“The Epic Journey: Paintings of Giovanna Cecchetti” originally appeared in a folio of prints published by West Branch Gallery & Sculpture Park. The folio accompanied the exhibition “Giovanna Cecchetti: Shifting Frequencies” that ran February 10th to April 28th, 2007. Kadour spoke at the February 10th opening reception.
The Epic Journey: Paintings of Giovanna Cecchetti
By Ric Kasini Kadour
Paintings are like poems—carefully crafted things where visual words are placed in such a way as to lead the viewer first to an image then to an epiphany. A Pollock painting with all its chaotic rhythms and stringing drips is like a good jazz lyric. The bright colors and geometric shapes make a Mondrian painting read like a haiku. Kandinsky gave us ballads, Warhol gave us jingles, and Jasper Johns gave us stanza after stanza of beat.
Giovanna Cecchetti gives us epics: magical, mystical journeys where the hero traverses a dramatic terrain of shifting shapes and lines; hearty, earthy tones, and brilliant bursts of color. The hero of the painting, battered and world-weary, goes deep within and emerges robust and emboldened, as if the hero had looked into the eyes of God.
You will not find the hero in one of Cecchetti’s paintings. He is not a black dot surrounded by brown in Guided by Ruins 7, nor among the reed-like vertebrates of Winter Meditation. You will not find the hero in the red or blue mists of The Large Scroll because the hero of Cecchetti’s paintings is you, the viewer.
Cecchetti creates paintings through the brilliant application of technique and with a deliberate meditative process. She works with a variety of media: acrylic and washes, ink, pastel, pencil and gouache. In some work, she sands the paint, blending one layer into another. She is not shy about using new technology. “Scrollsketches” began as digitally-manipulated prints of drawings into which she works paint, ink, and pencil. Her paintings have an aged, mature quality like a well-cured piece of wood or the wind-softened façade of an ancient temple.
When she paints, Cecchetti starts by preparing her surface with traditional methods of sizing and coating with skin glue or oil-based primers; which she sands down. The composition starts with a feeling for color. She makes random marks on the surface until an interchange between herself and the image before her takes hold. “I don’t like to impose control or power over a piece,” she said. “I have no idea where the pieces actually are going to go until they’re there.” In the “Guided by Runes” series, Cecchetti selects a stone and contemplates the symbol while she works.
This process is not religious. “I don’t like imposing spirituality upon my work,” said Cecchetti. “I think the process becomes a way to transcend the material world in the macrocosmic sense. And to get into the microcosmic sense of what’s really going on.” The purpose of the process is not to restate dogma, but to use the experience of painting to learn, explore, and grow. The results are for us to enjoy.
Neither is the process automatism. Cecchetti is a formalist, and her work shows attention to line and color, balance and form. In Scrollsketch #8, for example, viewing the painting from right to left, one sees a group of lines, then a sea of bright cell-like shapes which go dark, then darker, then a cloud of red mist speckled with small bright shapes that twinkle from underneath. The piece has a beginning and an end, a top and a bottom, a climatic middle, and resolution that is conveyed by shifts in palette and shape of marks. The work resonates a delicate harmony.
A painting is done, Cecchetti explains, “when it feels like it can leave and go live a life of its own, that it’s become its own being. It’s got its own consciousness, it’s able to go out and do it. It doesn’t need me any more.” That is to say, when the painting is all grown up. Only then do we, as viewers, get to encounter it and have our epic journey.
About Giovanna Cecchetti
Giovanna Cecchetti was born in Suffern, New York in 1953. Cecchetti first studied art at SUNY Rockland under Edgar and David Levy, who influence brought her to NYC to study with Larry Rivers at Parsons. After graduating with a BFA in 1976, Cecchetti moved to a loft in Hoboken, New Jersey and then to Montclair, New Jersey. In 1995, Cecchetti moved into one of the old silk mills in Paterson, where she lives and works today. Since her move to Paterson, Cecchetti received an MFA from William Paterson University where she currently teaches as an adjunct professor. Giovanna Cecchetti received a 2006 Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. She is also a 2003 recipient of the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper Residency Fellowship, as well as a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation funded residency at the Vermont Studio Center in 2004. Cecchetti’s work is included in national and international collections, both public and private.