Cianne fragione Heaven and Earth are dressed in their summer wear
CIANNE FRAGIONE Heaven and Earth are dressed in their summer wear
Burton Marinkovich Fine Art 1506 Twenty-first Street, NW Washington, DC 20036
Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (eyelet dress) (2007), oil, mixed media, and assemblage on linen, 60 x 30 inches.
Heaven and Earth are dressed in their summer wear A series by Cianne Fragione Bruce Nixon A deep, irresistible combinative instinct, nearly pervasive throughout Cianne Fragione’s work, achieves full and sustained realization in an ongoing body of work that the artist has variously called the Clothesline Series, the Dress Series, and — its formal title — Heaven and earth are dressed in their summer wear. The long form points in the direction of her underlying themes. It refers to a haiku by the seventeenth-century Japanese poet Basho and embodies the traditional haiku’s preoccupation with the most intimate kinds of encounters between nature and culture. The series, which blends collage and painting, began in 2007 and is now comprised of some two dozen large canvases of uniform scale. A vintage or antique dress provides the fundamental motif, and as a collage material, the dresses are at once consistent and continuously variable. Fragione then integrates them into her subsequent painting process, always pressing the imagery toward further complexity and versatility. By adding a horizontal line near the upper edge of each canvas, an explicit image of the clothesline, she links the canvases and advances their identity as a unified body of work. Together, dresses and paint represent a more or less endlessly reiterative format. The individual works will stand by themselves, of course — their independence is assured by the artist’s desire that each be complete as a painting — but as a series, they are meant to hang together, literally edge to edge, creating a totalized environment in a room or gallery. The paint is often heavily worked, and its dense, palpable physicality can blur conventional distinctions between collage and painting, and between the dress as an object and the paint around it, which is evocative of landscape but not, strictly speaking, traditional landscape painting. The colors tend to be rich, luminous, textured, an array of garden and sky hues, yet some canvases go somewhere else altogether: in these instances, the dress is a gossamer silk or organza and seems to float across the surface of the paint, which has been thinly brushed or applied with a rag — they are other kinds of landscapes, other times of day, other fields of light and space. Or Fragione may push the work more emphatically in the direction of assemblage by occasionally attaching gloves, belts, or handkerchiefs alongside the dresses. Such variety does not lead to dissonance. When the canvases appear together, they immediately reveal their clarity and ingenuity of conception, Fragione’s sense of the series as whole and interconnected, expressed in a harmonious, if intricate, flow of colors, shapes, patterns, spatial elements, and visual rhythms. As motifs, the dresses and clothesline create a sturdy, forthright, but highly flexible structure that can bear a multitude of ideas and thematic implications. The canvases 3
surround us, and as we are drawn into the fullness of their atmosphere, a poetry emerges: we will find it in the coherence of color, texture, and form from work to work; in the fellowship of disparate materials; in the often deceptive interactions that occur between the dresses, or “foregrounds,” and their painted “backgrounds”; and in the associations prompted by the imagery itself, which invite the viewer to dream in its presence. The Clotheslines do not depict specific landscapes, nor are they even an explicit evocation of nature’s diversity, and in this context, the series ultimately points elsewhere, into the realm of art’s ability to probe the world’s mysterious, transformational character, its changefulness and mutability, its unfolding tapestry of variability and consistency. The questions we discover here, embedded in the determinedly experiential character of the work in installation, relate to the capacities of art. An encounter with the canvases in a gallery is like coming upon a clothesline on a landscape. Their occupation of interior space is analogous to that of a clothesline out-of-doors, a laundry unfurled in rows, differentiated from its setting but comfortable there, almost sentient, the representative of a human presence — the clothesline as a symbol of family, of familial tasks and responsibilities, the continuity of days, a suggestively aesthetic disclosure of a particular existence and way of life. And of course a clothesline, whether it appears in a urban, suburban, or rural setting, is a social and cultural site that can inflect its surroundings with the weave of a distinct personality. The Clothesline canvases obtain a similar conjunction of parts and whole, building their web of narrative and association piece by piece. Yet the Clotheslines reveal no desire of the part of the artist to withdraw into the simplicity of their structure. The canvases are not reticent. Indeed, the paring down of her motif allows Fragione to pour all kinds of information onto the canvases, and — as we come to suspect — she plumbs her own memories of other places and other times in her life, among family and forebears, granting them full play within the means of
Below: Installation view of Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear. Right: Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (many lines) (2010), oil, mixed media, and assemblage on linen, 60 x 30 inches.
