Joe Orffeo is a Living Legacy Artist at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
Joseph Angelo Orffeo (1926-2013) was a Western New York artist, painter, and sculptor who studied at the Art Institute of Buffalo in the 1940s and 50s with influence from the likes of Robert Noel Blair (1912-2003) and Charles Ephraim Burchfield (1893-1967). Orffeo’s art developed in an atmosphere of experimentation, spanning several decades and multiple mediums.
Whether inspired by the local countryside, southwestern mesas, or pure imagination, Orffeo’s watercolor works might best be described by Anthony Bannon, director of the Burchfield Penney Art Center: “…Orffeo reduces, simplifies, clarifies the visions that are given to him. But his is a vision that begins in a voluptuous manner, in many colors, and absolutely unheard of before.”
Nancy Weekly, a curator at the Burchfield Penney, likens Orffeo’s approach to a concept quoted from Georgia O’Keeffe: “I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at—not copy it.” Weekly asks of Orffeo’s work, “What greater equivalent could exist?”
Joe Orffeo passed away on March 6th, 2013, in Colden, New York.
Listen to Joseph Orffeo's interview with Heather Gring of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, conducted on July 6th, 2012. Hear him discuss how the Buffalo Art Institute influenced both him and the blossoming art scene in Buffalo in the 1940s and 50s and why he thinks the Burchfield Penney has the potential to and should do the same thing today. With fellow Institute students David Pratt and Walter Prochownik, and teachers Jean Mackay Henrich and Robert Blair, Orffeo helped to make Buffalo a creative oasis. He believes that there will be a similar renaissance in Buffalo soon.
Orffeo also speaks of marriage and job hunting, and discusses why the medium of watercolor is “the love of [his] life.” In his own words, to be a successful artist, one has to “be really determined and have something to say” as well as the wherewithal to “keep working and keep painting.” It is as simple as that.
Transcript of the Living Legacy Project interview with Monica Angle & Heather Gring Remembering Joe Orffeo.
Transcriber: carmen ml brown
Date recorded: October 2nd, 2014
Heather Gring: Joe Orffeo, in our first year of the Living Legacy Project in 2012, and quite honestly, that was the most wonderful interview. He was the warmest person, you know, just everything he said came from such a place of kindness, and his wife Linda was there with us. We got to have a really nice dynamic talking, and he was incredible. He used to call me on- I went back to grad school in Vancouver, and he would call me on Skype all the time, and we would talk sometimes, and he would also Skype with William [E.] West [Sr.] who was another artist we interviewed that year, because the two of them had known each other since the 40s, and were finally able to, you know... Not as mobile as they had been, but because of Skype, they were able to connect. Joe, for me, was a really powerful example of why we’re doing this. I got to interview him in summer, and then six months later he passed away, and... I was like, “Oh my god, I’m so grateful we had this opportunity to have this conversation while we could because we didn’t have much longer to have this conversation.”
Monica Angle: Right, and you know it was prime time for him, because he was just so sharp about everything, and he really did keep up with everything. When you were talking about the Skype, he was always posting something on whatever, social media he was using at the time, and sharing. Sharing his artwork, too! “This is what I’m working on”
HG: I know, he sent me so many pictures of what he was working on, and I just loved it, and just hearing about his wheatfield series he was working on towards the end, and just his love of the light through the wheatgrass, just like ahh. And, unfortunately, that also really highlights for me, this last year we reached out to both Marion Faller and Bruce Kurland for last year’s class, even though I was in early conversations with both of them, neither of them felt healthy enough to participate. And, unfortunately, a few months apart, then passed away, each of them, separately. And for me, I still feel that kind of stone in my stomach where I’m like “Ooh! We’ve missed something that we’re never going to get a chance to do again.” I try not to take that too personally, but I can kind of feel that. The good news is that with each of them, I think, we’re going to interview Tom Daly and Christine Daly about Bruce Kurland because-
MA: Oh, that’s a great way to-
HG: They were such great friends.
MA: to bring the story and bring that narrative to life.
HG: My hope is to also interview Marion Faller's son, I forget his name, but Marion Faller’s son about his mother, and his father Hollis Frampton which would be really, really incredible as well. So, there are other ways, it’s not a primary source, but then again... Oral history isn’t so much about, it is about facts, but it is also about feeling. It’s not about a minute moment that you can pin down, it’s about how those moments are interpreted through our lived experience. My very dry archival professors would tell you that that’s not important, as important as the primary source document, but I disagree completely. I think that it’s not just about a document, it’s about how that documentation affected your life. I find that to be much more powerful. Or, equally powerful, let’s say, you need it all.
MA: Right, legacy is part of the title for the project, so interviewing the other generations or the colleagues, or- There’s a really, it’s a way to still preserve that moment in time.
HG: You’re a concept smith. We like to say-
HG: about Scott Propeack that he’s a wordsmith, because he can just throw out a title before an exhibition exists, and you got the title and then everything else develops around it. But you’re very good with the concepts, that’s very nice.
MA: Oh, well thank you. Well, that’s, well being... Just walking into this building, it’s inspiring just being here.
HG: Everything that we’ve kind of talked about thus far, the little things about Joe Orffeo, we’ll pull apart and maybe put as a little Monica Angle recollects Joe Orffeo, and put on his page.
MA: Ooh, I would be delighted.