Two Stories about Joe Cardella by Todd Collart
Like most friendships I cannot recall when I first met Joe, but suspect it was in the late 1990s. My earliest memory was of the discussions about art while on a bus ride to the Santa Monica Museum of Modern Art when it was located on Main St. in the old shopping district a few blocks from the beach. We were with a group of artists on a tour to the museum, perhaps organized by Donna Granata (Focus on the Masters). I learned about Art-Life magazine at that time and some of Joe’s background. We discussed ways to engage people from around the world in a communal art project (a la Art Life). I laid out an idea I had to incrementally forward an inflatable globe around the world and back to the originator by relying on strangers to send it ever westward to friends. Each stop would be noted on the globe with related documentation. I was pleased that he did not dismiss the idea out of hand.
We saw each other at art shows, particularly those at the Artists’ Union Gallery where we were both member artists. We lunched together periodically and often talked about technical engineering problems associated with non-traditional art such as kinetic works. I marveled at the artistic clutter in his home and workshop. Following one trip to his home I was taken by his collection of Steelcase aluminum captain’s chairs around his dining table. I thought it was the coolest positioning of office-rugged seating with a fine table. I later found such a chair at a garage sale and added it to my home office. I eventually sold Joe the re-upholstered chair which was added to his collection. Many people slip through life leaving little trace. Joe left a wide wake.
First Tale – A Trip to Greece on $.25
Sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000’s one of the major department stores at the Ventura’s Pacific View Mall was closing – perhaps the Broadway, or the Robinson-May store. Nothing drove sales like the closing of the store that would have survived had it banked the number of sales on a regular basis that it rang up during its closing weeks. My wife (Cheryl) and I went to the sale on the pretext that I might find a new dress-shirt. While waiting in a check-out line I saw Joe and our mutual friend, Bob Chianese. We started talking and Joe explained that he was facing a difficult choice – to go or not to go to Greece. I thought it was a silly problem to agonize over – just go. What did he have to lose? Perhaps it was producing the next issue of Art-Life that was in the back of his mind.
He said he had met a woman (Kat) over there on a prior trip and was inclined to return, but for some reason I did not grasp he was having a difficult time making the choice to go or stay in Ventura. After listening to him hem and haw, and I asked him for a quarter. This threw him off, so I asked again, “Do you have a quarter?” He was flustered and did not answer quickly enough, so I reached into my pocket for a quarter that would decide his travel plans. I was tired of listening to his ambivalence. “Heads, you go. Tails you stay.” “Here, take the quarter and flip it.” I instructed. He never reached for the quarter, so I flipped it for him. When I uncovered the coin clasped in my hand it was heads up. “You are going to Greece; Get packing!” Joe did go to Greece and cultivated his relationship with Kat on many successive trips.
Second Tale – “Art Saves Lives”
I was the manager/curator of the Atrium Gallery at the Ventura County Government Center and was regularly looking for new artists to exhibit there as well as themes for future shows. On a visit to Bell Arts one First Friday, I came across a photographer’s images of herself in odd confrontations …with herself. She explained that her many personal physical and emotional challenges made her feel as if she were fighting herself. In fact, one image had her boxing with herself. The image captured me and suggested to me the power art had to help individuals cope with challenges they faced. We talked and agreed to pursue the concept of collecting art from artists who had created the works to help them cope physically, emotionally, and spiritually adversity.
I suspected that I would end up with a large number of works by people dealing with drug and alcohol problems, but to my surprise I began to encounter artists whose work addressed many other events and conflicts. Many of the artists faced several crippling challenges: loss of a loved one, near-death health issues, sexual identity, estrangement from family, depression, thoughts of suicide, failed relationships, physical injuries, brain trauma, chemical, and sexual dependencies, food binges, etc.
As the pool of potential artists grew I approached Joe and asked for permission to use his phrase, “Art Save Lives” as the theme for the exhibit. The more interactions I had with the artists, the more I was convinced that art was the medium that “saved” their lives. And by displaying their work (and their accompanying stories) viewers could see that the challenges they faced were mirrored by the artists – thus those facing trying circumstances were not alone. Relatedly, viewers came to see the healing power that art has in the lives of people. The “Art Saves Lives” exhibit was the most meaningful show I mounted in the ten years that I managed the Atrium Gallery, and Joe’s mantra was central to its origins and success.