the series. Although the Clotheslines stir our memories, too, and memory is one path into the work, the series will ultimately open itself to many levels of approach, excluding none. Still, a motif this concrete tells us that the work wants to elude as best it can the familiar enclosures of explanation and interpretation, and to demonstrate that our rationalizing instincts should be kept at bay, subordinate to the immediacy of encounter. The surface beckons us, through layers of allusion, reference, and intentionality, toward other kinds of meanings and modes of inquiry. The clothesline must be almost universal as a cultural image â€” or as close to universality as any image can now be â€” and it is naturally iconographic. At the same time, clotheslines are no longer as common a sight as they once were, being subject, like virtually every domestic ritual, to the demands of the increasingly hectic settings of contemporary life. It may strike us as old-fashioned, susceptible to nostalgia. But no, we still see them here and there, stubborn in their persistence. The motif, then, suggests another analogy, to painting itself and its perseverance before the ascendance of newer, less tradition-bound mediums and genres. Within this context, Fragione uses her imagery and materials to test painting and its affiliate techniques for the purpose of demonstrating what they may yet achieve on the playing fields of contemporary art. 5
Opposite clockwise from upper left: Mezzogiorno II (Pink Cloth) (2001), collage on paper, 27.5 x 19.5 inches. Mezzogiorno (Purple and green ribbons) (2002), collage on paper, 33 x 34 inches. Reliquary (1995-2006), assemblage and oil on canvas, 40 x 31 inches. Below: Left panel, Ritorno (2007), assemblage and oil on panel, 32 x 60 inches.
Early in her career, Fragione moved back and forth between assemblage and painting, treating them as discrete mediums. She was attracted, on the one hand, to the engagement with non-art objects and the problems of construction that characterize assemblage, while painting satisfied her fascination with the effects of color and light. Her paintings are typically constructive, the products of a patient, labor-intensive studio process in which the paint seems to accrete into textured surfaces and complex colors, loosely evocative of landscape, bottomless, cloaked in atmospheric luminosity. As a builder who paints and painter who builds, she would find herself increasingly intrigued with the overlap, and since the late 1990s, the development of a fully personal integration of the two mediums has been central to her practice. To some extent, it represents a drive against the idea that any medium is or even can be â€œpure,â€? and thus confined to its material identity and the innate characteristics of those materials, though in a larger sense it is an effort to get everything she can from them, to achieve an articulation and fullness of effect perhaps unavailable to her constituent mediums by themselves. A dramatic shift occurred in the Mezzogiorno series of the early 2000s. These large, strikingly dense works on paper combine collage and some assemblage with the artistâ€™s vivid paint handling. The individual pieces have a relaxed, funky personality that belies their arduous organizational procedures, the careful layering and shifting of collage elements, small objects, and paint for the purpose of conveying palpable qualities of lived time, accumulation, and convergence. The Mezzogiorno series
would lead Fragione to the resolution of two older, wall-mounted works that unify painting and collage with the physical concentration and projection of assemblage, Pane (1987-2006) and especially Reliquary (1995-2006). These were followed by Ritorno (2007), a sprawling, ambitious triptych based on materials salvaged from the renovation of a mid-nineteenth-century cathedral in Louisville, Kentucky, mostly twisted, weathered copper, but also fragments of architectural marble carved by Italian artisans brought to the United States for the building of the church. Ritorno in particular affirms Fragioneâ€™s mastery of the wall-mounted assemblage, and it is critical to an account of the Clothesline series as its most evolved antecedent and as a source of direction for the artist. Along with the materials from the church, Ritorno is encrusted with small, mostly old, wellhandled objects of a domestic and fairly personal nature â€” jewelry, cosmetics cases, shoes, purses, pieces of clothing, decorative items, bundled letters, drawings, envelopes, and so on. Ritorno is, of course, a theater of dreams and memories. The triptych is fifteen feet wide, panoramic for all its physical intricacy. Its scale points toward the scope of the Clothesline canvases as well as their formal properties, which are narrative and yet decidedly non-linear.
Left: Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (black skirt and secrets) (2010), oil, mixed media, and assemblage on linen, 58 x 41 inches. Opposite: Center panel, Ritorno (2007), assemblage and oil on panel, 32 x 60 inches.
