
The Air I Breathe painting by Joanna Cutri. White, gray, black painting hung above black fireplace
The Air I Breathe by Joanna Cutri. Available on Wescover.

HOW DO YOU APPROACH COMMISSIONED WORK?

A client will fall in love with my paintings, but might need it to be size specific or might want a triptych so this is when a commissioned piece starts. This is where the deeply collaborative work starts between me, the designer, and the client. I’m open to hearing which parts and elements of a certain painting a client is really drawn to in order to create something new and one-of-a-kind for them. I also love and appreciate how every designer stresses the importance of a well-thought-out, custom frame for the painting. Never underestimate a frame – especially an unexpected one. Having lived coast to coast, I have a really strong network of framers, shippers, and art installers to make the process smooth and seamless.  This last September, I had the pleasure of being a part of the River North Fall Gallery Walk in Chicago. Multiple design showrooms were on display with vignettes from Chicago’s top interior designers and different artists from around the world. It was a perfect example of how designers and artists collaborate together to create an inspiring and memorable space.

 

YOU LEAD A VERY CREATIVE LIFE. HOW DO YOU RETAIN SUCH A CURIOUS SPIRIT?

I am a relentless observer. Believe it or not, I actually just love watching light change and how it creates shadows. Light changes everything. If you pay enough close attention to light, you can see magic in just about everything. My life is also filled with other creatives; interesting people that spark my curiosity, challenge my view of the world, and expose me to endless possibilities. Travel is huge. I need to have a life of exploration and expansion of perspective. I can’t just live in my beach bubble all the time. I need to meet new people, discover new places, books, music, art and design. I also really enjoy randomly talking to strangers (face to face). I’m not shy. I’ve met the most amazing humans that way that have turned into lifelong friends. We tend to be stuck behind the screen a lot and this lack of connection, face to face with real humans is getting weird, so I’m the person that gets chatty to strangers . . . you never know who you will meet. There are some really cool people out there, in real time, in person. That’s inspiring. 

 

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW? 

Currently, I’m continuing with my white palette. I’m not done exploring what I can do with this color. I’m working on larger formats with collage elements and subtly bringing the figure back into my work. The figure is truly my first love and I would love to create a series bringing all these elements together. 

To learn more about Joanna Cutri or inquire to commission, visit her Wescover profile.

Elana Castle is an architect, photographer, and writer. Her work is regularly featured in design, lifestyle, and travel publications including Wallpaper, Dwell, Habitus, and Architectural Digest. To learn more about Elana Castle, visit her website.

Published on Dec 8, 2022

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