Louis Aiello


Artwork by Louis Aiello

I believe a work should have a vitality of its own not derivative or imitative. After art school I continued with realism in my creations which was through sculpture. The big switch from realism to abstraction form came first from painting, self taught. After a period of realism in painting. I gradually shifted into abstract experimentation. I discovered a great exhilaration. The transition was done gradually. Varied situations may occur for inspiration, it’s walking through the woods, and being surrounded with the rhythms of nature, in my studio. I make many sketches which eventually bear little resemblance to the original notation. I like working abstractly. I like the endless possibilities as opposed to the single set of values encountered in realism. I experience more a spirit of adventure.

~ Louis Aiello
… click here to read more about the Artist.
Louis Aiello Biography

New York Festival of Arts, N.Y.C
Penn Academy of Art, PA
American House, N.Y.C
Pietrantonio Galleries, South Hampton, L.I. & N.Y.C
Essex Art Association, CT
Mystic Art Association, CT
Slater Gallery of Art, Norwich, CT
Antheneum Museum (Wadsworth), Hartford, CT
New Haven Festival of Art, CT
Providence Festival of Art, R.I.
Silvermine Guild of Art, New Canaan, CT
Heblen Gallery, Clinton, CT
Greene Art Gallery, Guilford, CT
Beth Temple, Hartford, CT
Art Alliance, Choices, Guilford, CT
Clinton Art Association, CT
Branford Gallery, CT
Milford Fine Arts, CT
Clark Whitney Gallery, Lenox, MA
Guilford Art League, CT
Providence Art Club, R.I.
Temple Beth Tikva, Madison, CT
Museum Arts, Science & Industry, Bridgeport, CT
Mattatuck Museum of Waterbury, CT
Bachelier – Cardonsky Gallery, Kent, CT
Arts4u Galerie – Media & Co., Avon, CT

Pietrantonio Gallery, 84th St., N.Y.C.
Branford Library Gallery, CT
Aris Gallery, New Haven, CT
Wall Focus Gallery, Chester, CT
Willoughby Wallace Memorial Library, Branford, CT
Heblen Gallery, Clinton, CT
Greene Art Gallery, Guilford, CT
The H. Pelham Curtis Gallery of The New Canaan Library, New Canaan, CT
Bachelier – Cardonsky Gallery, Kent, CT Galerie, Avon, CT

Media and Company Services New Britain, CT. Millerton NY.

High fashion mannequins. Some of the stores and other locations where Aiello’s work appeared:
B. Altman’s, 5th Avenue, N.Y.C.
Saks 5th Avenue
Lord & Taylor
Bonwit Taylor
Taylored Lady
Metropolitan Museum Of Art – Specially designed figures for displaying period cloths.
Across all of Canada
Design and execution of models for mass production of assorted costume jewelry and silverware.
Design of toys, trophy’s, etc., for injection mold casting.

Other Professional Accomplishments:
Design and mass production of rubber hands for mannequins including a complete line of children’s, teen’s, misses, junior’s, men’s, and women’s hands. Sold to mannequin manufacturers throughout the United States and all of Canada, British Columbia, and parts of South America.

… Click here to read Jerry’s Follies Blogpost on the Artist.

Sunday, July 06, 2008
How Is It That Even An Exceptional Artist Can Remain Unknown?
Jerry Harkins

In the spring of 2004, my friend and former father-in-law, Louis Aiello, died at the age of 92. Lou was an outstanding artist who had produced hundreds of paintings and sculptures, primarily abstract. In the nearly forty years I knew him, he and his work remained almost completely unknown even though he showed and sold it regularly, occasionally in major New York galleries. It may be that anonymity was what he wanted but I always wondered why the world failed to make a beaten path to his door. Eventually, I came to realize that Ralph Waldo Emerson was wrong. It is never enough to build a better mousetrap, especially if you live far off the beaten path. You need also grit, determination, good marketing and a little bit of luck.

Lou had been one of the young people who had congregated in New York in the 1930’s to advance the frontiers of modern art. It was an exciting time, a time of intense theoretical discussion and passionate experimentation. These were the artists who sowed the seeds of what would become the New York School after World War II. Many of them would go on to have distinguished careers in painting and some two dozen of them would ultimately become canonical. They knew each other; they constituted a real community devoted to developing a new art that would go beyond the cubism and surrealism they had inherited. They felt, among other things, that art had to respond to the insights of Freud and Jung and to the radical weirdness being taught by Einstein, Heisenberg, and the other physicists. The overriding idea was to develop a new language in order to depict their own emotional lives. For some of the Americans among them, there was a parochial subtext. They set out to create a specifically American idiom, redeeming Emerson’s hundred year old assertion that, “Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close.”