Ritorno cannot be absorbed at a glance. It asks that viewers pass along its length, bit by bit, back and forth, granting it time, scrutiny, reflection. It must be undertaken with something of the intensity of spirit with which it was made, and the pace of viewing is conducive to its moods and themes, its material plentitude. Though paint does not figure prominently in Ritorno, as it does in Pane and Reliquary, clearly a painterly eye leads its constructive procedures. The painterly sensibility comes forward â€” erupts â€” without equivocation in the Clothesline canvases, while Fragioneâ€™s reliance on a consistent compositional grid allows her to expand the atmospheric possibilities of the work from a single wall to an entire room. Painting is not simply one of its constitutive elements. It is integral to the very conception of the Clotheslines, painting as painting and yet inseparable from the incorporation of collage. At the scale of an entire room, however, the series goes beyond Ritorno to seek a different kind of time from viewers, or it places a different kind of responsibility on the viewer as a witness and participant. By creating a spatial environment of human scale and placing viewers within it, Fragione prompts a bodily level of experience. She knows the reflexes of the viewing eye, its presumptions, its habits of establishing distances and objectifying the work of art, and she refutes them with an installation that can evoke the physical sensation of being on a landscape. Its fundamental character may be quickly grasped, yes, but like a landscape, the Clotheslines will accommodate many views, from a sweeping gaze to the closest of study, none of which can ever be definitive in itself. Although this amplitude presented some difficulties at first, the series soon brought Fragione into the territory of the muralists of the Italian Renaissance for whom she has much admiration. Like a mural, the Clotheslines achieve something of the largeness of life, and thus reemphasize their desire to be 9
approached at that scale by viewers alert to the moment to moment actuality of encounter. A few more words may be said about Ritorno for the purpose of clarifying Fragione’s intentions for the Clothesline series. The title may be translated from the Italian as “return,” a noun, or as the first-person present form of the verb ritornare, “I return.” Such is the artist’s declaration, though the work, in a broader sense, makes reference to the many anonymous Italian artisans who contributed to the first period of dramatic urban growth in mid-nineteenth-century America. Its materials, subsumed in the constructive processes of the artist, are called upon to act as talismans of memory. For those early Italian immigrants to the United States, return to their homeland (as Fragione suggests) was a voyage enacted in memory and imagination, by people who knew that they would never return in fact. The myriad personal, domestic objects, honorific in their way and fitted among the bent sheets of copper, invoke the lives of the Italian women, even more anonymous than those of the men they accompanied, women who were also required to negotiate the dislocations of immigration and all the perils of the new world, in part by maintaining crucial aspects of their former lives, stubbornly, day-to-day, in their families and in immigrant communities. For them, America could be a hostile place where the survival of cultural and gender rituals was solace itself. Thus Ritorno holds scattered remnants of the innumerable stories that compose a particular history, and though it is a work of legacy, it does not adhere around the story of a specific person: the story of a people, rather, and the artist’s ancestors. It is a work that measures losses and gains, that grieves and endures. The pain of forgetting, it 10
Left: Drawing sg113 (Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear) (2010), oil, graphite, gouache, walnut ink, lithographic crayon, Conté crayon, and chalk pastel on paper, 29 x 24 inches. Right: Beaded top in the garden (Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear) (2011), mixed media and assemblage on paper, 41.5 x 29 inches. Opposite: Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (red dress) (2009-10), oil, mixed media, and assemblage on linen, 60 x 30 inches.
Left: Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (flower skirt) (2011), oil, mixed media, assemblage on linen, 60 x 30 inches. Opposite left: Drawing sg105 (Heaven / and Earth / are dressed in their summer wear) (2010), oil and mixed media on paper, 29 x 24 inches. Opposite right: For no flower dies at the end of its season quite like the sunflower (2009) collage, lithographic crayon, Conté crayon, chalk pastel, and graphite on paper, 41.5 x 29.5 inches.
