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Depicting the Streets

Vienna painter receives recognition for his recreations of New York scenes from the 1940s and ‘50s.

Although Vienna has been the home of Joseph Di Carlo for over 25 years, what triggers his imagination are the childhood memories of Brooklyn's crowded streets.

"It's the ethnic neighborhoods that I really gravitate toward," Di Carlo said.

Di Carlo, an oil painter who specializes in urban nostalgia scenes and landscapes, was recently recognized by the national magazine Art & Antiques for his creations. What serves as the subjects for many of his paintings are scenes from his childhood, when his father, an immigrant, would take him around New York City.

"You can go home again through the paintings," Di Carlo said.

While some scenes display the storefronts of a Kosher delicatessen or a Korean market, others show local boys playing stickball in the street, women sunbathing on the rooftop, and locals enjoying a festival in Little Italy.

"I think it's a pleasure to see New York through Joe's eyes," said Frank Wright, a professor of art at George Washington University and the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C.

A retired ad executive and Korean War veteran, Di Carlo began painting over 20 years ago. Calling himself a "Sunday painter," Di Carlo would prepare for each painting by researching symbols of the 1940s and 1950s, such as car models and streetlamps.

"I take pride in the fact that they're thoroughly accurate for that period," Di Carlo said.

When he retired eight years ago, Di Carlo would average a painting a week. Of the 165 paintings he has created since he started painting, some were landscapes, while others depicted the return of World War II soldiers or scenes from everyday life. One painting, for instance, depicts men getting their shoes shined on Sunday outside the local barbershop.

"It was a sign of respect, and it was a sign that you were respectable. I just think there's poignancy in that," said Di Carlo's wife, Grace.

Although painting began as a hobby, Di Carlo began to sell his work nationwide after the magazine Art & Antiques recognized him in January as an emerging painter. People from New Mexico and California have bought his paintings, and just last week, two callers from Kansas ordered some of his creations.

"They said it just brought them back to New York and New Jersey," said Grace Di Carlo.

The interest in his paintings beyond his family and friends has surprised Di Carlo, who hosts an exhibition in Arlington in February and March.

"He has a certain freshness of an Edward Hopper. He has a great talent when he does a place he's used to and loves," said Wright. "And therefore, I enjoy the freshness, the spontaneity, and the accuracy of his vision."

That comparison pleases Di Carlo, who still continues to paint every day in the basement of his Vienna home, from after breakfast until the TV show "Judge Judy" airs in the afternoon.

"When you get compared to some of the greats, it's nice," Di Carlo said.