There is gravitas to Jeffrey Tocci’s work, but it is underpinned with humor, sometimes you cannot help but chuckle. The Heap is a portrait of a monkey sat atop of pile of rubble, holding a hefty crowbar, with flies and scavenger birds off in the distance. It has the feel of a renaissance portrait of a king on his throne, with courtiers fawning in the background. The monkey is strong and comfortable in his role, and wisdom shines through his eyes. He has a canny understanding of the irony and the capricious nature of his situation. He knows that he may be challenged at any moment and he needs to keep his underlings in check. He is a boss comfortable in his power, but always alert for treachery and betrayal. A passing youth, looked at the image, shook his head and said, “What a badass!”
Tocci is a dedicated artist. He has been drawing and painting since he was a young child, growing up in the Adirondacks along the Hudson River, in a paper mill town called Glen Falls. He recounts that the area has “lots of indigenous people’s history, ugly battles, rocky soil up in the mountains so growing crops was a joke.” The area was originally inhabited by the indigenous Iroquois, who… “called the area Chepontuc, difficult to get around…some existential wit from the original inhabitants.” He appears to have absorbed this wry sense of humor through the ages of those who have gone before him.
When asked why he is an artist, he quotes Kurt Vonnegut’s words, “It’s a very human way to make life more bearable. It may sound bleak or dramatic, but in reality, we are constantly confronted with good, bad and ugly forms of chaos every time our feet hit the floor in the morning. Everything comes in through the senses and then where does it go? So, creating a daily sense of order from scratch, and presenting it in an attractive way has always felt like a very good use of my attention.”
The Arts Students League of New York was where Tocci grew up as an artist under the mentorship of Robert Cenedella, the renowned artist of satirical, social commentary, who himself was taught and mentored by George Grosz , the artist known for his caricature of bourgeois citizens in Berlin in the 1920s—another example of his connection to those who came before him, specializing in humor.
He is a keen observer of life, both human and animal, and he is very talented at reproducing their form. His personal expertise is in imbuing these characters and the landscape in which they exist with political, social and emotional resonance. His humor is subtle and nuanced. It isn’t about making a joke, but providing a reminder of the ironies of life. Gallery&Studio’s own founder, Ed McCormack, called Tocci’s work Social Realism. Tocci himself has created a new genre just to explain what he does. He calls himself a “Nounist”—someone motivated and inspired by nouns. “People, places, things, ideas and actions inspire me to no end.”
Over the last few years, Tocci has been splitting his time between New York City and the printmaking capital of Latin America, Oaxaca, Mexico. It is a city full of likeminded working artists, creating a wonderfully collaborative and supportive artistic environment. It is a more expansive, relaxed and nurturing version of the cafés and salons of Paris in the 1920s, or the 10th Street Galleries and Max’s Kansas City of New York in the 1950s-60s.
In conjunction with Print Master Marco Velasco, of Espacio Pino Suárez, Tocci has been working on a collection of etchings and aquatint prints which are being put together as a book called Animales, to be published later in 2023. It is his version of the origins of life starting with a sea sponge. As the title suggests, the images are of both animals and humans, all evoking humanistic emotions and situations, with Tocci’s brand of wit and satire. He hopes that by making his art available as a book, he will be able to reach a broader audience.
Jeff Tocci’s work shows his exceptional talents as an artist and his humanity makes his art live. His is modest but very dedicated in his pursuit of “being busy” in the arts. The passing youth said, “He’s a cool dude.” G&S
Animales Limited Edition hardcover may be pre-ordered, jefftocci.com