Los Angeles, Oct. 2009 - In a catalogue essay from a couple years back, Benjamin Weissman puts quotes from a diverse gang of writers (ranging from Walter Benjamin to Gaston Bachelard to Virginia Woolfe) into the mouth of a character he calls Madame Gabbiani. Quotes from De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium jump from her lips with the same strange deliberation as a few words on decadence from Gautier’s introduction to Baudelaire’s Les Fleur de Mal. The strange power of the writers invoked reflects well in Gabbiani’s work, something powerfully dreamy and dangerously vivid.
But without channeling this otherworldly set of writers, Weissman writes the following about the work of Francesca Gabbiani:
There is a way in which these blank mirrors, these evacuated rooms, these candles which appear to have lit themselves, are conspiring against you, grinning in an unseemly manner with the hungry leer of something lying in wait, a knowing presence, which casts the viewer as prey, the missing figure the Rococo molding was waiting for.
Weissman captures a gleaming, menacing undercurrent in Gabbiani’s cut-ups, or as he calls it later in the essay “a sumptuous gloom.” This gloom spreads with the slow assurance of ancient decay. Perhaps it’s the paper. For all their delicately crafted colors and layers, her pieces have behind all of them a woman handling a blade. Does the cutting hand leave a stain of violence? Not always, Jess Collins and John Heartfield as collagists, are excused (not that their work is free of violence, they do seem less otherworldly, however), but for Gabbiani, it does. Over the river and through the woods, the ghosts of an ancient crime still haunt the scenes she makes for them.
Francesca Gabbiani’s show, The Present, runs until Oct. 24th at Patrick Painter. Her last show at the gallery was in 2007; in 2008 she had solo shows in Switzerland, Paris, New York and Austin.
ArtSlant's writer, Michael Shaw, recently visited Gabbiani's studio, which sits on the hill above her home in Silver Lake. They discussed Francesca's work and her current show, The Present, at Patrick Painter in Santa Monica (on view Sept 12 - Oct 24, 2009). Gabbiani's last show at Patrick Painter was in 2007; in 2008 she had solo shows in Switzerland, Paris, New York and Austin.
Francesca Gabbiani, The Healers, 2008, Colored paper and gouche on paper, 63.5x48.25 inches; Courtesy of Francesca Gabbiani and Patrick Painter Gallery, LA
Michael Shaw: Let’s talk about the form: the airbrush and the cut paper, I’m curious, what was the point in your evolution when you arrived at using just paper?
Francesca Gabbiani: I started the cut paper right after I graduated. I was doing more abstract painting with layers, encaustic, and I would use a painting knife to cut through layers and make the layer reappear.
MS: So you would cut to the prior layers?
FG: Yeah. It was a process that was a little too…contrived? I was writing all my ideas on paper in a little diary. And I decided to make all my ideas, instead of like taking so long to make a painting, just make every idea. And I kept the paper, to keep the diary intimacy idea. So they were small. And the idea was already there… and I enjoyed that very much. And so that’s how I started.
MS: Scissors or X-Acto knife?
FG: X-Acto. Actually I’m sponsored by X-Acto...I should be. Look at that, the bottle at the end of the table. Full of blades.
MS: So you’re not sponsored by them?
FG: Not yet!
MS: When did you start mixing in the other mediums with the cut-outs?
FG: I think the gouache and the airbrush came pretty close to each other…maybe the gouache first, especially in the interiors I was making. Gouache is also kind of like paper- it’s very opaque. It’s very vibrant color…and they married each other nicely.
MS: This show you have up now, The Present at Patrick Painter, seems to be some of the most intricate yet. Do you think your work has become gradually more intricate as its gone along its arc, and is that a function of the work evolving or was that your intention?
FG: I think so. Yes, I think it’s a gathering of a lot of intricate things I have done on their own in the past: insects, flowers, monochromes…
MS: I recall this wave form that you had shown at Karyn Lovegrove…
FG: Yeah- The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun… in reference to the 70s surf movie.
MS: Didn't that work have relatively large section cut-outs, as compared to the current work? I bring that up as a contrast.
