They say artists are born, not made, but in the case of Joseph Craig English, it seems that both would be applicable. Even before he was born, his mother channeled a bit of soothsayer-ness and predicted her son would be an artist.
Ever since he was old enough to hold a paint brush, he was encouraged to paint, and showed signs early on that he had the “gift.”
“I think it was almost innate. When I was a kid, my mom would provide me with paints and colored pencils and lots of paper and encourage me to paint and draw, rather than play with other toys,” English says. “From the very beginning it was something that I just loved doing.”
His work back then featured lots of bright colors and energy, and if you happened to see the beautifully painted cover of Viva Reston last month (available at www.vivareston.com), you know that those descriptions still define his work to this day.
English credits his 10th grade art teacher with introducing him to silkscreen printmaking, a move that would change his artistic direction. Inspired by the intense color and flat finish of the inks, he delved into the medium and quickly found his voice.
“It feeds your soul,” he says. “The creative to me is a connection with a maker. I see God as the ultimate creative entity. If you believe in something like that, then you believe we were made in his image. And to me, that means that I have inherited some of the creative nature of God. That ties me into the whole creation and I feel that connection in my art.”
By 1972, English was utilizing the craft both as a designer for an ad agency in Washington, D.C., and as part of his burgeoning art career at night. Eventually, English was doing well enough as an artist to quit his day job and concentrate on painting and making his silkscreen prints full-time.
“I didn’t like the job because there was a lot of in-fighting at the agency and the atmosphere was very stressful and I had already started making prints and taking my work out on the street and selling a lot of artwork,” he says. “I was making respectable money, and I had enough saved to go out full-time as an artist, and I never looked back.”
He displayed his artwork at art festivals throughout the DC Metro area, and also around the country, finding a nice following and huge customer base. That led to his being approached by art galleries and being commissioned by art enthusiasts for new work. The focus of his work is often the things that people see every day but so often take for granted.
When English and his wife moved to Washington Grove, MD, in 1975, he immediately went to work on creating his own studio—something that has grown through the years. By the early 1990’s, he had the roof taken off the studio and added a huge second floor studio in an attempt to accommodate some of the new projects being created.
Many of those were sculptures, something he developed a newfound interest in after being offered a job to do a mural at a health club, only to learn there was no space to put one because of the mirrored walls.
“I could see in my mind the money slipping away, so I said, ‘you have these beautiful high ceilings, why don’t I build a mobile that could hang from the ceiling,’” English says. Even though he hadn’t done something like that before, he sketched out some shots, convinced the owner he could get it done, and created an amazing piece.
That led to a period where English did mobiles for a while, until he morphed into bigger free-standing sculptures.
“The problem with sculpting is that if you want to sculpt in monumental size, like I do, the opportunities are few and far between,” he says. “I’ve done a number of pieces that I have really enjoyed.”
The Giant Food Corporation commissioned a group of freestanding figures that were crafted of steel plate, painted in bright colors and erected at one of the busiest intersections in Montgomery County; then Bethesda Community Baseball asked for a 10-foot high stainless steel sculpture of Walter Johnson, the Washington Senators’ baseball great; and he recently installed a stainless-steel Mercedes Benz at the new showroom of Euro Motors in Bethesda.
“It’s still a very tiny percentage of what I do. Most of what I do is silk screen print making; that’s my primary love and the thing I am best known for,” he says. “I’ve been in business for 45 years and I’m always accessible. I believe art should be for everybody and I’ve built my whole career on that.”
For more information or to view some of English’s work, visit www.josephcraigenglish.com.