14 questions for local artist Joe Devinny

Joe Devinny

Joe Devinny


Cory Bilicko
Managing Editor


In 100 words or less, what do you do as an artist?

I am a woodturner. I use a lathe and hand tools to shape wood to make bowls, vases, necklace pendants and other works of art. I strive to combine the natural beauty of wood grain and color with innovative design to make aesthetically pleasing and visually challenging pieces.

What motivates you to create art?
I just enjoy doing it. It’s fun creating the designs– and in woodturning, this is often a double challenge, because the artist must must come up with something that is aesthetically pleasing but must also imagine the technical process that will work to produce that result. Then, I enjoy making it. The feel of the tools, the working of the lathe, and finally, seeing the design succesfully realized are very satisfying.

How has your practice changed over time?

Woodturning does require learning and practicing a lot of technique. I am still expanding the range and quality of what I can do.

Untitled–  cypress

Untitled– cypress

Do you ever get artist’s block? If so, how do you combat it?
Most of the time, I have three or four ideas in mind and feel anxious to get a chance to work on them, rather than the opposite. But if I do have trouble coming up with something, I can revert for a while to routine work like making wine-bottle stoppers. This gets me going again.

What do you think your life would be like if, for some reason, you could no longer create art?

Woodturning has become my most valued activity since I retired a few years ago. I’m not sure how else I would spend my time without it.

What role does the artist have in society?

I can’t claim that woodturning has a great influence as social or political commentary. I primarily aim to give people the pleasure of seeing and having something beautiful or intriguing. But perhaps seeing such things made of wood will remind them of the value of natural materials.

How do you feel when people ask you to explain the meaning of your art?

I don’t get that question much, but people sometimes ask, “What is it?” or “What is it for?” I just tell them it is just to be looked at and enjoyed. Usually such people are a lost cause.

Have you ever been banned or censored to any degree as an artist? If so, how did you react? If not, how do you think you would react in that situation?
No, I haven’t been. It’s a little hard to imagine with work of this kind.

Does your artistic life ever get lonely? If so, what do you do to counteract it?
I do work alone, but I don’t mind it. I am a member of the El Camino Woodturners Guild. We meet once a month for discussions and demonstrations. I am also a member of The Artists’ Studio cooperative gallery in Palos Verdes. I help staff the gallery and attend meetings, and so I have a lot of interaction with other artists.

Untitled– maple, cypress, and glass

Untitled– maple, cypress, and glass



What do you hope to achieve with your art?

I hope that the work will give people some pleasure.

What are one or two primary areas of fear for you as an artist?
I worry that no one will like it. Even though I have sold more than a hundred pieces by now, I still wonder whether the one I have just made will catch someone’s eye. I can never anticipate which ones will sell right away and which will not.

What are one or two factors that, when they’re in place, enable you to really flourish artistically?
A nice piece of wood.

What jobs have you had other than being an artist?

For 35 years, I was professor of Environmental Engineering at USC. I have been retired for about three years.

What’s your favorite color?

The color of wood.

Devinny will be one of the artists participating in the Long Beach Open Studio Tour on Saturday, Oct. 12 and Sunday, Oct. 13. For more information, visit lbopenstudiotour.com . To see more of Devinny’s work, visit facebook.com/DevinnyArts .

Imitating Life

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