FG: I think the work answers to its own demand. I do try to let the work tell me what to do. In the case of the Innermost Limits, it’s pretty detailed, because it’s pretty big, but in the new body of work, it was more the idea of the portrait, rather than making something intricate.
MS: Specifically in your work, it seems that the process of making all the little slivers that get very small…it brings up the question: Does it ever get frustrating that you have your drawing, or your computer image, that’s already laid out, and to get to the finish line…?
FG: Sometimes it does seem like a mountain I have to climb up and down…sometimes it does feel like a long process. But it’s also pretty exciting…there are all the little pieces, and when I start gluing everything together, it becomes magical.
Francesca Gabbiani, Stoned, 2009, Colored paper and gouche on paper, 64.25x64.25 inches; Courtesy of Francesca Gabbiani and Patrick Painter Gallery, LA
MS: It looks as though with this newer work in the show, from 2009, with the mirrors, that you’re getting away from using architecture, which has for so long been part of what you do. Do you think this is temporary or permanent?
FG: Time will tell. I don’t know what the future holds.
MS: So, The Present: Is their a particular ‘Present’ that you have in mind, or something in our current association with ‘The Present,’ that led to the title of your current show?
FG: I think you can only see the present in the mirror, and I was interested in joining opposites in the work, and the present as the time-being and the representation of time… the present as a present, like a show or an offer for others to scrutinize or consider. It’s also an homage to Michelangelo Pistoletto, who is a big influence on my work. He had a show in 1961 with that name.
MS: Do you think there’s a correlation between the psychedelic imagery and the vibrancy of the details?
FG: Well, I think there is. I think one of the characteristics of psychedelia is the overabundance of information, which can be enlightening or completely confusing. Some people said they would never look at my pieces being high.
MS: I’m interested in ‘nostalgia’ in the way that it seems to be veering towards a personal nostalgia, but doesn’t ever get there. Instead, it embodies an idea, or ideal, of nostalgia…
FG: I think nostalgia is close to melancholia in a way, but with a time dimension to it. If nostalgia has something to do with the past, in this case it does have to do with a recurrent dream or nightmare that I used to have with endless staircases. I think somehow staircases are kind of sexual too. I think there are a few references in that piece. There are references to the movie Vertigo. There’s also a fountain inspired by a Kenneth Anger movie called Eaux D' Artifice except the fountain in my piece is bloody, it’s dark red. And since I finished the piece I think I started looking at it in a more architectural way. Or maybe more like internal. Maybe this piece has more to do with the mind vs. spontaneity…and maybe it represents more the essence of the work.
Francesca Gabbiani, Dream Warfare, 2009, Colored paper and gouche on paper, 76x76 inches; Courtesy of Francesca Gabbiani and Patrick Painter Gallery, LA
MS: So what about the owls? Owls have certain classical artistic/iconic associations; what’s their significance in your case?
FG: You know, owls are birds of prey, they’re nocturnal and they’re solitary. I like mythology a lot, and you can see mythology in that piece NYX’s…mythology- the goddess of wisdom- Athena chose the owl over the crow to be her companion. So in that time the owl was a protector. But by the Middle Ages in Europe with the witch hunts, the owls became a witches’ companion — like an inhabitant of dark and lonely places and a pretty feared animal with a night vision. The Greeks gave this night vision magical powers, and today it’s a symbol of wisdom. So I’m very interested in this history and the definitions. Besides, it’s good karma. In Greece, you get married today and you have owls flying overhead- it’s good karma. The Greeks had an owl flying over them before they had battle, and it’s like a great sign. There’s so much of that in Roman and Greek history.
MS: Another motif in your work is fire. We can specifically talk about this image Spectacle, from 2004, the fire image. There’s this sort of fetishistic quality to the fire. How would you describe it?
FG: Well, fires are very LA. The first big fire that I did, that’s at MoCA now, is called Hot Panorama. As I was making it, fires were ravaging Los Angeles, and so I was working with all those fire images in my studio, and I would go outside and I would smell the fire, and the fires would cast this weird light. It was very ominous. A strange and great feeling. Fires are destructive and beautiful, terrifying and attractive … but they’re also the beginning of something new.
ArtSlant would like to thank Francesca Gabbiani for her assistance in making this interview possible.