WHEN YOU stop in to see Giovanna Ferrari’s latest exhibition opening Oct. 22 at Atithi Studios in Sharpsburg, be prepared to literally go with the flow.
Above and Below Water showcases 20 new paintings and offers a torrent of insights into her ongoing exploration on canvas of consciousness and life journey.
As the Milan, Italy native will candidly attest, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
Since arriving in the U.S. two decades ago with a master’s degree in marketing and communications from IULM University in Milan, she’s worked as a skilled graphic artist, website and UX/UI designer serving corporate clients in healthcare, tech and finance.
The COVID-19 lockdown sparked a renewed commitment to her lifelong passion for painting, and she found the perfect work space at Atithi Studios, a three-floor, 3,500-square foot building opened in November, 2021 by businessman Sukanta Nag featuring rentable artist studios and exhibit rooms along with an expansive flex-event, co-working and community engagement areas for the public.
LOCALpittsburgh recently visited Giovanna at her studio as she added final touches to Above and Below Water.
L.E. McCULLOUGH: Your past shows have been organized around a theme … romance, secrets, mirrors … can we assume Above and Below Water will follow a similar path?
GIOVANNA FERRARI: It’s all about the water. I’ve always been attracted to water. It’s such an emotional element. It speaks for itself. I recently landed on the theme of aerial coastlines and then exploring the submerged life around them. Coral reefs, divers, everything water and ocean-related. The ocean is the spark to everything for me. It’s the most amazing, most relaxing, most alive thing we have on the planet. It inspires so many feelings, emotions. It’s how I feel inside, the up and down of the waves.
LEM: Are you doing anything new with your painting process?
GF: I do a lot of mixing. I mix oils with acrylics and house paint. I use a lot of solvent and alcohol. Now I’m using powder and pigments. Sometimes I scrape it all off and start over. There’s a lot of layering that comes from mistakes I make that adds to the eventual texture of the painting.
GF: Absolutely. I always say, my art is the outcome of my mistakes. Like life, I don’t know how I got here but somehow I got here. When I start a painting I have a rough idea of what I want to paint, but I don’t know what it is going to become. As I paint, the painting evolves itself and takes a life of its own. I don’t really control a lot, I let things happen. The mixing of the colors together creates something and then I change it by adding more color or solvent. The chemicals together distort what I had before, and I continue the process until it’s done. It’s a dialogue, and that gives it movement.
LEM: How important is texture to what you do?
GF: The texture is what I believe makes my art unique. I use a lot of house paint, which is very heavy, and when it dries creates a texture. If you look underneath the color, you can see the texture is there … it’s a hide-and-seek effect.
LEM: Quite different than the flat Modernist style from the mid-20th century.
GF: To me, I think flat could be interpreted as the ultimate impossible perfection. When you talk about flat in art, to me, it feels like nirvana in the Buddhist sense — that perfect unattainable state of detachment or emptiness. I feel texture in art, it’s the opposite of that. It’s like finding perfection in the imperfection: in the crumbled paint, the messy shapes, all the layers made by mistake over mistake.
Every layer you see in my painting is a mistake I made that I covered with more paint. That’s a metaphor of who I am. I’ve made mistakes. Seriously, who hasn’t? Why can’t we stop hiding and be out with it? This is who I am, and so it’s my art. It’s imperfect and still beautiful.
LEM: In a way, we never truly know the final outcome of our actions, especially when making any kind of art, music, dance and so on.
GF: Not knowing the final outcome is uncomfortable. The fact that I say I cannot control the paint, or the paint controls itself doesn’t mean I don’t put effort into it. I stare at the painting waiting for it to tell me something. It’s maybe even harder because I don’t know where I’m going with it, and sometimes I struggle with not having a clear outcome … trust me, it’s very uncomfortable to be in the space of not knowing. That’s why my painting process has become a philosophy for me that I want to apply in other areas of my life. It’s basically teaching me to let go of the expected outcome and accept that beauty comes in many forms.
LEM: Aside from a commission, visual arts don’t usually have a defined audience. You don’t really know for certain who is going to see what you paint.
GF: I don’t have a specific audience. I paint emotional themes that come up in my life. I paint a lot of volcanoes, for example, and now I have coastlines, and I’m thinking of putting everything together — volcanoes erupting from the ocean and creating a tsunami. There’s always an element of turmoil in my art which is something that I think everyone deals with at some point in life.
In my new body of work the water is a metaphor for the human mind. The ego / superego is represented by the coastline aerial view. The birds-eye view is an interpretation of the ego which makes the world appear comprehensible and controllable. The underwater corals and flora represent the subconscious where colors and shapes mold together into something that cannot be given a clear meaning.
If you dissect the themes of my art, you see an expression of what I have inside. I don’t really know how to describe it … it’s an unconscious process. It’s not that I go home and think for days about what I am going to paint next and make a plan. I just make the art and then after I make it, the art speaks to me. I realize why I made it and the feelings that I wanted to express by making it, and it teaches me something new I didn’t know before. Making art is better than therapy!
Above and Below Water runs Oct. 22-Nov. 12, 2022 in the main gallery at Atithi Studios, 1020 N. Canal Street, Sharpsburg. Opening reception Oct. 22 from 6:00-10:00 p.m.