After Sunday Night: Joe Iurato

It seems hand-crafted art is alive and well. This month, New Jersey-based artist and former Urban Climber Magazine Editor Joe Iurato landed a commission to create stencil artwork – yup thats right – for NBC Sports. The resulting piece aired on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, for the (highly rated) Colts-Patriots game, on November 15th 2009.

Here is a compilation of clips of the final product from Joe:

I worked with Joe many times during his four years at the helm of Urban Climber. He was psyched on the kind of lit climbing photography I was producing at the time, that no one else would take. The look that Joe embraced early on is now standard in the climbing world.

I was intrigued by Joe’s unique piece for NBC Sports, so I took the opportunity to chat with him about it, his work, and life after Urban Climber. What I got from Joe was an illuminating look into a true artist’s life. All photos and videos courtesy of Joe Iurato.


AK: So, a few months ago, you talk to a friend about an opportunity to do something for NBC’s Sunday Night Football…

Yeah, long story short, my friend Vincent’s a producer with NBC Sports. While attending one of my art shows, he came up with the idea of using my stencils in place of photographs during a broadcast presentation. Next thing I knew it was being pitched to the producer of Sunday Night Football, Fred Gaudelli, and crew — and soon after that it was game on.

AK: How long have you been doing stencil and aerosol art? What’s your background in this?

I’ve been doing this type of art for about 4 years now, but seriously for less than a year. I’ve always been a huge fan of street art, or public art if that sounds better. I started out by making this simple stencil of Winnie-The-Pooh holding a machine gun and wearing military attire – he became my “Soldier Bear”. It sounds absurd, but that was the whole point. Though as absurd as it was that little image was also powerful, and behind it was a lot of truth. Stenciling provided me an easy way to get it out there and hopefully make people think about how gnarly and twisted shit really is these days. At UC, I would occasionally leave on my lunch break and slap one or two up around SoHo. At home, I would go out late at night and bomb around town. I’d paint it on buildings, slap stickers on phone booths and signs, hit just about anything – but at the time it wasn’t so much about the stenciling or the art as it was about the subject. Nobody really knew what I was doing except my wife. Needless to say she wasn’t very supportive of my rendezvous, and it wasn’t long before I agreed to give it a rest. But anyway that’s how I started stenciling.

Later, I developed more of a love for the craft of stenciling itself and decided I wanted to take it further. I studied the work of the great stencil artists, people like Logan Hicks, Chris Stain, C215, Blek Le Rat, Banksy, and Shepard Fairey – not to mimic them, but to get a better understanding of the medium. I learned there’s really no right or wrong way to do these things, and techniques vary greatly. So, I came up with a way of doing things that was comfortable and right for me. Now, my work is much different than that first Pooh stencil; it is much more complex and carefully planned out, and I’m not out manifesting images in the street anymore. If I paint the same cu
t 3 times, it’s a lot. Most of my work is done in my garage, on found supports like old cabinet doors and planks of wood. And when I do paint outside, it’s usually on a much larger scale.


AK: You sprayed these stencils on acetate, then NBC green screened them and did the rest. Walk me through your method a little deeper. Was this your usual approach or did this particular job make you step outside a little?

Well, as for the method in this case: First, I had to tweak out the images so they’d be partially black and white and partially color as discussed. After they were approved, I had 20 of each photo printed out on 18″ x 24″ sheets of paper (this isn’t always the way I work because it’s costly, but it provides a more exacting and consistent cut). Next, I cut each layer from the photographs themselves with an Exacto knife. This is the most difficult part because it’s all guesswork and preference. Everyone has different thoughts and techniques on how to approach cutting. It’s completely subjective. After the layers were cut, I took them down to my garage, cracked open a bottle of wine and started spray painting. I painted each layer on its own sheet of acetate so they could be photographed individually. In total there were 41 layers for 3 paintings. I also painted one final composite of each image. Lastly, I sent them off to NBC, where they were photographed against a green screen. The final images were uploaded to an effects program and rendered as seen on TV.

The whole thing definitely forced me to step outside my comfort zone. Aside from some big technical challenges I was facing with the stencils themselves, there was also that scary little voice that kept reminding me this was one of the biggest opportunities of my life…and what if I blew it? Without going into details, the stencils had to be cut in a way I never cut before and painted on a support I wasn’t familiar with using. Take that and consider it was all being done for a primetime NFL broadcast, one of the biggest games of the year, that was only two weeks away…let’s just say experimenting isn’t what I would’ve preferred. But sometimes you just gotta run with it, really believe in yourself and bust your ass to make it happen.

