Doing the Hustle
Jose Di Gregorio works hard to make art
By Jessica Laskey
Artist Jose Di Gregorio is a big fan of the h-word: hustle. The Puerto Rico native uses hustle in every aspect of his daily life—as an artist, a father of two girls, a resident of Warehouse Artist Lofts on R Street and a member of Hacker Lab, a maker and coworking space.
“With art, you don’t ever clock out,” says Di Gregorio. “I can’t not do it—it becomes so innate.”
Di Gregorio, who moved to California at age 4, didn’t intend to become an artist. A skateboarding and snowboarding aficionado, he was more sports oriented until a ruptured Achilles tendon at age 25 sidelined him.
Out of boredom, Di Gregorio started to draw and write poetry. That led to a fascination with film and photography.
Before he knew it, he was earning a bachelor’s degree at Herron School of Art & Design at Indiana University-Purdue University.
“I never took school seriously as a kid,” Di Gregorio says. “But when I not only got into art school but also received scholarships and grants, I started to evolve.”
In 2004, Di Gregorio was accepted to a summer program at the Pont-Aven School of Contemporary Art in France. Traveling around Europe and taking in the art at landmarks like the Louvre, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel caused him to consider just what kind of art he wanted to make.
“I started with figurative because I had the technical skills to render a figure with accuracy,” Di Gregorio says. “But seeing all the art throughout Europe made me realize that I didn’t really have an aesthetic that I truly believed in. I started doing nonrepresentational line work and drip paintings—more organic and curvilinear in nature. I loved the process of seeing the paint move around.”
After finishing school in 2006, Di Gregorio moved back to California and continued to work on his newfound medium. When traveling with large-scale drip paintings became difficult, he scaled back to drawing, creating mock landscapes with “crudely drawn rainbow lines.” From there, he started to focus on the lines themselves, creating technically accurate patterns that look like the geometry of a computer program but are done completely freehand.
Di Gregorio’s use of clear, crisp measurements to make his paintings look even more mechanical caught the eye of Hacker Lab co-founder Eric Ullrich.
“Eric said, ‘You create this rad work. Let’s see how that translates from paint markers and wood panels to acrylic plastic and laser cuts,’” Di Gregorio recalls. He started a residency at Hacker Lab around the same time he became one of the first residents of WAL, the subsidized artist apartment complex completed in 2015. “I’m taking my images a step further now in mechanical renderings of my work. I put an image of my work into Photoshop, then create a vector file, then I laser cut that. That’s what’s so incredible about Hacker Lab: It gives you access to all of these amazing tools.”
Di Gregorio also paints murals. He participated in last year’s Sacramento mural festival, Wide Open Walls, painting a wall outside Beatnik Studios. And in 2016, he helped out on a mural by Portuguese artist Add Fuel (Diogo Machado) on the east wall of Faces nightclub on K Street.
“I pride myself on my versatility,” Di Gregorio says. “I try to schedule time for a little bit of everything. If a project comes up, I take it.”
The 44-year-old artist is preparing for several big projects this spring, including shows at First Amendment Gallery in San Francisco and Anohaao Gallery in Goteborg, Sweden; a show and mural workshop in Helsinki, Finland; and a show and mural in Cleveland, Ohio. Add to that commissions and plenty of projects in process and you can tell why Di Gregorio is such a fan of the h-word.
“I’m really fortunate to be in a place where I can sustain myself just enough to work on my next project,” Di Gregorio says. “It’s fantastic for my daughters to see the inner workings of everything—to see what it takes to sustain yourself. If you fail, keep going. You do what you gotta do. Art encompasses everything I do and who I am.”
To see more of Jose Di Gregorio’s work, visit josedigregorio.com.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.