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Passion for Pop - Joe Petruccio
02/27/2011 - By Gayle Davis
Photo: McKay Imaging (mckayimaging.com)
Joe Petruccio keeps company with Elvis, “Rocky,” Muhammad Ali and...the Mets!
Rock artists and sports heroes are portrayed in a whole new light when legendary artist Joe Petruccio puts his paintbrush to canvas. He has earned himself such notable positions as serving as the Official Licensed Artist for Graceland, Muhammad Ali and Frank Sinatra. He is also the official artist for Hard Rock Cafe and worked withMGMand Sylvester Stallone back in 2006 to help create a series of paintings to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Stallone’s “Rocky.” His list of credits and commissions continues to grow almost daily.
As far back as Joe Petruccio can remember, he has always been blessed with artistic talent. In fact, he says it’s in his genes, as he comes from “creative stock.” Soon after college, his plans to become an illustrator were diverted as he worked his way up the ranks in Manhattan, earning himself a successful career in advertising. But he always painted or sketched on the side, as a “hobby,” as it was and still is his passion.
Petruccio is also a self-blogger for New York’s Mets, Jets and Knicks and has gained quite a following. On these blogs you will find a unique “recap” of the games that were won or lost. Joe says he has a humorous side to him that helps ease the pain for fans suffering from a “loss.”
Petruccio says he’s blessed to have morphed his passion into a professional career - a career that is populated by creative works featuring many of his childhood favorites...Elvis, “Rocky,” Frank Sinatra and the Mets! Petruccio even designed the racing stripe uniform that the New York Mets wore from 1983 until 1990. He is most humble and takes nothing for granted. Living In Marlboro was invited to sit down and interview Joe in his home. His impressive art adorned the walls of the family room. Behind was a painting of Elvis Presley; to the left, Frank Sinatra; and straight ahead…Mohammad Ali.
LIM: Which came first, your love of pop culture and sports or your fine art skills and creativity?
JP: I have always been able to draw. As a kid, while I would be watching television I would draw, so I guess my drawing ability came to me first. But, I guess as I was laying there in front of the television drawing, my pop culture thing came to be. I love pop culture. I love sports. I love art. I love “American Idol.” I love rock and roll. I am a classic “pop” art piece!
LIM: When did you realize you had the ability and the love to become an artist? Were there moments where you thought, “this can be a really cool hobby” versus “I think I have what it takes to turn this into a successful career?”
JP: It’s kind of odd. I have only been doing this professionally since 2003. I went to college to become an illustrator. When I graduated college, I got a job at an advertising agency doing storyboards and things like that. So I figured, “Okay, I will take this job in advertising and at lunchtime I will go out and get illustration work.” Well, it didn’t happen. I kept getting promoted in advertising and never got out to go become an illustrator. I would always draw on the side in sketchbooks for family and friends and it became my hobby. One day, I was at work and I was showing a friend of mine an Elvis painting I did. He said, “You should put that online. There’s an Elvis Collector’s Club.” So I joined the collector’s club. People post photos on there, it’s like a fan site. I posted one of my paintings and people started writing to me asking to buy my work, but I wasn’t selling. I was just showing my work! I wasn’t painting for a living. My paintings were my paintings and they were very scarce and I wasn’t looking to sell them. Well, one day, I get an email from Graceland saying, “We understand you posted some paintings on the site and people were interested in them. We would like to know if you have any more.” I wrote back, “Yes, I do.” For a minute I thought maybe I was in trouble for having Elvis’ likeness on the website! But I wasn’t. They wanted to see more. Next I got an email asking if I wanted to be an Official Licensed Artist for Graceland! They never really had an official artist before. So I said, “Okay.” I got an assignment to do a poster for my first “ElvisWeek”, back in 2003. So I went down there and that was the first time I had ever met them. And that started my art career! Now, at the Licensing Show in New York City, since Graceland was now taking my paintings and putting them on t-shirts and cups and things like that, an art publisher was visiting their booth and was interested in publishing my art. So Graceland called me and asked me if I was interested in talking to him. I said, “Sure!” I got signed by this publisher and I have been doing this work ever since.
LIM: Since 2003, your list of credits has grown extensively - the U.S Open, Hard Rock Cafe and Rock n’ Roll Fantasy Camp, just to name a few. Please share how this came about.
JP: Everything really came off of Elvis. I am the official licensed artist for Muhammad Ali - his license is owned by the same company that licenses Elvis. The people at Ali were impressed and now I will be doing the same type of work. I am also the Official Licensed Artist for Frank Sinatra. The rock and roll work really comes through my publishers.You never know…some people walk into a gallery and see my work. A lot of times musicians will walk in...the next thing you know their managers will call and suddenly I am doing paintings for Hard Rock Park and Hard Rock Café and all these different places. It’s really a snowball effect.
