Joseph Orffeo (1926-2013), The Blind, 1948; oil on canvas-covered board, 23 7/8 x 18 inches; frame: 29 x 23 x 1 1/8 inches; Gift of Linda Orffeo
A veteran of World War II, Joseph Orffeo preferred not to talk about the profoundly disturbing events he witnessed—but they haunted him and recurred in dreams and in shadowy paintings. This dark, figurative painting, which is reminiscent of the work of French Expressionist Georges Rouault, is a war memory. Orffeo served in the Navy Armed Guard and drove a PT boat in in the South Pacific (1943-46). He struggled with the anguishing job of dropping off young navy men, and making return voyages with others who had died or sustained casualties. The Blind represents two young men—both of them dead—floating in the water before their bodies were recovered. War’s horrors affected the artist, who embraced humanitarianism through his interactions with people and his art.
Orffeo studied at the Albright Art School and the Art Institute of Buffalo before his military service, for which he received a Combat Medal, China Service Medal, and several Purple Hearts. Returning home, he continued at the Art Institute of Buffalo, studied with Charles Burchfield, and befriended Walter Prochownik. Orffeo’s first solo exhibition was held in 1951 at the Art Institute, followed by many at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Big Orbit Gallery and Meibohm Fine Arts in East Aurora.—NW