My favorite piece in the recent Brucennial was veteran Philadelphia conceptual artist Vince Romaniello's supersized, freestanding sketchbook. Vince is 58 and also has an elegant blog called Romanblog. I knew him well when he lived across from Naomi Campbell in the American Thread Building in Tribeca with his gorgeous wife Lisa, longtime Democratic county commissioner in Pennsylvania, where they moved in 1994.
I have seen Vince a couple of times in the last two decades and took his Brucennial success as an opportunity to visit his Grant Street studio in Williamsburg last month. He takes the train from Philly twice a week to Penn Station to work and photograph New York exhibitions for his gentle blog. "These sketchbooks are sturdier than they look, Charlie," Vince offered, "I use an industrial hole puncher and reinforce the large holes with gorilla tape which I conceal with paint so the sketches won't tear."
Vince is a working-class lefty, remobilized by the OWS movement and by his wife's long struggle as the Democratic chief of a county commission loaded with Republicans. Lisa actually defeated MSNBC liberal pundit Chris Matthews' GOP brother (who knew? blood was thicker than politics as Matthews actively campaigned for his right-wing sibling) in a bitter re-election fight two years ago.
Hence, Romaniello's images are focused on restoring the union movement, including a large edition of a pink slip to symbolize layoffs and joblessness which he sells for $100 donations to Philly workers' rights groups. Vince is a peaceful guy who often gives me shit for antagonizing others, but one of his Brucennial sketches, Judas in Dante's Ninth Circle of Hell, is a bitter attack on two rival Philly bloggers and a local curator who Vince feels have shut him out of the Pennsy scene.
He also circulates a six-foot-tall pine tree silhouette dashboard air freshener as a pop-up installation at union halls, a symbol of clean politics against the stink of big money. I wish I had Vince's energy and unalloyed faith that progressive rights will triumph. In the mean time, you can follow Romaniello's many show appearances, done on a tight budget with few sales, on his Romanblog.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).