implies, is greater than the pain of remembrance, and perhaps more disastrous. It is built work about builders, the builders of cities and the builders of families, and the accumulated tokens of domestic existence, in combination with the (masculine) materials from the Louisville cathedral, becomes a document of this altogether human passage, one the artist feels compelled to acknowledge in the public arena of art. As a second-generation Italian American, she knows what is often overlooked and finally forgotten in the more familiar accountings of history. Her “return” must cross time as well as oceans, but can its outcome ever be entirely certain? The situation of the Clotheslines is much the same. The rupture in the connection between human society and nature is analogous to the circumstances of those immigrants who wandered so far from their home — once broken, the 12
connection may never be fully restored, but because it cannot be forgotten, it becomes a wound in the spirit of the people. Thus Fragione departs from the overt cultural and ethnic identifications that imbue Ritorno, by generalizing her motif in order to make it available to a wider range of experience and encounter. The tone of the work tells us that she does not reject the masculine presence; she has instead turned her attention to the feminine and domestic. The use of vintage dresses does not mean that Fragione sees the clothesline only, or even chiefly, as artifactual, though the dresses can provoke a quality of recollection much like that of Ritorno. In both works, she seeks a sense of what might be called a humane rather than a simply human history. The dresses are neither secondhand castoffs nor abandoned fashions of relatively recent origin. They are antiques that have survived many decades, the sheaves or envelops of past lives as real and as urgent as our own, however obscure their destinies seem to us. They murmur to us from the shadows of lost time, but because no names are attached to them, or places, or particular events, their words must be spoken in the mind of the viewer. All reside in us, the old longings and triumphs, the pleasures, joys, and connivances. In a way, Fragione has taken a single item from the surface of Ritorno â€” a lace handkerchief, the fragment of a dress, or an old glove of creased kid, neatly stitched and as soft as tissue â€” and allowed it to regenerate across the ever-expanding demesne of the Clothesline canvases, where its voice, however elusive, speaks to an unsually wide range and variety of experience.
The histories of the dresses are beyond recovery. By one means or another, they found their way into vintage clothing shops, and their style, age, and decorative embellishments provide only the rudiments of identity — the kinds of women who might once have chosen them, and their original functions or social settings — enough to charge our conjectures. Still, all are cast in an aura of lingering intimacy and vulnerability. Many appear as partials or remnants, or they have been painted over, or on, and the paint reminds us that the canvases are artworks, that we should permit them to act on us as art does. The talismanic properties of the dresses — as, that is, objects acquired and used by specific individuals at some point in the past, acting as the surrogates of people whose lives, dreams, and desires are now dust — have been drawn inextricably into Fragione’s process and renewed through their interaction with paint, returned to life. Indeed, the Clotheslines could be described as a single horizontal painting. When the canvases hang edge to edge, they will accommodate almost any room or gallery, adjusting themselves to corners, doors, windows, and other architectural features. Further, they are open to rearrangement, based on their internal rhythms and harmonies, tonalities, oppositions, and counterpoints. Thus Fragione circumvents both the geometric perspective of conventional landscape painting and the atmospheric realism of, say, the impressionist canvas. Although she is hardly indifferent to the spaces of the real world, she does not duplicate them as imagery. The spaces on the canvases — many of which have received thorough study in large-scale drawings — are painting spaces, and as such, they shift the determination of perspective to the viewer, whose position before the work is always actual and variable. These effects are supported by the dresses themselves. On the one hand, they evoke a human presence at human scale, while on the other, they assert the clothesline motif materially and three-dimensionally, at the very surface of the work. Thus they interject an element of active visual realism (or reality) that operates in contrast and exchange with the painted imagery around them and keeps the work in its totality from feeling flat or planar. The dresses suggest a mode of portraiture, certainly, and ordered frontally across the canvases, like figures, they confront us as do portraits, enforcing a tacit field between viewer and canvas. This field is open and kinetic, however, not merely vacant or neutral, and it induces our imaginative leap into the work. We cannot stand as we would before a perspective-based painting, allowing, even expecting, the artist to manage our negotiation of its domain with visual guideposts placed there as directives. Our relation to the work remains physically as well as imaginatively free. The spaces of the Clotheslines are the spaces of the dreaming mind, and they refuse to direct us at all. We must direct ourselves, with the work as a catalyst of the process. Once again, our encounter with the Clotheslines refers to the more serendipitous experience of other clotheslines as they appear on the landscape, interposed between the eye of the spectator and the surrounding visual field, which provides a ground and yet not exactly a backdrop. If we pause to contemplate the clothesline and its potential evocations, it may indeed lead us over various avenues of imaginative play. Put simply, a primary difference 18
Opposite left: Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (off-white beaded dress and pink flowers) (2010), oil, mixed media, and assemblage on linen, 60 x 30 inches. Opposite right: Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (table cloth) (2007), oil, mixed media, and assemblage on linen, 60 x 30 inches.
