The next Artist Interview Project installment features artist Nick DiFabbio. The first part of this post includes a student’s reflective summary. It is followed by the full interview text.
Learn more about the Artist Interview Project course assignment in Dr. Jenkins’ introduction to the series. You can follow the Philosophy School of Phish on Facebook, Twitter (@phishedu), and the course’s public website.
The music of Phish is particularly interesting and diverse because it allows its listeners to pick out their favorite parts from the community and use it in their own lives and work. Nick DiFabbio greatly enjoys the music itself, but he really loves the fantasy aspects of Phish’s visuals and the cartoonish vibes they give off to him. It is these types of visuals that influence the different types of art that DiFabbio makes. While DiFabbio makes art on a plethora of mediums, all of his art shares similar themes. He has this pop art style about his work that appears to give funny, larger than life definition to subjects that otherwise are considered to be strange, weird, and grotesque by the majority of society.
DiFabbio’s art is very fluid. It gives off the feeling of invitation and participatory creation. In Leo Tolstoy’s What is Art?, a proper definition of art is offered. Tolstoy remarks that if we cease to view art as merely a means to pleasure, “we cannot fail to observe that art is one of the means of intercourse between man and man” (pg. 2). This is a sentiment I get from viewing DiFabbio’s art. His art presents itself as something nuanced, not at all stiff, and a vehicle for interesting conversation.
The pins that DiFabbio creates can be said to be a good visual representation of the music of Phish. Both have this immediate improvisational feel to them that, upon further examination, reveals a precision in the meshing together of many different pieces. The wide variety of color DiFabbio uses to make his pins can only exist in such harmony if they are carefully crafted in the design process. This is even more remarkable and unique given that DiFabbio puts so much color onto such a small surface area, all while maintaining continuity throughout the entirety of the pin. In the Critique of Judgement, Immanuel Kant, speaking on the determination of agreeability, states: “That is agreeable which the senses find pleasing in sensation” (Section 3). There is something about DiFabbio’s pins that draw in the senses. The pins are loud and eye popping. They draw an immediate reaction, just as the music of Phish often does.
Along with a certain type of flow that DiFabbio’s work shares with Phish, both also do well to allow the observer an ample amount of reflection. This is important because this aspect is in line with the themes that run throughout DiFabbio’s work. The theme I am speaking about most here is one that couples notions of beauty and art with reflection the gaining of some new insight. In the Critique of Judgement, Kant notes just what the beautiful agrees upon. Kant remarks that “[t]he beautiful and the sublime agree on the point of pleasing on their own account. Further they agree in not presupposing either a judgement of sense or one logically determinant, but one of reflection” (Section 23). The beautiful piece of art that we so admire causes us to ponder, think, wonder, and examine the world and ourselves more deeply. This is what the music of Phish has the capacity to do, and also what DiFabbio’s art can do. DiFabbio creates art that is certainly unique, and art that causes one to wonder about the more nuanced versions of life.
What is your role as an artist in the Phish community?
I just like to have fun. Visual communication is nice too.
Do you feel it is adequately possible to translate the artistic essence of Phish into a visual piece? If so, is it challenging?
Personally I find this relatable more in the process of creating rather than a final product. Having said that though my answer is still yes. At the core it’s all about letting go and surrendering to the flow.
I relate to the cartoony and fantasy related things of Phish most. I guess that’s why I’m drawing Gamehendge.
Do you see the hat pins that you make as existing in the same creative space for you as, say, the prints that you do?
Yes and no. I pull from the same creative wells, but in the end there is only so much you can do with a two inch piece of metal.
What is your aesthetic inspiration and desire for fitting so much color and design onto such a small surface?
The first pin that was made from my art was incredibly detailed. At the time I had no concept of the pin world or market. The piece was not created with the translation to metal in mind. We are all still blown away by its reception even years later.
Do you see yourself, at least in part, attempting to deconstruct societal norms with regards to how we view typically “grotesque” material by designing your work in the way that you do?
It wasn’t a necessarily a conscious effort if that is the perception I give. I’m an 80’s kid so I absorbed lots of gore, comics, and television. I would set out to make things as gory as possible and folks would want to tell me about how trippy it was. I can appreciate that.
Do you think your own ideas about beauty are accurately reflected within your artwork?
Art is subjective. So if I said yes, would you see it?