AK: This seems like a pretty unique gig – custom graphic design for a broadcast network. Is this the first time you have done work where your art meets digital technology?

Definitely. Even when I was making climbing videos, I never thought to incorporate my art with special effects. That’s what was so nice about this gig I think. It’s not really about my art – it’s the proof that even with all the graphic software out there, there’s still a place for handcrafted artwork.

AK: I like the building effect of the individual stencils that make up the final piece. Was that effect your idea?

Stenciling is naturally done in layers. The idea, which is to the NBC’s credit, was that these layers would be photographed separately and then rendered in an animation where the images quickly “rebuilt” themselves on screen. One of the reasons it wasn’t done digitally is because layering and color separations are two different things. In order to provide the effect they wanted to achieve, you couldn’t just separate th
e colors. To do it digitally, someone would’ve had to draw these like stencils in an illustration program, layer for layer, anyway. Airing a digital illustration wouldn’t quite feel the same as an authentic spray painted piece. I guess some would argue it’s the difference between film and digital in photography. There are differences, and there’s a place for both.

AK: How has the response been? Any feedback from NBC? You’re gonna need a reel pretty soon!

Feedback was excellent. It was such an honor to have been given the chance, and I’m ecstatic it worked out for all of us. I’m looking forward to what’s next.


AK: It looks like you’ve got your hands in a lot of cool collaboratives like Artsprojekt.

Yes, I’m involved in a few collectives and collaborations., an amazing platform created by artist and ex-pro skater Andy Howell, is one of them. I’m also involved with Stencil History X, NOLA Rising and most recently with Albus Cavus. I’ve also been collaborating on special projects lately. The photographer Transgress and I have been collaborating for some time now on a series of portraits called “Why”. Photographers Craig Copelin and David Toth, musician Abel Okugawa and myself are also beginning a new endeavor, one that will fuse live music and art performances with photography and video. The past few months have brought about some other extremely exciting collabos as well, though I’m not free to talk about them just yet.

AK: As an artist, what kind of resources are out there for you to grow creatively? Financially?

Purely as an artist, there are a tremendous amount of resources out there to grow creatively. For me, the number one factor in creative growth has always been inspiration. If you can stay inspired, you can continue to create work from the heart – work that’s not forced – and if it’s coming from the right place, people will notice. Once you make those connections, doors also open with the possibility of earning.

On the flipside, I’m not in a position where I can just be inspired, make lots of creative friends and live as a struggling artist. Growing financially as an artist, really growing financially, is extremely difficult. It’s nothing that has recently taken me by surprise, though. I’ve always been a victim of my own head – my whole life has been centered around expressing myself through the arts. I’ve worked in some capacity with just about everything: illustration, graphic design, words, photo, video, fine art, and even some performing arts, including acting for a little while. That’s my biggest problem; I never really locked myself into any one thing. I want to do it all. For instance, when I want to convey to someone the feeling of being in the mountains and climbing these huge, beautiful chunks of granite, I don’t want to sit down and draw a picture of it – I want to use music and moving pictures and tell that story through video. When I want to capture the emotion of a person looking to the heavens with sadness and contemplation, I’ll freeze that moment in a painting because their
eyes are the story, and it’s something that shouldn’t fleet. There are times when nothing visual can express what I’m feeling, so I paint those pictures with words. And while it all feels really liberating to me, I’m trapped at the same time. How do I make a living and support my family with all of this? Yes, I am driven by my creative instincts, but is that enough? I don’t have a formal education so it’s all hustle and I’m constantly trying to prove myself. How long can I sustain being a full-time artist not knowing when and if the next project will arise? The truth is I don’t know…

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AK: A lot of your work I’ve seen online seems to revolve around a theme of childhood…

Ever since I had my son, my perspective on what life is about completely changed. The moment he entered this world, everything I thought I knew just shattered and went away. As we get older, life becomes more and more complicated until eventually we’re all just balls of information and clutter. I needed to unlearn a bit and be brought back to a simpler time. My son did that for me, and it was the greatest gift I ever received. So, every now and then I paint pictures of children because we can all learn, or unlearn, a thing or two by gazing into the wondrous eyes of a child.