between these forms, Clothesline and clothesline, lies in the intentionality of each. Fragione might argue that a clothesline’s poetry ought not be discounted because it is unintentional — in fact it might not be — unconscious, rather — so that a clothesline, originating as it does in the continuity of human endeavor, becomes a poetic form through the act of organization entailed in regularly hanging material on a line. These are the beginnings of aesthetic process. Yet one is art, needless to say, the other not. Should we press the differences? At a thematic level, Fragione is more interested in their convergences, but before we consider some of those in more detail, there is the matter of paint itself — how it works on the canvas, and how Fragione uses it to advance her sense of its traditions and her desire to build on them. Painting represents a long, illustrious, highly varied history, and Fragione’s affinities with the art-historical past can be felt in the Clothesline series as a resonant presence, deep in her imagery, and rarely explicit. Should we understand them as influences? Perhaps, but again, “affinity” offers a more exact sense of their operation in her work. Though Fragione, as a student of her medium, is alert to the past, she wants its support. She does not pillage it for ideas or visual quotations. 19
Left: Drawing sg-Fiorino Bollea’s blue (Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear) (2010-11), oil, pastel, graphite, and Conté crayon on paper, 41.5 x 29 inches. Right: Drawing sg-evening (Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear) (2010), mixed media on paper, 29 x 24 inches.
One history of interest to her is the use of figural imagery, especially portraiture, as an opportunity — or an excuse — for the depiction of clothing as a frank display of painterly virtuosity — an intensified realism of sumptuous materials and laces, jewels, precious metals, and costly possessions. For Fragione, this lineage begins with Giovanni Bellini, Titian, and Agnolo Bronzino, and comes to rest in the American twentieth century in the work of John Singer Sargent. The jewel-like hues of the Venetian Renaissance have a powerful appeal for her, as well, and while she does not strive for identical effects — the crystalline shimmer of a sheer, translucent paint film, the precise networks of highlights, the tactility of rendering — they are evoked especially in her handling of blue and yellow. She might add a dry pigment — true lapis lazuli, for example — to washes of ultramarine and white, and these colors spread across the canvases like the sparkle of summer sun through a canopy of leafy trees, dappling her fields with a luminous brilliance that lights her greens and pinks. The use of the vintage dresses as a collage material relieves Fragione of the need for exacting description, in any case. When she does depict dresses or portions of dresses with paint, we may note the echoes of the tradition of fabulous painterly displays of rare garments and accessories, but in a general way, they contribute to her overall effect rather than isolating any particular element in the work. Nor does she take up the requirement of traditional portraiture that the artist elucidate a client’s 20
Opposite: Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (green scarf and pink gloves) (2010), oil, and mixed media, and assemblage on linen, 60 x 30 inches.
Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (two lines) (2008-09), oil, mixed media, and assemblage on linen, 60 x 30 inches.
status and taste, and its absence tells us that her interest lies outside the specificities of likeness. Fragione concentrates on investing her surfaces with a quality of animation that, in conjunction with collage, leads to the creation of complex spatial effects and evokes the sensation of a clothesline in fact. This brings us to another area of significance for the Clotheslines, those artists who have gone about confounding explicit demarcations of space in their paintings. Here, one example would be the Four Dancers (c. 1889) of Edgar Degas, a large canvas in the collection of National Gallery of Art that Fragione knows well: the dancers appear on the left side of the painting, while to the right, the distinction between stage and background landscape is dissolved, and indeed the distinction between stage set and landscape. The blurring of spatial divisions, especially along the edges between interior and exterior fields, occurs elsewhere in Degas, and in work by Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard. Painting is extremely effective at performing this feat — it is among the durable assets of the medium — the ability to create situations of visual ambiguity that wiggle into a viewer’s consciousness, provoking the imagination, and clearly this is one of Fragione’s ambitions for the spaces of the Clotheslines. Fragione also likes to place paintings within paintings, transforming a canvas into a network of related, interconnected, but formally discrete visual components, like