by Bob White
I love flies and collect them like some people collect stamps.
Illustrations courtesy of John Piacquadio
I’m told that the best flies are those tied by craftsmen who are capable of producing “cookie cutter” work, each fly an exact copy of the one tied before it. While I admire the focus and facility of production tiers, I prefer to collect (and fish) flies with the slight and subtle nuances that only an artist can produce. This is also what I appreciate in art.
I greatly admire the intuitive ink paintings of John Piacquadio, and I collect both his flies and his renderings of them. John has an unusual last name, so allow me to help; it’s pronounced “Pee-ah-kwa-dee-o.”
Piacquadio began painting flies following an all-day tying session, after which he knew one particular fly rather intimately. He knew what insect it imitated, each layer of material used in its construction, even a basic knowledge of the animals that contributed the materials. With this realization, he attempted to render the spirit of the fly with just a few spontaneous brush strokes.
Piacquadio says that he always has appreciated the look, technique and freedom of the sumi-e tradition—Japanese gestural brush painting with ink. In the sumi-e tradition artists attempt to convey the spirit of their subjects with an impression created from minimal brush strokes, unconcerned with color or photorealism.
“Painting in this style seemed to resonate with my artistic vision and intent,” Piacquadio said. “I have zero training in sumi-e, so I can’t say I’m some Zen brush painter. More importantly, I want to stay away from being trained in this tradition. I’ve always had an affinity for folk artists who are untrained and produce work with little outside influence. Obviously, I’m not a folk artist, but I enjoy making art that can be recognized as mine and in my own personal style.”
Piacquadio grew up in the Bronx and fondly remembers annual fishing trips to the Jersey Shore with his father. “We’d fish for bluefish and shark, and I became obsessed,” he said. “When I was 12, we moved to Connecticut, and I fished the local ponds and lakes. I bought a cheap fly rod and taught myself to cast. Eventually I ventured into trout fishing on the Norwalk and Housatonic rivers. I finally caught some native brook trout behind my high school in a tiny creek.”
During high school his artwork reflected a passion for fish and their environs. In college, however, he was given the impression that serious art must follow strict New York expectations. “I became indoctrinated,” he said. “I got into installation art—duct tape, crucifixes, pill bottles and baby doll heads. I ran with that for a decade until I became comfortable with myself and who I am.”
In 2010 a move to Minnesota provided Piacquadio with more fly-fishing opportunities than he’d ever had. Living close to the Mississippi River, he began to fish three or four times per week.
“It was in Minneapolis that I started to live fly-fishing . . . and expressing that in my artwork,” he said. “I think of my current work as a spiritual exploration in my understanding of flies.”