Arts & Culture » 1st Thursday

Make Art, Not War

A look at Giueseppe Saitta


"I guess I'm one of those people you might describe as a creative type," says Italian-born, New York City-raised artist Giuseppe Saitta as he sips coffee from a ceramic mug (he prefers to save paper whenever possible). At his feet sits his white motorcycle helmet—dent-free but noticeably scratched along the top—which, he explains, is the same vintage as his Italian motorcycle, a 1969 Moto Guzzi that he bought in New York City in 1970. Shortly thereafter, Saitta took two months to ride it to California with his now ex-wife, a rather proper Boston woman who, he says, married him for his sense of adventure.

That cliche, however, hardly describes Saitta's habit of collating his life experience and processing it into some creative medium or other. Artistically, Saitta better represents an entire creative system that's part traveling peacenik, part philosopher king and very much jack-of-all-artistic-media. A photographer by trade, videographer by education and painter, sculptor and architect out of curiosity, Saitta is fond of saying things like his proclivity to indulge in various media is "like a smorgasbord of creative endeavor," and that his arrival as an artist was a slow evolution that is an "interesting dialectic between utter boredom and absolutely ecstatic innovation."

Since moving to Boise in 1995, Saitta has focused professionally on Alpha Image, a video, film, photography and production house he established, and has shown his creative work at a list of locations that includes Flying M Coffeehouse, Prints Plus and Five Rivers Fine Art Gallery. Last month, the owners of cafe and wine bar Piazza di Vino permanently dedicated their second-floor gallery to Saitta's work, renaming it Galleria Saitta and housing a rotating collection that ranges from provocative photography to published magazine covers and vibrant giclees to the functional art of eclectic furniture.

However, what Saitta is able to hang on a wall is but a fraction of what he produces creatively. A keen interest in world peace led him to establish the Boise Institute of Irenology dedicated to the study of peace. He's designed a geodesic dome housing three buildings that he hopes will one day be home to Boise's peace institute, as well as a large public square with a maze—which he describes as "sacred centers for processing your own inner self"—on either end, one representing the female experience in life and the other the male perspective. In addition to a penchant for architectural photography (which has recently taken him to Austin, Texas), Saitta has an entire volume of unpublished poetry and plans, in the near future, to focus on travel writing and travel photography.

"Each one of the media in which I find a use of expression is like a lover," says Saitta. "For me, photography, filmmaking, painting, sculpture, ceramics, are all ways of lustfully experiencing life."

If he were forced to think deeply about it, says Saitta, although he loves motion work, the still-camera, straight photography image would be the medium he considers his oldest and best lover.

"The first time I saw my pictures in print in black and white, I was hooked," says Saitta. He was 15 years old, and photographs he'd taken of a dilapidated school in Switzerland, where he was living at the time, were printed to help raise money to refurbish the building. "I knew from then on I would have to earn my living with a camera in some sort of journalistic way."

After a stint in the Air Force in his early 20s, during which he served as editor-in-chief of the Armed Forces Broadcast News Service, Saitta studied at New York University and Columbia University before going on assignment for Columbia as the science photographer on an oceanographic research voyage. Saitta describes himself as a self-taught, in-the-field photographer, but he received his degree in filmmaking. However, it's not his education to which Saitta credits much of his artistic inclination. It's human nature.

"I have a very strong belief that we are all very creative people whether we know it or not or admit it or not," he says. "We have not only an inherent need but also an inalienable right to express our creativity." Saitta takes this idea further and merges it with his philosophies about how he believes world peace to be possible.

"I think the urge for creative personal expression is as powerful as the urge for self-preservation or for reproduction or any basic human urge," he says. "And to the extent that we are thwarted creatively, we are going to express ourselves destructively. So personal expression is not just creative, it's also destructive; it's just expression. To the extent that we can train especially the very young to express themselves creatively and encourage this, I think we could see a lot less hostility in the world."

It's a sort of "make art not war" philosophy that Saitta says many people find unattainable. However, for Saitta, those guidelines push him into creative waters, aided by daily meditation and extensive world travel. The 65-year-old says his goal is to make it to his seventh continent—the elusive Antarctica—before his 70th birthday.

"There are five big questions you have to answer in life," explains the artist. "Who am I? Who am I becoming? Why am I here? What do I do best? And what do I most love to do? You answer those questions fully and well and you're going to be a completely fulfilled human being." For Saitta, daily meditation and world travel have not only helped him answer each of those questions, but have also greatly influenced him as a human being and an artist.

"Traveling showed me the absolute equivalency of value of all people on earth," he says. "And it was very instrumental in forming my character, who I am and certainly in realizing the need to create a peace institute here in Boise." Creatively, Saitta weaves what traveling and meditation have taught him about humanity into work that transcends physical struggle. His artist's statement says that art is the "language of the soul," and that each of the arts serve as "passageways into the deepest and most remote aspects of who we really are." Art, for Saitta, is the way in which he can "best communicate in the spiritual world." These overarching theories of art may seem like broad generalizations to quantify creative expression; however, Saitta takes it medium by medium and one idea at a time.

"What do I do when I'm not creating something?" Saitta repeats when the question is posed. His answer meanders a bit; he says he may sleep until noon if he feels like it or turn on the computer. "I don't have a workshop in my house," he says at last. "But I just play around. I consider my whole life a hobby."

—Rachael Daigle