Lou Aiello was one of the youngest members of this community. He was still learning to draw from life at the Art Students League and to sculpt as a student of the cubist William Zorach. Like many of his older friends, he did not break finally from representation until later in his career. But he absorbed the revolution that surrounded him in all the arts as practiced in Greenwich Village and Provincetown. His career followed a trajectory that closely paralleled those of many of the first generation: a solid foundation in the basics, a faltering, hesitant break with tradition and a sudden emergence of the abstraction he had been working toward for years. Like others of this school, he was prolific both in completed work and in pieces rejected at various stages.

Eighty odd years later, his obscurity is, in part, the result of choices he made. In part also it is due to the enduring conceit of critics and curators that nothing important happens outside their ken. Of course, for much of history, anonymity was the default condition for painters, sculptors and other artists—think of the stone masons who decorated the Gothic cathedrals or the monks who copied and illuminated the sacred texts. During the Renaissance, artists became more prominent but it was still the fate of most painters and sculptors (and writers, poets, and musicians) to remain unknown outside a small circle of friends, patrons and acquaintances. Before the great museums were formed in the Nineteenth Century, the audience for most artists could be numbered in the hundreds. Even when their works were exposed to public view, their names were not. It is instructive that we know almost nothing about someone as important as Giotto. Artists might sign their work as a nod to posterity but Leonardo never did and Michelangelo signed only the Pietà, and that only after the young sculptor overheard it being attributed to someone else. The otherwise flamboyant Caravaggio signed only his masterpiece, The Beheading of Saint John.

Some artists did strive for recognition and acclaim only to be disappointed. Some were entirely innocent of any ambition other than food and shelter. Whole classes of artists—women and people of color—were routinely ignored. Others actually courted or at least accepted anonymity. A few of the unknowns, Vermeer and Van Gogh for example, did become posthumously prominent.

Examples could be multiplied and explanations sought but the conclusion must be that even genius does not always out. It may be hard to believe that there is or was an unrecognized Beethoven or Shakespeare but it is certain that a great deal of human talent has been born to “waste its sweetness on the desert air.” As Stephen Jay Gould wrote, “I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” The question is not so much why talent goes unrecognized. There are many reasons all of them obvious enough. Rather we need to understand how the work of some comes to public attention and how fewer still manage to achieve a degree of broader recognition and even celebrity. Talent is a given. A lack of talent may be no barrier to temporary notoriety in a celebrity obsessed culture, and fashions are fickle but enduring fame is rooted in extraordinary artistry. Such talent is not uncommon but, by itself, it is not sufficient. My friend Lou had talent to spare. But there are at least four other conditions that need to be met if an artist wants to become prominent, and, to one degree or another Lou did not meet any of them.

First, you need to be driven. Art is not a casual undertaking. Creativity is difficult to evoke and nearly impossible to sustain. The next idea is often more difficult than the last one. What the artist wants to express is elusive and this can make execution more frustrating than rewarding. The whole process requires courage and persistence. The art must come first even, if necessary, before putting food on the table. Lou had different priorities. He often said, “You do not live to work but work to live.”

Second, as they say on Wall Street, “You gotta be there.” If you want to be hit by lightening, you are well advised to place yourself in the middle of a golf course during a thunder storm. In the case of the abstractionists, “there” was New York in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. The city was home to the important museums, galleries, connoisseurs, collectors, critics and, most importantly, other emerging abstractionists. New York was the world capital of art and virtually all the first generation abstractionists were there. Lou abandoned the city just at the moment modernism was entering the mainstream. Others—Pollock and de Kooning among them—moved out physically but never spiritually. Lou rarely returned. He was like Thoreau. He traveled widely in rural Killingworth, Connecticut, the small town to which he had decamped with his wife and four children.

Third you must be PR-friendly. You need to be a story and to sell yourself and your work to people some of whom you do not like or respect and most of whom have no idea what it feels like to translate an idea into paint on canvas. Many artists venturing out of the studio become strangers in a strange land. Some thrive on self-promotion and even sensationalism. Others, like Lou, are too private, too reticent, too independent and sometimes too arrogant to subject themselves to the marketplace.

