|Interview with Liz di Giorgio conducted by Patterson Sims
New York, December 2007
P.S. Am I right to see a spiritual component in your work?
L.D. I allow the work to lead me. I am drawn to specific objects by intuition rather than intention. These objects seem to carry many layers of suggested meaning for me.
P.S. How do you see your work in relation to a tradition of still life painting as defined by Vermeer, Manet, and Morandi?
L.D. Vermeer is essential to any painter who is concerned with the contemplative. He is more influential for me than any other still life painter, yet it is his ability to modulate all elements - figures, interiors, or the architecture of Delft - to create a perfect transcendent whole that draws me to his art. I have also been influenced by the general luminist tendency in Dutch art - and in American late nineteenth century landscape painting - in which the hand and brushwork of the painter is suppressed for the sake of attaining a prevailing calmness and a transcendent condition of light and form.
Because of the obvious differences in paint-handling and subjects, I had not thought about my work in relation to the small, late still life paintings of Edouard Manet, until I recently read James H. Rubin's "Manet’s Silence and the Poetics of Bouquets", in which Rubin observes that “Manet’s art operates through performative, that is, through physical activity that seizes us directly through form and structure rather than mediating content through narrative or narratives in disguise.”1 Rubin extends this insight to Manet’s paintings of bouquets and flowers, noting that flower painting is a matter of visual selection and arrangement and that “In accepting its function as that of an object of delectation, indeed by taking that experience as its theme, flower painting, like still-life in general, only more so, epitomizes Manet’s performative poetics.”2 I think of my "Rondel" series of blossoming images and forms as ersatz bouquets. Although there is nothing "performative" in my handling of paint, I have, through the use of aerial perspective, given the blossoming forms and images of my "Rondel" series a presence that is direct, bouquet-like, and "performative." I had previously overlooked this affinity with Manet because, with the exception of the use of aerial perspective, I do not like to assume a confrontational relationship with the viewer. I simply would like my work to provide for a quiet contemplative moment.
Morandi’s ability to achieve a kind of monumentality while working on an intimate scale is a great lesson. His color seems so simple, yet lacks nothing. The unadorned appearance of his forms and color belies a great subtlety and sophistication. The presence of his paint and its role in creating an aura of silence continues to be instructive.
Each of my still life paintings is an expression of a personal state of being. They often seem to convey an overall sense of calmness, not unlike like that which nature can bestow. This calmness is sometimes a genuine expression of a personal state of being, but at times it is a consoling response to personal feelings of loss or anxiety.
P.S. What are the advantages of working in small size?
L.D. Working intimately allows a painter to address one viewer at a time, which is ultimately the most effective way of communicating in a positive and truthful way. Smaller size draws the viewer in, inviting him or her to join in the contemplative act. I think that some of our most important thoughts, realizations, and revelations come in quiet, unassuming ways.
P.S. Your work comes off being at once very traditional and yet otherworldly and timeless: how do you feel about the present?
L.D. I wouldn’t want to live in another time because, despite the great problems that we currently face, I believe that we are advancing in many important ways. Although my work is a response to my personal life and times, I have always avoided elements that could tie my work too narrowly to any period of time (past or present.) I have always had a deep appreciation for those artists, whose personal vision exceeds or defies the constraints of their time. El Greco and Albert Pinkham Ryder readily come to mind.
P.S. What are the new issues these recent compact works address?
L.D. Using still life as a point of departure, these small works attempt to transcend common reality. They are meditative, harmonic works. Harmony is sought through the union of opposites: images of nature and fecundity exist within a spare context; dark voids may appear along with vessels that are filled with light; shadow and substance are compositional equals; and, through aerial perspective, representation appears to approach abstraction.
Although I was drawn intuitively toward all of my still life objects, there seems to be a longing for nature in these newer works. Depicting china with hand-painted images of nature seems to be an honest way for an urban dweller to depict nature for other urban dwellers. Seeing nature idealized on antique plates also imbues it with the kind of nostalgia that I feel for the idea of unspoiled nature. Nature can only honestly be thought of as perfect in reference to the past. Of course, the china is also associated with domestic life, great aunts and grandmothers and the very concept of nurturing, which, of course, is not gender-restricted. I also feel that the gesture of flowers (and even representations of flowers) is gentle and healing, and can keep us in a tender state despite all the news and information that tends to numb us all.
1. Rubin, James H., "Manet's Silence and the Poetics of Bouquets". London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 1994, p. 204.
2. Ibid., p. 28.