Sunday, August 24, 2008

Gianna Commito

Meet Up, 2002, oil on panel, 28” X 24”

Garages, 2001, digital print, 13"x 19"

Just a little while back, I posted some of Gianna's new works and promised an interview. She currently has work in Exquistide at the Geoffrey Young Gallery and an upcoming show at St. Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana that opens August 29. See the interview below...

JL: I'm curious if you could talk a little bit about living and working in Ohio? It seems that you have continued to make smallish paintings regardless of the fact that you could have a large studio/space to work. How has scale developed in your work in relation to your environment?

GC: While my work has always been reflective of my environment, the newer work is less immediately so. My major grumble about living in Ohio is that I am so dependant on my car—I don’t walk nearly as much as I did in, say, Iowa City. My older work was about navigating and documenting space from the outside, usually as a pedestrian. Buildings, excluding the ones that you are walking to or leaving from, are usually viewed as interruptions or obstacles. You approach them slowly and work your way around them. These early paintings are reflective of architecture as an aberration within or an obliteration of the natural landscape: there is a simple mass, or figure, that interrupts an otherwise predicable ground. The masses often include some clue to their architectural derivations: tiles, bricks, or planks. In the later works these clues have been reduced to striped planes that change value to depict space.

Dipping in, 2001, oil on wood, 22”x 24”

But back to your question...I walk a lot less now and don’t observe space in the same way. I am inside a lot! As a result the work as become much more about interior space-the attic studio I used to work in, for example. It also feels more folded and claustrophobic, like origami or being inside a tent.

I have never been an artist in NYC, so I’m sort of blessedly naive about what opportunities I’m missing out on (though the ones I imagine are torture enough!). Ironically, one of the things you’d expect to get out here is a big, cheap studio space, but I haven’t found that to be the case. Despite having an almost completely dead downtown, there is very little raw space available in Kent, and none of it is cheap! So my studio is pretty small. However I don’t think that’s the reason I work at such a modest scale. I really like painting on a horizontal surface, and there’s only so large you can go in that position. I like being hunched over, focusing on 6 square inches a time, completely absorbed in that little square. My sister is an archeologist and my father a biologist who counts tiny marine organisms, so a certain level of obsessive compulsiveness comes to me naturally!

Silo, 1998, porcelain with low fire glaze, 15” X 6” X 4”

JL: How do you feel when looking at your older works? Are there particular aspects that surprise or annoy you?

GC: Sure, it’s a lot like looking at old pictures from middle school! How could I have worn that?! I had a friend from grad school visit my parents’ house—they are arguably my biggest collectors—and after looking at all the horrible old college paintings on the wall, he said “Jesus, your work hasn’t changed at all!” I’ve always been interested in architectural constructions and the way they nestle into their surroundings, and I guess that is more obvious than I might think. I also come from a background in ceramic sculpture, and I’m often surprised by how the 3D work I did as a student feels so directly related to the 2D work I make now. I think I’m surprised by how simple the older work was, how little I put in the painting. In retrospect it seems a little easy, the objects don’t have to work very hard because there’s very little competition, and so there isn’t as much tension or negotiation. The result is that people always wanted to group the paintings into diptychs and triptychs, so I started doubling and tripling the amount of information in each piece. The flip side is that it’s good to remind myself that I don’t have to put every “move” into each piece, either, and that the restraint I used to have is good to call up every once in a while. There was a series I did in 2003, including the piece “Gold,” that got super slick—mostly because I was using acrylic and not casein, which has more fugitive tendencies—and they drive me crazy.

Wave, 2005, acrylic, casein, watercolor on paper, 42” X 30”

JL: With painting, is there a sense that you need to work towards something?

GC: I start very loosely and the image crystallizes out of this messy, unplanned scaffolding of marks. So I’m working towards that crystallization but trying to do so with a hand tied behind my back. I am, at heart, a romantic, pentimenti-loving painter and I want some of the process to reveal itself: for the history of marks to almost be clear, for the geometry of the stripes to occasionally fail, for the painting to defeat itself despite my best efforts. This of course gets harder and harder with every piece, so I’m constantly throwing a new wrench in the works, either through image, size, or materials.

JL: What role, if any, does color theory play in your work?

GC: Color is enormously important, though I don’t think of it as color theory in the Albers or Itten sense but rather as color practicality or responsibility. It’s not so much about the phenomenon of color relationships as it is to their “real world” referents. It’s no coincidence that complementary colors are often used in advertising or to represent sports teams. I’m more interested in using colors that are less predictable, but that still remind the viewer of something. Sometimes that means appropriating color combinations directly from fashion, or flags, or logos. Sometimes I try to pick combinations that are less obvious—though they always mean something to someone, so I’ve yet to find a completely anonymous pairing! But I feel strongly that using color is just as direct as the figure or landscape is in a “representational” painting. In my work, the colors and shapes I use are the representational objects in that they do refer to things that actually exist. I feel responsible for identifying those things, even if they weren’t in my mind from the beginning. And since this is obviously an impossible task, I rely on the viewer’s experiences to satisfy that responsibility as well.

One very literal use of color theory is the way I shift value to create the illusion of space. It’s never as simple as adding black or white, but usually involves mixing complements or brightening with yellow, etc. I spend a lot of time on the palette, getting colors to shift from a pure, middle hue into darker and lighter shades and tints. I’m starting to sound like a teacher, though—so maybe I should just stop here!

JL: In the newer works, you seem to work outwardly from an axis…can you describe you method of developing these works?

GC: I mentioned tents above, and that’s really where this axis came from: the interior of a flea market tent in Maine. The axis, or in some cases, single vanishing point, do provide a centrality that makes the image feel specific to a certain space or place—there is some sense of perspective that you trust and rely on, even if only to confirm that the rest of the pictorial space is completely disorganized and impossible.


  1. I really like these older works. I hope she returns to making sculpture again someday. They would work well side by side with her current paintings.

  2. yeah, i really like the sculpture too. it looks a little like Buckminster Fuller or Frederick Keisler-a failed experiment of some sort

  3. I know I'm a little late to this party but I remember one of our teachers at AU telling Gigi they liked how the shapes in her old paintings didn't add up perspective wise, much in the same way that her ceramics don't. i.e. shoddy but painterly glazes & krunk forms