Though they live hundreds of miles apart, Vito DeVito and his brother Joe are kindred spirits. Both men are artists (left handed incidentally) who have had stellar careers in their respective fields. But their artistic styles couldn’t be more divergent. While Vito has found his calling in sporting and wildlife art — he’s created legendary images for Ducks Unlimited, Safari Club International and The International Game Fish Association — Joe’s artistic successes lie in the realm of science fiction, fantasy and comic book graphic art (he designed several covers for MAD Magazine, including the last cover of the 20th century).
This weekend, Vito and Joe DeVito will join forces in “Brothers in Art: A 25 Year Retrospective” at Ashawagh Hall. This show represents the first time that the brothers have shared a venue and on view will be a diverse assortment of work covering the last quarter century of both careers.
“Vito and I have been influencing each other our whole lives, and this is first time we’ve had a show,” says Joe.
“That’s why we’re doing the show,” says Vito. “Something like this is good for brothers. Though our studios are distant, we still talk on the phone on a daily basis and collaborate on a number of levels.”
The story of the DeVito brothers began more than 50 years ago on Manhattan’s west side in the family’s brownstone in Hell’s Kitchen. Despite their mutual talent for art, Joe, who is seven years younger than Vito, maintains there was virtually no sibling rivalry between them growing up.
“I consider myself very lucky,” says Joe. “Vito was my idol. When you’re a little kid, seven years is a big difference and any question I had, he had the answer to.”
“Half of my artistic training was actually going into his room and copying his drawings when he was at school,” admits Joe. “He was doing a lot of everything. I used to make sure I was sick a lot.”
“After a while he was getting sloppy, so I knew he was in there,” says Vito. “Sometimes I’d take my good pencils and put them in boxes and hide them. I wrote on one of them, ‘Joe, if you find this I’m going to know and I’m going to get you.’”
“I still have that box,” laughs Joe.
“If I was in his shoes I’d do the same,” says Vito.
During those “sick-outs” young Joe also spent a lot of time watching the Million Dollar Movie over and over again on channel 9 particularly “King Kong.” With the Empire State Building only blocks away, the giant ape and the scene of his demise became very much a part of Joe’s psyche.
“The thing about ‘King Kong,’ it was a different world,” he adds. “Fifty years ago, there were no special effects. A movie like ‘King Kong’ blew my mind.”
In fact, in the 2004 illustrated novel “Kong: King of Skull Island” Joe and co-writer Brad Strickland explore what happened to Kong and his owner 25 years after he fell from the Empire State Building. The book has been adapted into a screenplay with the film now in pre-production.
“Vito was into the monster magazines and comic books,” says Joe. “They were the best. That formed us. Vito was the first to sit me down to watch ‘King Kong.’”
While Joe was busy studying comic books and old movies as a child, Vito was out exploring the natural world in Manhattan.
“Even in New York City, he’d bring fish home that he caught in the ponds in Central Park,” says Joe.
“My mom would jump at the sight of a squirrel,” adds Vito. “I’d put carp the size of my leg in the bathtub.”
“I always liked the figure,” says Vito, who’s first recognition as an artist came for a drawing of the Madonna and child he entered in a Catholic school art competition as a student. “The figurative side of both our careers has always been there. I started out doing portraits and life size commission busts.”
Both brothers have also crossed over into sculpting market. Joe, a big fan of Michelangelo and DaVinci, recently had the opportunity to branch out into what is known as the sacred arts with his own version of the Madonna and child.
“I always had a desire to do monumental work like that,” says Joe. “I got my chance with a two times life size Madonna and child statue for the Blue Army Shrine in Washington, N.J.”
Joe explains that Blue Army Shrines are located around the world and are extensions of the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Portugal. In order to be approved, the design for the sculpture had to be presented at the international meeting in Portugal.
“They loved it so much they wanted one there too,” says Joe. “It’s an eight foot tall seated figure — if Mary were to stand up she’d be 11 feet tall.”
“It’s quite a dichotomy,” says Vito of his brother’s work. “MAD Magazine to sacred art.”
Vito recently finished his first two bronzes, “Right in Season,” a sculpture of three stripped bass feeding underwater and another featuring three Canadian geese in the wild.
“The medium is prohibitive cost wise, time wise and sales wise,” says Vito. “When I went back into New York I picked a gallery with a bronze background and international clients. I needed a good basis to fund sculpting. It’s allowed me to do these first two bronzes. I started as figurative sculptor, but since I’ve been doing sporting art for the last 15 years, I started doing nature oriented sculpture.”
“I’d love to work on monumental pieces together,” says Vito, envisioning another partnership with his brother.
Because of the wide ranging interests of Vito and Joe, visitors to their Ashawagh Hall show can expect to see an equally diverse collection of work.
“It’s that wide spectrum that the show’s going to have,” says Vito. “We will have a lot of fun, and there’s a lot of art we can pick from.”
“It’s not your usual art show where there’s a theme,” says Joe. “This will be a range of stuff — very esoteric and we hope very engaging.”
“It’s 25 years of professional work,” says Vito. “It covers a lot of subject matter.”
“Concerning our show, we approach art as Art – with a capital A,” adds Joe. “Generally speaking, people try to subdivide it by genre — fine art, sculpture, printmaking. Even for artists, but certainly for the lay person, it’s easier to latch onto that way.”
“But Art with an A is an intimidating thing because it’s infinite,” he adds. “Just because an artist is a fine artist or a sculptor, it does not negate the other ways of expressing creativity. We go and do the things we do because we love them.”
“I’ve always done the things that have fascinated me,” he says. “You have to be true to yourself.”
And when it comes right down to it, though accolades may come and accolades may go, for these artists, there’s nothing like receiving a little pat on the back from family.
“Nothing beats having a show with your older brother,” says Joe. “You can meet all the famous people in the world but it ain’t the same as getting a nod of approval from your older brother.”
“Vito and Joe DeVito — Brothers In Art: 25 Year Retrospective” runs Friday, October 17 through Sunday, October 26, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at Ashawagh Hall on Springs Fireplace Road, East Hampton. An opening reception will be held on Saturday, October 18 from 5 to 8 p.m.Â Â
Above: Vito DeVito’s painting “Trolling for Stripers”