AK: I know you from the climbing world, when you were Editor at Urban Climber Magazine. From what I see now, it seems like that was a small part of a larger artist’s life. How does photography and your time at UC fit in?

Climbing, and bouldering more specifically, has been a cornerstone in my life for a long time now. Almost immediately following my first experience in the Gunks I realized that it wasn’t a new hobby I found – it was a real, honest-to-God piece of who I am and who I’d forever be. The day was a total revelation. And I was so intrigued by what it had done to me that I felt I needed to explore the reasons why.

I wanted to sink every ounce of creativity in my bones into interpreting what I thought climbing was. I couldn’t focus on anything else because all of my inspirations were coming from my own personal experiences at the crag. It was the kind of feeling you get when you know the answer to something but you just can’t get the words out to explain it. So, you search around the question for anything that might spark the tongue to work. That’s how I felt all the time. It drove me nuts because I knew it wasn’t about drawing or painting a picture. It wasn’t about writing a poem or creating a sculpture. I needed to be able to recall my sentiments and share them in a way others could feel what was happening inside me. It had to be fleeting, changing with each unique day. With that in mind, I decided to try something different – I picked up a shitty little camcorder and started making videos. Eventually that’s what led me to meeting Mark Crowther, the publisher of UC.

I remember the day he called and asked if I would be interested in sitting at the helm as editor in chief. I thought he was joking because I didn’t know shit about editing or publishing. I declined at first purely because of fear. But he convinced me by saying all I had to do was be a climber and an artist. Do what I do with video, let my passion speak and my emotions do the work – and that that I could learn the technical side of being a magazine editor. So, I held the position for almost 4 years. Not a day went by I didn’t appreciate where I was a
nd what I was doing, but the job itself never really got easier for me. I struggled with learning how to be a great editor. It was such an incredible challenge. I don’t know, I still think I had a long way to go in the learning process. All I know is I loved spilling my guts out about all the things climbing taught me; I loved hearing the stories from people all over the world who shared the same sentiments; I loved seeing our sport grow and being in a position to help to push it in that forward direction; and maybe more than anything, I loved knowing the community on a personal level. You know, I didn’t choose to leave UC. I found myself on a very personal mission and I wasn’t done yet. But all the same, I can understand why I had to go. It’s economics, smart business decisions, and that’s all. I’m grateful I was given the chance. Now, I hope to find another outlet that will allow me to continue what I started.

AK: Whats :02 for Joe Iurato?

Haha. I like that. I guess I should explain, :01 sort of became my mantra. It represents a new beginning, the very first second of movement in a forward direction. I came up with it after I was let go at the mag. It was a really difficult time for me, one that I won’t go into too much detail about. I just went into a complete failure mode and I was stuck there. I started painting more and more because every time shit hit the fan in my life, painting was the drug that pulled my head out of my ass and provided some relief. Eventually I gained a little bit of clarity and focus and I told myself that I was going to move forward. I adapted :01 as my alias and it’s who I’ve become.

As for :02, I really have no idea. As I mentioned, I hope to come back into the climbing industry at some point, though I don’t know exactly when or how. I only know I’d like to be a creative force again. Aside from that, I’m going to continue stenciling and strive to push my art as far as I possibly can. I know for sure I’ve found a medium that I love and won’t quit under any circumstance, whether it brings me financial success or not. I’ve got some really cool projects and collabos lined up for the near future. It’s also possible I do more work with NBC. And I have plans to paint with one of my favorite artists, C215, in the streets of Paris…which, of course, will be during my next trip to Fontainebleau.

All in all, I really don’t know too much about what the future has in store. We’ll see. Tomorrow is far away. I’m still working on today.

You can see Joe Iurato’s work at
You can contact him at

You can see more behind-the-scenes footage of Joe Iurato at work here:

Timelapse Video by Craig Copelin (
Music by Abel Okugawa (


Nice Joe! This is good to see. Joe was the first unknown to encourage me, and gave me my first break into the climbing industry.

posted by J V on 11.23.09 at 1:07 pm

Joe , you really are cool ! look forward to more collabos !

posted by Abel on 12.01.09 at 4:55 pm

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