Finally, there is the price of even modest fame. In addition to suffering fools gladly, the artist must constantly make the transition from a deeply private pursuit to a life in which there is no privacy and little security. Dealing with a judgmental world is not easy for anyone in the public arena. The artist is especially vulnerable to the fear of failure because art requires exposing one’s innermost self. It is not surprising that people tend to think of artists as psychologically fragile. Among the first generation, depression and its variants were endemic and it got worse as they became better known and more accepted. Lou enjoyed a reputation as an eccentric but usually seemed too busy to be depressed. Then there is the element of luck but luck is nothing more than the remorseless working of probability which is indifferent to everything but itself. There is little of substance to distinguish between, say, pop art and comic books except that the former hangs on museum walls and the latter is displayed on newsstands. The difference in their reception is rooted in the complex interactions of many known and unknowable variables.

Lou was different. For one thing, he created very little art after he left New York until he established a modicum of economic stability in the mid-50’s. Until then, I suspect he might have said he was an artist meaning he had certain talents and skills with which he might earn a living. During the Depression, he had carved memorial busts for gravesites. During the war he had a job making molds for aircraft components and he and his wife designed fine jewelry and tchotchkes. As a master mold maker, he was able to design and produce rubber hands for store mannequins as his principal source of income for thirty years. All these involved his artistic skills but were not art. His notebooks suggest he never lost interest in art but little was produced between 1940 and 1955.

Neither his artist friends nor the dominant theoreticians of the abstract movement shared his utilitarianism. The critic Clement Greenberg wrote, “…artists can, and have, and do, work in disregard more or less of all the larger events and circumstances and conditions of their time. In many cases they can, and have, and do, proceed in disregard of personal circumstances.” This is the conventional stereotype of the artist as monomaniac. Lou’s great teacher, the sculptor William Zorach, had an even loftier view that nonetheless amounted to much the same thing. He wrote, “Art is the expression of mankind, a universal and cosmic expression of the soul of man, an expression of the realness of the universe and life. Art is the soul of man, ever striving, ever straining toward some fulfillment, some consciousness of itself and life.” This is the artist as high priest. Abstract Expressionism was, at its core, a self-consciously intellectual movement. Lou was an intellectual but of a different sort. As a teenager, he had been attracted to both the idealism of Alfred North Whitehead and the empiricism of William James. Like Gertrude Stein, another of his intellectual mentors, he saw no contradiction between them and he could be comfortable even with James’ operational mysticism. To him, art was not a grand pilgrimage. It was a natural and essential part of life but no more esoteric than other aspects of the examined life. For many years, it was a job, a way to make one’s way in the world. (Willem de Kooning believed much the same thing, adding only that the pay was lousy.) When he did return to it, he pursued it the same way he pursued everything else.

The late social activist, John W. Gardner, spoke about the equal importance to society of excellence in plumbing and philosophy. Lou lived that idea. He sought perfection in everything even while he knew that a man’s reach exceeds (and should exceed) his grasp. Whether making spaghetti sauce or building a stone studio, his commitment never changed. He ground many of his own pigments and spent years developing a translucent cobalt blue in a shade as deep as ultramarine. He worked hard to create an intense cadmium yellow, which ultimately he used only to add color to epoxy resins. At one point, he built the ideal bomb shelter for a family of seven. The rubber hands he cast were elegant and so was his process for making them. Over the years, he mastered the chemistry of latex, the porosity of plaster, and the calculus of expansion and contraction at different temperatures.

To me, Lou was a sweet and gentle soul. I was not unaware, however, that he was by no means a saint. As husband and father, he could be self-absorbed and sometimes quite remote from the lives of people around him. He had a well cultivated sense of the absurd and an acerbic wit that sometimes seemed excessively cynical. Still, if anyone had asked him, I think he would have laid claim to a happy life and his family and friends were happy to know him. Part of this was the fact that everyone who encountered his work liked it and respected him. So in a sense it is not important that fame and acclaim eluded him. He might have welcomed a wider audience if only the costs had not seemed so high. Periodically, he would travel to Manhattan to see what was in the museums and galleries. Invariably he liked what he saw and knew whereof he spoke. For a working artist, he was a pretty good art historian. Once, at a Guggenheim show of minimalists, he explained how the Russian non-objectivist, Olga Rozanova, was the “mother of us all.” At the end of these trips, he might be melancholic but nonetheless convinced that he had made the right decision. He seemed to be reminding himself that the brass ring of celebrity was, in fact, made of brass.

