Creative Spaces: Robert Piersanti

Editor’s note: A version of this story appears in the Spring/Summer 2010 issue of NEW. You can download the entire issue here, or find a print copy at one of our many distribution locations.

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Robert Piersanti was at the top of his graphic design game, producing illustrations for clients that included prominent nationwide print publications. He gave it up to paint full time. He still counts The New Yorker, where his illustrations are ubiquitous, as a client, but work for other publications has dried up. He said that when you stop doing graphic illustrations full time, the offers for work stop coming in.

I visited Piersanti this February to take photographs of his workspace, tools and artifacts that are used as part of his painting process. He was gracious enough to give me a tour of his space, a huge top-floor loft in the Wells Fargo building on Pavonia Avenue near Hamilton Park.

The building was originally used by Wells Fargo in the late 19th century to stable horses. On Piersanti’s main floor, there is a wooden pillar that looks more like a honed tree trunk; he guesses it might have been used to tie up horses.

After Wells Fargo moved out, the building was used for various types of manufacturing, including railroad equipment repair. In the 1980s, it was converted into condominiums, and Piersanti moved in two years ago.

The sounds of ’60s garage rock and WFMU radio fill the expansive live/work — sometimes entertainment/performance — space, which is as neat as a pin. His top floor bedroom doubles as a soundproof studio, built by the loft’s previous occupant, a music industry executive. As fate would have it, the professional soundproofing allows Piersanti to pursue another of his passions — playing the drums — without worrying about bothering the neighbors.

Also on the top floor is the work area where he paints. Just to the right of the work area is a wall with various totems and artifacts that he’s collected over the years from sources like the Chelsea flea market and yard and garage sales all over the Garden State. Piersanti juxtaposes these objects with musical imagery and live models — mostly women in their 20s and 30s — for his paintings. He seems to transform the subconscious imagery of a kid that grew up in the 1960s onto the canvas.

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Steve Gold

specializes in documentary photography and portraiture. He is a regular contributor to the Jersey City Independent and his photographs have appeared in the Jersey Journal, New York Daily News, and other newspapers and weeklies. You can see more of his more on his website popzero photography.