Victor Pesce

Shopping Bag on the Floor, 2007, oil on canvas, 30 x 24 inches

Pesce: Plumbing and Painting


Victor Pesce (1938-2010) was the child of Southern Italian immigrants, Sandro Pesce and Ada Malpezzi, who settled in Flushing, Queens. In his New York Times obituary, written by Roberta Smith, we learn that members of his mother’s family were painters in the town of Campotosto, in the Abruzzi, where they created public murals in such spaces as a local post office and train station.


Despite his own inclination to paint, Pesce was expected to follow his father into the family plumbing business. He did. But like so many artists with a day job, he also followed his true calling. He studied art and then set up his studio. “He enrolled in New York University, where he earned a degree in art education; a course taken with the painter Milton Resnick was especially influential,” writes Smith.


Pesce’s father was less than pleased. The gallerist Elizabeth Harris, to whom he was married for almost 30 years until his passing, says, “His relationship with his father was the main drama of his life. I remember visiting his parents with him, I think it was a Christmas dinner, when his father said, ‘If you had taken over the business you wouldn’t be a bum the way you are now.’”


The “bum” created a large body of work that focused on spare but unsparing portraits and modestly sized still lifes, reductive in their geometric composition, with a somber if pleasingly idiosyncratic palette. Of the still lifes, Smith made the inevitable comparison to the formal quietude of Giorgio Morandi. Harris notes that early in Pesce’s career “his main influence was Cezanne” and only as a mature painter did the influence of Morandi creep into his work. You might also see a kinship to Italian metaphysical painting, which offers the dreamlike, sometimes unsettling juxtapositions of objects, but Pesce’s painting is immediately recognizable for his own unique vision


Pesce worked in a light-filled studio attached to the home in Sharon, Connecticut, that he and Harris had built. “He painted there the last 28 years of his life. He loved it up there,” says Harris. The studio was attached to the house, “the way in some Italian country houses the barn is attached.” She notes that the studio opened on to grass, trees, and sky—“almost two acres. He had a really beautiful view of the hills.”


Whatever disappointment Pesce’s career choice held for his father, Harris says, “He was adored by his mother.”


City of One (in memory of Milton Resnick), 2006, oil on canvas, 36 x 27 inches

Shake Up, 2005, oil on canvas, 14 x 10 inches

Images courtesy of Elizabeth Harris Gallery 

Victor Pesce

Photo: Greg Lindquist

Self Portrait, 2004, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches