Most part-time jobs that college students find to make some extra petty cash to go out on the weekends involve a cash register — maybe some desk work, filing papers or folding clothes at the local mall. James Cioffi, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, however, serendipitously stumbled upon a more unconventional part-time job: painting murals throughout Downtown Binghamton.
You can find his paintings on the walls of the apartments above Strange Brew on Washington Street and at various organizations’ houses, like the residence of the members of the rugby team on Court Street.
“I think the main reason I started painting was because I had some leftover paint from helping my friends work on a project,” Cioffi said. “My room in the rugby house didn’t have any posters, so I thought I could just paint one or two things on the wall instead of buying a few posters. That’s when my friend asked if I would want to do something on their wall. It’s so funny [this all came about], just because I didn’t want to buy posters. I didn’t take an art track or anything, but I still do art on the side for fun. Some of my friends that are in fraternities wanted some art on their walls and stuff. They asked me if I could help them out. The first one I did was ‘Pulp Fiction’-themed at one of my friend’s frat houses.”
Cioffi breaks the mold for a stereotypical art-type in more ways than one. He has always done art for fun, not wanting it to become another laborious task on top of the many others students face day to day. His practice in painting is also college-sensitive — his focus for when he graduates in the spring is to find an engineering job.
“I’m studying something completely unrelated,” Cioffi said. “I never planned to have art as a job. I always wanted to keep it as not a job, actually, so I could enjoy it. It’s not as fun when people are telling you what to do and when to do it. I didn’t want to get paid to be an artist when I grew up. It’s nice right now; it’s the perfect college job. I get to paint whatever I want to paint and I still enjoy it.”
Cioffi views his art as a hobby, inherently; freelancing paintings Downtown was a fairly natural job for him to fall into. Though these murals are his first major paid pieces of art, he has done art since high school, so he’s not fresh off the cuff with his seemingly natural affinity for art. Well-spoken and earnest, Cioffi has unsurprisingly made friends during his time at BU that have enlisted him to paint for them.
“I’ve never submitted anything to go in any of those galleries,” Cioffi said. “In high school, I kinda had the same approach. I never really took any art classes. There were AP art students; I felt like I didn’t work as hard as them. There are some people that really apply themselves and do some amazing stuff. I try not to step on their soil, because who am I to claim I’m an artist?”
With a background in mechanical engineering and overall versatility in interests, Cioffi said his artistic inspirations were also versed in disciplines that we tend to think of as separate, even opposing. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are perhaps not as separate from the arts as most people view them. For Cioffi, working with diametrically opposed disciplines can actually elevate each discipline.
“I talk to my friends about the Renaissance artists … I like how guys back then seemed to be more universally talented, like, they were mathematicians, engineers, but then they could also paint. People always think of Michelangelo and da Vinci as painters, but they were engineers, they were writers, they studied all these different things. It’s unbelievable, they would sketch out all their organs before they started working, I mean, way beyond their time. Definitely inspired me not to focus on one thing my entire life. I know that they’re on a whole other level, but I want to strive for the best.”