LIM: So what type of work do you do for Hard Rock Cafe and Rock n’ Roll Fantasy Camp?
JP: I paint “rock” portraits. Hard Rock opened a theme park in Myrtle Beach, S.C. One of their rides was “The Led Zeppelin Ride.” I did a painting of Led Zeppelin. It’s a limited edition, so they had it signed by the remaining guys and they used my art to promote the park, so that was kind of cool. I love Led Zeppelin!
LIM: Your celebrity client list is truly impressive. Can you reel off some of your most memorable subjects?
JP: I found out that Joaquin Phoenix was going to be at a show where I was one night, right after “Walk the Line” had come out. I was presenting a painting to Roger Daltrey that I had done. I ran out and bought a piece of sheet music paper. So in my room I painted Joaquin Phoenix that day and that night I gave it to him for free. I got it framed and everything all in one day. It was so cool. I have met so many people. There are some people who I have met while receiving the paintings who have touched me so much, like Bret Michaels. I don’t think I have ever met a nicer person. He almost cried when I gave it to him. Dickey Betts…when I gave him his painting it meant a lot to him because his house had just burned down and he lost everything except his one guitar. He said to me, “This is going to be the first thing I hang in my house when I get home. I have nothing…everything I had is gone.” You get to see a side to these people that you don’t really see when they are on stage.
LIM: There are a number of celebrities who you have painted up on your website…
JP: All of the ones that I have painted and given to the stars have been commissioned. For instance, Hard Rock would commission me, so I have painted The Eagles, The Moody Blues, Kidd Rock, and Run DMC. After a concert, the venue will choose to give the celebrity a gift. So they will choose my paintings as the gift they would receive. Things like Bruce Springsteen just come from me loving Bruce.
LIM: Does Bruce own one of your portraits?
JP: No. But Max does! I painted him! He came to Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp.Max [Weinberg] actually cried when he got his painting. He really loved it! And Nils [Lofgren] has a painting that I also did at Rock n’ Roll Fantasy Camp. I am skirting around him…Bruce. I mean, that’s my dream. The cool thing about what I do is…when I was growing up I loved Elvis, I loved Muhammad Ali, I loved Joe Namath, I loved Tom Seaver and I loved “Rocky” (Sylvester Stallone) …and really, “unsolicited,” I have gotten to work with every single one of them.
LIM: You just mentioned that you worked with Sylvester Stallone. In 2006 you were chosen to work with MGM and Stallone to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the “Rocky” movie release. What was it like to work with him?
JP: He was probably one the nicest people I have ever met. When we spoke - I don’t know if it’s because we are both Italian - but we bonded right away. You would think we had known each other for 10 years. He was genuine and it was just a nice experience.
LIM: Are you ready to talk sports? Let’s talk about your Sports Blogs! You are a big sports buff. Tell us how you’ve gained momentum with followers of your artwork and commentary for the NY Mets, NY Knicks and the NY Jets.
JP: I love sports. Every year I personally tried to journal the Mets Season. I always thought it would be cool to have a whole year in one book but I never finished it. I would get pissed off and say I am not gonna draw this…and I would stop doing it. Then I went to go see the movie “Julie and Julia” with my wife. It was about a girl who journals and blogs Julia Child’s recipes. One day I said,You know what? That’s what I am gonna do. I am gonna blog my Mets Journal and this way if I miss a game, the people who follow my artwork will let me know and then I will have to do it! It’s very hard to catch up with the drawings, so after awhile I’d just bag it! But I figure these people will keep me going. And even if it’s a bad season, I will finish the book. So, this year I did! I finished the season all the way through. And even now, in the off-season, I am still doing the Blog. I have gained such a following! Even ESPN started contacting me….I do drawings now for ESPN.com. So when the Mets’ season was over I figured I would do the Jets. It’s 16 games; how bad can it be? So I’ve been doing the Jets thing, and I am a Knicks fan, so I also started journaling the Knicks season. I have to tell you something; the journal thing has blown up! I mean, there are New York Knicks who contact me, and the Knicks now carry my journal on KnicksNow.com on their blog.
LIM: Which team is your favorite to “Blog” about?
JP: Right now the Knicks.We’ll see where this season goes. They haven’t been in the playoffs in over ten years. This could be a nice season! They are doing pretty well this year.
LIM: How do you choose which element of the game you are artistically going to portray on your blog?
JP: In any game, there is a moment or a player that stands out. I think that’s what the Knicks like about my work. My headlines really aren’t what you would read in the newspapers. Although people say my headlines are “New York Post”-style.
LIM: Designing the uniform that the NY Mets wore from 1983 through 1990 was a pretty tall order.
