The New Masters: Fillipo Ioco and Mark Rothko—So Close, yet so Far Away

Persian Whispers – Acrylic on Canvas – 35.5 x 63 inches

The word “inspiration” has many meanings to many different people: to some, it is a beacon of creativity, while to others, it is an accusation of unoriginality. To Sicilian-born artist Filipo Ioco, it is his own life and travels that make his work his own, regardless of similarity to anyone else.

Ioco emigrated to the United States from Switzerland when he was just a child. Immediately placed into a school taught in a language he didn’t yet understand, he was left alone. Before being rescued by a relative eventually stepping in and pairing him with a bilingual private teacher, illustration was Ioco’s only method of communication with the world around him.

“I would sit in the classroom and kind of draw all day—it stuck with me throughout my life,” the artist told me.

Ioco eventually went to school for graphic design, but found it to be monotonous and sterile. It was too precise and rigid, and all he wanted to do was experiment with painting. He simply didn’t know where to start; that is, until a friend put a canvas and a bucket of acrylic paint in front of him and told him to just paint. That was the beginning of who we now know as Filipo Ioco, fine artist.

Tropic Showers – Acrylic on Canvas – 60 x 48 inches

Ioco’s fine-art style is very distinct: large blocks of colors and textures of various opacities, moving freely and blending seamlessly throughout the canvas. The raw emotion that emanates from the vibrant hues may remind some viewers of an artist that came before Mr. Ioco: Mark Rothko.

“A little history with Rothko—as a young artist, I was trying to find my own style of painting. I started painting in this Rothko style, and I really fell in love with it. One day I was in the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art), and I walked into this room, and there were all these paintings on the wall that looked just like mine. That broke me. I thought I had found my own style that I was so proud of, and here I am in a museum with all these paintings that look like mine.”

Caribbean Breeze II – Mixed Media on Canvas – 71 x 48 inches

Ioco went to check out Rothko’s book, Works on Paper, and instantly felt his anger dissipate as a connection crept in.

“I thought I was him reincarnated. His whole concept of painting was exactly the same as mine. You can say that Mark Rothko is more of an inspiration rather than a blueprint. My work has more layering and texture than his work because he worked in oils on paper, and I work in acrylic wash on canvas. I also work with powdered pigments, etc.. That’s how I get these layers and these cool textures that in a photo, you may not be able to see– but in person the difference is clearly there. My work stands on its own.”

And stand-alone it does. Ioco’s method is one-of-a-kind. He doesn’t set boundries for himself with just traditional materials and methods. On his work, Once Upon a Sunset, “When I was painting Upon a Sunset, I kept getting stuck. So then I changed it, but I kept getting stuck. I took a hose and sprayed it down, and there it was.” Ioco listens to the piece, and it tells him when it is finished.

When asked if the Rothko comparisons upset him, Ioco responded:
“It doesn’t bother me because when I came up with this style, I had no idea who he was. We

didn’t have access to the information that we have today that would make it easy to come across his

work. That’s why when I saw his exhibition, it destroyed my world, but when I read his book, I realized that the same reason he painted the way he did was the same reason I painted the way I do.”

One of the most interesting aspects of Ioco’s story is that, when Ioco finally had his first solo show following Rothko’s death, Rothko’s artwork was all over the world. His children were in the throes of a major lawsuit versus everyone who had purchased their father’s artwork. The relatives of the second lawyer who was working on the lawsuit happened to walk into the gallery where he was having his first solo show. The family members were very excited that his work looked like Rothkos. At around 22, Ioco was tired of having art shows where people would come in, have some refreshments, glance at the paintings, leave, and forget what they saw. It got him thinking: What can I do to impact people?

Orange Delight – Mixed Media on Canvas – 71 x 48 inches

“That’s when I started thinking about body painting,” Ioco told me, “Fine art got pushed back.” He then started to explore the art of body painting, and a new door opened up for him. Ioco has lived all over the world, allowing the world around him to develop his work in both fine art and body painting.

“It hasn’t really inspired my work—it’s inspired my life. For me, NYC was always my paradise island. I moved to NYC and after living there for a couple years, I went to Miami.” Ioco then moved back to NYC, and got into his work again, freshly inspired. He then moved to Puerto Rico, and when he got there, it was so pastel and bright and vibrant that when he returned to NYC he felt out of place. The stark contrast of vivid P.R versus the grit of NYC made him feel almost out of place. Through body painting, he’s seen the world. He’s lived in three countries and seven cities. He then fell into published art (wall décor, home art, etc..) and that skyrocketed. Published art and body painting became his life, and he has fully immersed himself in that. Ioco is now known as one of the most famous body painters in the world, using his fine art background to bring new life to the art of the living canvas.

Underneath The Deep Blue Sea – Mixed Media on Canvas – 63 x 55 inches

I asked Mr. Ioco about where he thinks the future of art is going, and if the current genres and styles are all going to go in a loop just as fashion and everything else eventually does.

“Oh definitely. First of all, that’s what makes the world go round. It’s not just in the art industry- its everything. There is no more originality. That’s why those artists became so big: it wasn’t so saturated as it is now. And now it’s even more saturated because anyone can be an artist or a photographer. The photography industry has been destroyed. I’m so afraid that people that paint are going to be dinosaurs. Traditional will always be held in high regard—it’s always original. When you’re painting with a paintbrush, it’s not the same as when you’re doing digital art.”

To thank the world around him for being the lifeforce behind his work, Ioco gives back to the communities that inspire him. Ioco donates many of his works to silent auctions for charity organizations and does his own events for breast cancer, wounded troops, abused women and children, children with HIV/Aids, facial deformities, etc…