Offices are a recurring theme in Joe Fig’s life, and when you first step into his office, you immediately realize it’s not a typical workplace. And that’s a good thing.

New to academia, Fig brings an artist’s perspective to his job, which he views as a project. Implementing the approach he takes with any new project, at Ringling College he starts by first thinking, then researching, observing, planning, executing, and finally evaluating. After his first semester, he changed the curriculum strengthening the foundation year, opening up the program so students can have more choice and adding more art history. He also realized “I want to give students direct access to world-renowned artists and museum quality work on campus. The visiting artists are vital to our program.”

He aims high, tapping into his art world connections. One of the first guest artists his students met was Will Cotton, a well respected American representational painter. He already has plans for next year to bring Laurie Simmons, Judy Pfaff, and Joan Snyder, artists who are MacArthur Genius Grant winners and already in the history books.

Fig has prodigious expectations of his students. “I think Fine Arts students should be the best painters, sculptors, and draftsmen on campus,” he explains, and he aims to “build a community” with his program. His goals for Fine Arts for the coming year are clear—adding more studio electives, making sculpture and painting mandatory for all of his students, since he supports a varied education, and adding drawing to the curriculum. “I’d like students to get two years of foundation courses in drawing, painting, and sculpture, and then let them go and be flexible.”

With the newly created Visual Studies major, Fig didn’t know what to expect coming in. This hybrid program allows students flexibility and customization of their degrees. He states his biggest surprise has been to realize how strong the program grew to be just within its first year. Fig believes that “success for all individuals is a combination of talent, persistence, ethics, and some luck. Fundamentally, they have to work really hard at it.” He looks forward to this spring when he will see his first graduating class in both programs.

As his inaugural year comes to a close, Joe Fig has every right to feel proud. He has accomplished a tremendous amount of expansion and growth in his emerging programs. Perhaps his biggest challenge in this coming year of development will be to live by his own words, “As life gets more complicated, it’s nice to simplify.” Fig doesn’t seem the type to slow down, and Ringling College is a busy place, or as Dr. Thompson says, “On the move.” But he always has a reprieve waiting for him in the Keating Faculty Center, when he returns to his office in his own space that truly reflects the man, where he is immersed in music, art, and all of the work in progress and designs the future of his programs.

Our newest department head is doubly busy leading two programs, Fine Arts and Visual Studies, so organization is critical. Fig’s office is neat and tidy, but make no mistake, it is the office of an artist. More like a studio, jazz fills the room. It contains art books, including those he has authored, artwork created by him and some by others, and he displays unfinished pieces. He is a promoter of process, something too often undervalued these days, when we rarely want to share anything less than perfect and complete. Fig believes an office is static, whereas a studio is emergent, and the analogy is evident. Joe Fig is emergent.

Having earned a BFA and MFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York, Fig has a varied and impressive body of work, consisting of paintings, photographs, sculpture, video, and drawings. He also has an impressive number of national and international exhibitions, including 30 solo shows and over 50 collaborative exhibitions. His most recent show, “Mondo Combo,” was held at the Ringling College William G. and Marie Selby Foundation Gallery, and featured the works of Fig and department head for Illustration Scott Gordley, which opened to high praise. When asked about his first Ringling College exhibition, Fig was affirming. “I was very pleased to share an exhibition with Scott Gordley. I like Scott and I believe it is very important for departments to collaborate with each other and not be so siloed. I also think it’s important for students to see that collaboration. It creates an opportunity to show Illustration students what Fine Arts could be and vice versa.”

Growing up in Long Island, Fig was in tune with his surroundings, and was deeply curious about people, whether his dentist, other artists, or the local grave digger. He has always been fascinated by the intimate details found in spaces, particularly workspaces. Highly observant, Fig found inspiration surrounded him when he worked part time helping his brother-in-law clean office buildings. People’s cubicles were interesting, and he paid particular attention to their “stuff” and what it represented. Strewn papers, family photos, and overflowing ash trays all gave insight into the inner workings of these strangers. Fig would wonder if their spaces reflected who they are, and he’d inevitably make up stories about the cubicle occupants. Attention to these small but intimate details would become the catalyst for Fig’s future projects/books, Inside the Painter’s Studio and Inside the Artist’s Studio (Princeton Architectural Press).

By Lisa Moody | Photography by Matthew Holler ’11
Lisa Moody is an award-winning writer and executive producer. For Ringling College, she serves as Interim Director for Communication Strategies, Director of All Ringling Television Network (ART Network), and adjunct faculty.