More than one Joe Cardella, by Bob Chianese

by Bob Chianese (July 21, 2018)

Most of us know the Joe Cardella who compiled and published the international art journal called ARTLIFE for 25 years. That took imagination, long-term commitment, and collaboration with hundreds of artists and writers to produce the 276 individual and unique copies of the Journal.

 But if Joe's primary legacy is both his own art, some of which you see displayed here in the Garden this afternoon, and of course the wonderful Journal, you might also want to know that young Joe's early time in the U.S. Navy had a lot to do with the success of his major art project.

How so? Joe had strict guidelines and deadlines for the artists who submitted up to 200 copies of their individual work for one of 11 issues that came out each year. That took a kind of commitment from the contributing artists many of whom remained loyal contributors for almost the whole 25 years. But Joe did have to crack the whip or, to put it mildly, put you on notice about getting your work to him on time and in the right format. It also required ongoing organizational skills and teamwork to compile and assemble each issue, which he supervised with the firm hand. I think he liked those deadlines, the order and precision of each page and the cleanliness required to get each page un-smudged and uniquely placed into the order that he oversaw. He learned much of that in his early twenties in the Navy—everything had to be shipshape. Even the clutter of art he made in his house has borders, little spaces between even the smallest objects, as if these often seemingly insignificant objects like a jar full of pencils needed to be seen front and center in its own space. And of course the pencil is Joe's primary instrument, almost his artistic signature.

One of the last things I saw Joe do was to gift Greg Kazas, the owner of Steven’s Greek Grill and Market his own father's Navy knife. This was a moving moment since Joe knew he was giving up a living connection to his past, his career in the Navy, and his emotional love of Greece, embodied in his new friend who ran the restaurant on Main Street not far from his home. Greg has provided our food, Greek of course, for the afternoon and wishes he could be here but had to take a grandson back to Seattle.

This brings up ethnicity which is another frame of Joe's personality. He wasn't Greek. He was Sicilian, and like me we both enjoyed and struggled with our Italian-American heritage. But the one thing southern Mediterranean cultures seem to share is not only a profound dedication to the arts, and often a rather cynical outlook on society, and even a pervasive suspicion about everybody else's motives—this got Joe in trouble sometimes—but they also have a raucous sense of humor. Joe loved the absurd.

One day we were driving back from Santa Barbara on the back road—Joe hated freeways as he was in a serious accident early on in southern California. We came across a large slab of fish hanging on a chain-link fence, codfish, we could tell, from its flat oval shape. We both started laughing as something was triggered in our shared Italian psyches. Dried and salted codfish is a peasant staple that can be used in many ways—mainly soups and broths of a strong fishy flavor, always a bit too fragrant in a nasty way. It is called in Italian baccala. We stopped, got out, took photos, and laughed at who might have yearned for that old world quasi delicacy in the remote rural sanctuary of hoity-toity Santa Barbara.

But we were not done with this. There was an ongoing fad for bumper stickers in those days that began with the phrase, “I brake for”---such things as I break for unicorns, Yard sales, turtles, and more recently Nobody. We put together the phrase, “We brake for baccala,” and made a number of bumper stickers, only one of which I still have. Here it is in al its absurd glory, a tribute to silliness and ethnic humor--Joe’s silliness and humor and enjoyment of the ordinary absurd in all our lives. Thank you Joe, this last laugh is ours to share with you.

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