JP: When I was a kid I used to send the Mets drawings of uniform ideas. I would say, “Hey what about this?” Especially when the Houston Astros had their striped uniforms with the big star - everyone was doing cool 70s uniforms. So I just kept sending them stuff and never heard anything. Then when I got my first job in advertising, I happened to work on the Mets account. They said to me, “You wanna take a shot at designing the uniform?” [Laughs] I said, “Sure!” So I did a couple of designs and they picked that uniform that the fans know as the racing stripe uniform. After they picked it, they called in the Mets Head of Operations, Jim Nagourney. They said, “Jim, this is Joe Petruccio. He designed this uniform that we kind of like and we would like to get your blessing on it.” He was looking at the picture and he said quietly, “Joe Petruccio. Why do I know that name?” I said, “Well maybe you have about 20 or 30 designs that I have sent to you over the years!” Jim said, “Are you the kid that kept sending me the uniform drawings?” I said, “Yeah!” He said, “I guess you were meant to design this uniform!”
LIM: So are you responsible for the ’86 World Series? [Laughs]
JP: I would say ‘YES’! It was fun. I was at all of the games that year. My mom used to work for Topps® Baseball Cards, so we used to get tickets.
LIM: What is unique about your work and what do you hear from fans as to why they like it? Has your work or style changed throughout the years?
JP: My sketchbook work is probably my truest work. It’s not all the same style. I have a cartoon style, a more serious style…it really depends on how I feel about the game. I do them in fifteen minutes! I think what fans like about it, especially Mets fans, is the “losing” drawing. Anyone can find greatness in a win. I think I help them get through the bad times with my humor.
LIM: You have also dabbled in unleashing your creativity by using an iPad. Has the advancement of technology afforded you more opportunity with your career?
JP: I guess I have to get over the whole digital thing. I have now done a couple of pieces on the iPad. And they’re cool, but there is no original; they are only digital, so I can only sell them as prints and a lot of people want originals. I like it, but to me there is nothing like paint on canvas.
LIM: What has been your most sought after piece of art?
JP: Probably the most popular piece is called “Memphis Son”. I painted it for Graceland as the official portrait for the 50th Anniversary of Rock and Roll. That’s an edition that I believe is sold out. People constantly ask for that piece, and it’s probably the most important piece that I have done so far.
LIM: And the most sought after in the sports genre…?
JP: The drawing I did for the ’86 Mets uniform that they wore in theWorld Series. I don’t have the original of that; I have a copy of it.
LIM: Do you have a uniform?
JP: [Laughs] You wanna know something? I don’t! I never asked for one. I was just thinking about it. I have some people that ask me, “If I send you my uniform, would you sign it and send it back to me?” I say to myself, “You know what? I designed this uniform and I don’t even have one!”
LIM: What is the best compliment that you have ever received about your creations?
JP: I guess the biggest compliment is that a friend of mine actually built a gallery in his basement that has all of my work. He has a sign hanging entitled “The Doobie Gallery,” which he named after his dog who was named for the Doobie Brothers. Each one of the paintings are hung gallery style, along with a card saying what it is and what type of medium it was painted in. He goes and gets each one of them autographed by the celebrities. So I guess that’s the biggest compliment.
LIM: How do you “guys” have access to these celebrities?
JP: You know what he does? If he hears that Ozzy Osborne is going to be on Howard Stern, he would say, “Can you do an Ozzy drawing for me?” I would say, “Okay.” So I would do one for him and one for me and I would say, “Can you get it signed?” He would stand outside of Howard’s studio and wait for Ozzy to come out. Or, if there’s a star that he hears is performing at, let’s say a theater in Westchester, he would stand out back and just wait and get them signed. I mean this is before I even became famous with my art. He started to amass his collection this way!
LIM: Have you received any additional awards or accolades for your work?
JP: I’ve won “Artist of the Year” from some cities where I have done shows. I have gotten a key to a city. But, I guess to me, what it really comes down to is that I really don’t take for granted what I do. It has not gone to my head at all. When somebody comes on my Facebook page after I post some of my work - I just post them to post them, not to sell them - and they say, “Oh my gosh I love that! That painting reminds me of this…” That to me is the BIGGEST compliment that I get. I really appreciate the real people who like my work.
LIM: CNBC has dubbed you as, "One of the best known celebrity artists in the world.” What is the reason that you think you are one of the most sought after artists around?
JP: I think it’s the people I am connected with. Being the official artist for Graceland and Muhammad Ali…I am surrounded by the company of good people. I think whom you surround yourself with is part of what defines you. I am just lucky that I can use such adjectives as Elvis and Ali to describe me…so I think that helps to make me more popular.
Three People You'd Like To Dine With:
Joe Namath, Bruce Springstein, Elvis
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