building blocks, a kind of sleight of hand that occurs in Matisse’s Studio, Quai Saint-Michel (1916) in the Phillips Collection and in Open Window, Collioure (1905) at the National Gallery. Still, one must be very cautious about such list-making. The cataloging of an artist’s interests is dangerous, carrying as it does the implication of undigested influence and allusion. In the Clothesline paintings, these elements exert themselves as a felt presence, one that imparts a certain thickness to the work, a density beyond the imagery itself. For the artist, their use may not even be entirely conscious. Those traditions are among the constitutive elements of Western visual culture. They belong to her, and to us. Even if we are unfamiliar with them as a specific art history, we are moved by the effects of their synthesis into Fragione’s deep process. Thus, too, we might sense traces of the urban realism of the Ashcan painters, John Sloan and George Bellows in particular, American flâneurs who made pictures of the clotheslines hanging between New York immigrant tenements. Or the combines of Robert Rauschenberg, material aggregations that combine paint with a host of unlikely objects. Such is the interconnectivity of art, slipping unobtrusively through the work. Finally, Fragione pursues a mode of landscape painting that has its own lineage in the twentieth century. She feels a kinship with Joan Mitchell and Cy Twombly, and as a student in the San Francisco Bay Area, she encountered work by a number of artists associated with the postwar decade in abstract painting there, canvases marked by a reliance on strong gesture and natural color — responses to the landscape rather than scenes, the expressions of feelings about place rather descriptions of place itself. What can earlier painters do for contemporary painters but teach them about painting? Fragione has looked into artists from periods more informed than her own about the nature and capacity of painting, or more informed about the relationship between the sign in painting and the actualities of the world, while her necessity is to make paintings that will satisfy her ambitions for them — an obvious point, but one that cannot be made often enough. Anyone who knows the landscapes of the Mid-Atlantic region — their light, their cloudscapes, the closeness of their horizons, their characteristic greens and blues, their seasons — will recognize a seepage into the Clothesline canvases, and indeed into virtually all of the artist’s work — a visual world she observes on a daily basis. Another source of color ideas lies in the gardens she has kept for much of her life, the flowerbeds and ripening rows of vegetables, just as her organizing structures, her tendency to compose in stacked forms,
Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (wax flowers) (2011), oil, mixed media, and assemblage on linen, 58 x 41 inches.
Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (flapper dress) (2008), oil, mixed media, and assemblage on linen, 60 x 30 inches.
Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (pink jacket) (2007), oil, mixed media, and assemblage on linen, 60 x 30 inches.
Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (pink dress and yellow polka dots) (2007), oil, mixed media, and assemblage on linen, 60 x 30 inches.
Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (dress, belt, and scarf, Sound View) (2009), oil, mixed media, and assemblage on linen, 60 x 30 inches.
Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (green sleeves) (2007-09), oil, mixed media, and assemblage on linen, 62 x 32 inches.
Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (flower yoke) (2007), oil, mixed media, and assemblage on linen, 60 x 30 inches.
invoke the plots and layouts of her gardens. As a thematic element in the series, the garden is entirely compatible with the clothesline. Yet these are hardly the limits of the work, and only begin to define them. One thinks of a observation by the French poet Yves Bonnefoy regarding the landscape canvases of Edward Hopper: “What is a painter, if not one who, even in the most fleeting perception of a tiny patch of blue over a roof at the moment the sky clears, unites his deepest dreams with his most tangible sensations?” Perhaps those words can guide us, too. Fragione finds areas of contact between her innermost being and the world around her, and explores the relationship on canvas, making it available for (our) viewing. The dresses constitute an explicit connection to the human world, and assist in establishing the Clotheslines as a manifestation of the ongoing transaction between the physical world and the interior consciousness of the artist in which the world finds a reflection. Thus, too, the continuousness of the series, without a designated beginning or end, becomes a metaphor for our experience of the world in time and of ourselves in that world. Its perspectives must be to some degree inexact, as unrestricted as possible by the deliberate gestures of the human will to order.
