Joseph Albert Fiore ascended the ranks of Black Mountain College, first as a summer student, then full-time enrollee, and later as one of the school’s longest tenured professors. Throughout his nearly sixty-year artistic career, Fiore experimented with a multitude of techniques—from gestural brushwork, geometric shapes, and amorphous forms—never fully committing to any particular mode. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Fiore belonged to a family that embraced the arts: his grandfather was an Italian architectural painter, and his father Salvatore played the violin for the Cleveland Orchestra. Studio classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art piqued his interest, but it was an article about an experimental liberal arts college in North Carolina, Black Mountain College, that prompted Fiore to pursue a formal arts education. His conscription into the army during World War II delayed his matriculation, which finally took place in 1946.

Fiore’s initial acceptance was limited to the college’s summer session, during which time he studied under director Josef Albers as well as Jacob Lawrence, whose use of color intrigued him. Under the auspices of the GI Bill, Fiore reapplied as a regular student and started classes that fall. Fiore found himself drawn to Albers’s sabbatical replacement, Ilya Bolotowksy. The gregarious Russian émigré permitted greater creative autonomy than the more regimented Albers allowed and was quite popular with the student body. From 1948 to 1949, Fiore attended the California School of Fine Arts (later the San Francisco Art Institute), but returned to Asheville in the summer of 1949. He was appointed to the college’s faculty member that autumn, a position he would hold for the next seven years. Tragedy struck in 1953 when a fire destroyed most of Fiore’s belongings; as a result, few works made during the artist’s time at Black Mountain survive.

After the college’s dissolution in 1957, Fiore and his wife, a former Black Mountain student, moved to New York. Through connections he had made in North Carolina, Fiore began exhibiting his work—which included representational and abstract compositions, as well as collages—to critical acclaim. He continued to teach, filling faculty posts at the Philadelphia College of Art and the Maryland College of Art. By the 1960s, Fiore’s style had shifted, and he started to produce semi-realistic landscape paintings. Writing about Fiore’s solo show at New York’ Staempfli Gallery in the November 5, 1960 edition of The Nation, noted critic Fairfield Porter praised the artist’s interpretations of “a fragment of Nature’s whole” which Porter said emphasized relationships over objects. Fiore’s new focus may have been inspired by the purchase of a summer house in Maine and his growing interest in environmental issues. In 1980, Fiore taught a summer program sponsored by Parsons School of Design at Les Eyzies in southwestern France. The Dordogne region is home to several prehistoric sites, and Fiore soon began to incorporate pictograms and petroglyphs into his paintings.

Joseph Fiore was honored with the National Academy of Design’s prestigious Andrew Carnegie Prize in 2001. His work can be found in the collections of the National Gallery of Art and the Whitney Museum of American art, among others. His commitment to conservation lives on through the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center at Rolling Hills Farm, a program of the Maine Farmland Trust which hosts art residencies and mounts exhibitions.