Does the obscurity of a single artist mean anything? Probably not a great deal. But the certainty that obscurity is the natural condition of artists speaks to the supply and demand for art and thus illuminates our value system. College and professional sports teams field thousands of scouts who search the remotest hamlets for promising talent. Corporations sponsor science fairs for similar reasons, and there is an entire industry devoted to discovering the next generation of fashion models. But in America at least it is hard for painters and sculptors to have their work shown, for poets to be published, for musicians to be heard. It seems unfair and wasteful.

Even with an audience, an artist can remain obscure. A case in point is Frederick Hart, unquestionably a genius and the finest figurative sculptor of the last half of the Twentieth Century. He made a very good living as an artist and his work is placed in prominent, prestigious places where it is seen by millions. Yet he was virtually unknown until he became embroiled in the controversy surrounding the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. He had won the commission to “add” a figurative element to Maya Lin’s stark minimalism. Before a compromise was reached, the rhetoric on both sides soared. Ms. Lin accused Hart of “drawing mustaches on other people’s portraits.” And the veterans who were opposing Lin’s design, in what may be one of history’s worst artistic judgments, claimed the names on a long black wall drained the war of all emotion. After his death, Hart became once again an obscure artist, largely ignored by critics, curators and the art media. He still has supporters and opponents but their disagreements are not about his art but about the alleged conflict between abstract and representational sensibilities, an esoteric and bootless war of words. Hart himself remains what Tom Wolfe called him, The Invisible Artist.

And then there is the Piccirilli family. Giuseppe, a sculptor and stone mason, and his family immigrated to the Bronx from Carrara, Italy in the 1880’s. He set up a studio which quickly became the largest such business in America. By 1910, it was being run by Attilio and his five brothers. They were master carvers to the most important American sculptors of the era. They carved Daniel Chester French’s Seated Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, George Grey Barnard’s pediments and Edward Clark Potter’s lions for the New York Public Library, and John Quincy Adams Ward’s pediment of the New York Stock Exchange. Several of the brothers, most notably Attilio, were important sculptors in their own right. Attilio did the Maine Monument on Columbus Circle, the Firemen’s Memorial on Riverside Drive and the Marconi Memorial in Washington, D.C. They were as well known as all but the most famous artists of their time and were part of a circle of friends that included Fiorello LaGuardia and Enrico Caruso. Various of the brothers still have works in major museums and private collections. During their lives, they were well known within the world of working artists but then as now they were unknown to everyone else. Even the family grave is marked by Atillio’s marvelous Fortitude but is otherwise unmarked with so much as a name. The paths of glory…

Even the most celebrated artists are not household names. There are no living artists as widely known as, say, Paris Hilton. Possibly the only artist in all history in the same league as Ms. Hilton was Andy Warhol who knew a thing or two about the vicissitudes of fame. Among the twelve men who constituted the Famous Artists School, the only familiar name is that of Norman Rockwell. Yet, to be invited to participate, an artist had to have an annual income of at least $50,000 in 1948, the equivalent of $436,000 in 2006.

Is our obsession with celebrity a symptom of cultural decline? Not at all. Celebrity happens because, as a society, we need both fifteen minute mass obsessions and enduring paragons of our values, both the Paris Hiltons and the Abraham Lincolns. Both help define us as a community by giving us a common history. Only rarely does it happen to someone who does not court it. The suitor must then encounter the star-making industries that are indispensable to both momentary and lasting fame. In fact, it is rare for the simple reason that if it were commonplace it would not work for either the celebrity or the society. We do our best to make celebrities in smaller and smaller ponds: celebrity journalists, celebrity cosmetic surgeons, celebrity hair stylists and, of course, the celebrity artists who are important to those who care about art. For every Andy Warhol, though, there may be a hundred Frederick Harts, a thousand Attilio Piccirillis and an unknowable number of Lou Aiellos. An artist falls into one of these categories not because of his or her value as an artist but for his or her value as a celebrity. It matters little as long as we bear in mind that achievement is no guarantee of celebrity and that it is the former that ultimately defines and writes the history of culture. A tree that falls in a forest where there is no one to hear it nonetheless makes a noise and troubles the universe. Ars longa, indeed, and vita brevis.



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