Sadly, I learned on the 26th of the unexpected passing of my portrait professor, Joe Funaro on Christmas Eve. I was asked by my painting teacher Robert Zappalorti to write a few words for his ceremony.
I came to Paier College in 1983 hoping to learn how to paint and perhaps make a living at it. This is nothing out of the ordinary other that I DID learn how to paint and I AM making a living doing it. Not only am I an illustrator, but I am known for my portraits.
The Paier College I attended was a GREAT experience. These instructors knew each other and in many cases were taught by each other. Bob Zappalorti, my first painting teacher and good friend still had a bit of that 'kid' in him in the mid eighties, but he shared stories of the kind of instructors he had as a Paier student. Of course they sounded far more demanding than any we had, all except for Joseph Funaro.
Joe was the real thing. He was a super serious and focused man and one of few words. To have had years of portrait classes under him is one of my life's great fortunes. He taught me the human from the inside out and then how to see it's varied colors. He did this with very few words.
I recall a typical interaction as this:
Joe standing behind me as I pushed paint around and tried to render my way forward on a portrait. He would then move to my shoulder and 'assume' my brush and turn my canvas over as I stepped aside. He would dip my muddy brush into the pool of equally muddy paint and draw a circle, then a jaw, then eye sockets and so on and so on. NO words were spoken but he would do a very basic drawing, tell you why he did it in one sentence, hand you the brush, and walk on. This may sound cruel, but it's not. It's actually very respectful of the student. He assumes you KNOW why you were going wrong and that this basic knowledge is just that important. For a hot shot like me, these lessons sunk in. I was determined not to have that happen again. They did and sadly would still to this day if he had access to my studio.
Joe Funaro taught me how to think of a portrait and his lessons provide me with great comfort as I teach my course at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, figurative illustration. With that course, I am allowed to do whatever I want.
After one or two weeks of life drawing I move on quickly to paint and then onto primarily portraits. Every week for six hours I am Joe Funaro, but with way more words and probably half as scary.
This is the highlight of my week.
Joe was an amazing painter and a powerful influence on my life and career.
My thoughts and condolences go out to his wife and family, both at his home and at Paier.