Meet Inside Outside, Upside Down Artist Dominick Cocozza

2021-22 Sherman Fairchild Fellow Shiloah Coley speaks with Dominick Cocozza, the youngest artist in the Phillips 100th anniversary Juried Invitational Inside Outside, Upside Down.

Dominick Cocozza alongside his piece, COVID-19 Self Portrait, at the Inside Outside, Upside Down opening, Courtesy of the artist

At 19 years-old, Dominick Cocozza has a very impressive curriculum vitae. He’s exhibited work in the U.S. Capitol, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and most recently in Inside Outside, Upside Down with the piece COVID-19 Self Portrait, a larger than life charcoal drawing with Dominick wearing a mask as he participates in fall festivities at a pumpkin patch.

“I think self-portraits represent a stamp in time and it’s still a very pivotal moment in our history,” said Dominick.

This isn’t the first time Dominick’s work has been very timely. The artist is very adept at responding to the world around him.

He gained early recognition and a national platform in 2019 when his piece Immigration, featuring two children holding a sign that reads “Bring Our Mom Back,” was selected as one of the winners of the Congressional Art Competition. The nationwide visual art competition is sponsored by the Congressional Institute to recognize and encourage artistic talent in the nation and each congressional district.

Dominick Cocozza, Immigration, 2019, Acrylic and ink on paper, Courtesy of the artist

Dominick was not new to art competitions. He competed in them from the time his parents began to recognize his talents in elementary school. However, this was the first time his work was up for critique in front of a national audience, and at a moment with heightened media attention on the U.S.-Mexico border crisis as political debates raged on.

“This was the first time I got critiques and maybe not so nice messages from other people. But I think through all of that, I’m so grateful for that experience because it got me more equipped,” said Cocozza. “If this is something I want to enter in the real world, and I want to explore these concepts, then that’s just how our community is at this point of time and that’s just what art is—art is great when it sparks conversation.”

While Dominick is a veteran of competitions consisting of folks in his age cohort, Inside Outside, Upside Down was his first time having his work selected for a juried exhibition where he would be in conversation with more established artists. It wasn’t until reading the press release for the exhibition that he realized he was the 19-year-old in the show mentioned as the youngest artist.

“I felt really humbled to be a part of a community of really amazing artists in the DC metropolitan area that I look up to,” Cocozza said.

The emerging artist is still paving his own way, exploring different concepts as he starts his second year at the Rhode Island School of Design this fall. More personal work around his identities as a Guatemalan-American adoptee are still in flux.

Dominick alongside his piece, Fractured Embrace, 2021, Charcoal on paper, Courtesy of the artist

Dominick said, “I think that part of my art making is being able to make sure that I’m promoting more inclusive themes throughout my work where I’m representing my community in a light that I feel isn’t being represented at all.”

As Dominick contemplates his own identities in his work, he encourages other young emerging artists to remain true to themselves in the midst of the highs and lows.

“Know your self worth and be able to harness that,” said Dominick.