The vast world is composed of light and space, landscape, forms, surfaces, layers of formal harmonies. When these are filtered or recalibrated through the artwork, in this case organized into an active reconciliation between the (actual) dresses and (painted) landscapes, they press toward a reconciliation of exterior and interior, and by extension, of nature and the human. Heaven and earth are dressed in their summer wear. A haiku is meant to be uttered in a single breath, yet the extreme concision of the form, its tradition-bound structure and aura of vivid, carefully wrought insight, has prompted ceaseless invention. Most typically the haiku strives to evoke, as personal experience, a profound unity of nature and culture, with the poem as an inscription of the exchange between the temporal world and a spiritually attentive human consciousness. It matters not that this version of Basho’s poem is both a translation and an interpretation. In English, too, it conveys a sense of nature’s liveliness and verve, as well as a feeling for the capacity of language to produce a piercing image of the integration of human endeavor with the natural world, or its possibility. It draws us back to the experience of the clothesline,
but as the title of the series, it also gestures toward Fragioneâ€™s desire that the canvases be seen, at least in part, as both a physical metaphor for her engagement with the world and an accounting of this experience in an individualized visual format â€” a representation of the creative mind in a physical environment continually creating and renewing itself. The poem breathes the atmosphere of late spring and early summer, of bright mornings and warm afternoons, of high clouds and brisk breezes bearing the fragrance of the season â€” a time when all of nature seems to delight in the generous bestowal of its finery, the summer wear lifted from its place of storage at last. The artist envisions the clothesline here, in the midst of such scenery, the rippling sheets and towels, the dresses and shirts perfumed with a green and earthy aroma. It is a vision of harmony, but not, for Fragione, of nature domesticated. Nature coexists with the forms of patient, regular human undertaking. It resists domestication, and efforts to tame it will always be provisional in the end. Fragione, needless to say, is interested in shadows as well as sunshine. In her thoroughness and commitment to her subject, she probes light and dark alike, the benign, the turbulent, and the mysterious. Some dresses are festive. Others may be quite ordinary, the daily wear of an earlier time. They speak of the variety of human existence. The paint, too, wants to be more than depiction alone. Whatever its tonality or mood, it suggests a fecundity of layered effects and proliferating shapes and forms
and colors, a profuseness that calls to mind things growing in the heat. The work of art reflects the artistâ€™s long meditation on the operations of the world through which she travels, and in this sense, the Clothesline canvases are neither serial nor are they repetitive. The format is repeatable, rather, and as it repeats, the canvases shift fluently among their functions and operations. The basic formal modality of the series is a presentation, from canvas to canvas, of the elemental transaction between figure and ground. The dresses assert the inflections of portraiture, yes, but in a broader sense they participate in a relationship that refers to one of the most fundamental procedures of visual experience â€” our view of an object in a spatial field or ground composed of other objects, and how the eye separates them, assessing and constructing structures of significance based on previous experiences of figure/ground situations. A clothesline is similarly perceived, and our view of it remains variable and contingent, relative to the details of its setting and our own perspective. Here the originality and logic of the Clotheslines as a continuous, wraparound, motif-based work shows itself again, for it recreates, as visual metaphor, an experience that is social, cultural, perceptual, aesthetic, dynamic. In our time, the motif may be added to the long pastoral traditions of art and literature, and to go another step, to the romantic pastoral, in which nature speaks through the artist against the course of modern technocratic society and its inevitable discontents. To return to an earlier idea, the dresses, as collage, lie on the very surface of the canvas, and when the canvases hang in a row, the dresses appear to occupy a more
Opposite left: Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (wedding dress) (2010), oil, mixed media, and assemblage on linen, 60 x 30 inches. Opposite right: Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (grey gloves and yellow dress) (2007-08), oil, mixed media, and assemblage on linen, 60 x 30 inches. Left: Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (yellow hankie) (2009-10), oil, mixed media, and assemblage on linen, 60 x 30 inches.
Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear (white, royal smalt, Spanish red, and gold dresses) (2010-11), oil, mixed media, and assemblage on canvas, 70 x 65.5 inches.
or less fixed visual plane. At first, this planarity seems to interject a regulated obstruction to a full spatial view of the imagery, but as Fragione intends, the dresses soon begin to feel more like portals — a sequence of windows or doors — from which we may look toward another world, or another kind of world, that of the artist. Because the dresses evoke an earlier time, they can hardly help but refer to the/a past, however broadly, and in this capacity, their performance in the work is incontestably “figural,” insofar as they act “like” figures and thus “speak” for people now absent, their first owners. As portals, the dresses also direct the eye back into the canvas, to what seems to lie behind them, for which they serve as a covering or mask: back, that is, into a realm of paint. In this context, Fragione’s most crucial technique is her heightened material involvement and labor-intensive process, the layers and textures and colorism, the glow of interior illumination. When Fragione uses paint to complete a remnant dress or paints directly on the dress material, when she upsets distinctions between dress and paint, she is also dissolving the edges between the dresses and their spaces, a practice that exploits the transformational properties of painting itself. The canvases do feel light and summery, almost in spite of the immense amount of activity invested in them. Not effortless, but with a sense of having been undertaken with a lightness of spirit. Heaven and earth are dressed in their summer wear. Essence is joined with physicality, and the imagery shifts, too, gliding among the demarcations of space and form, or perhaps more precisely, among planes of being. We might think of another painter of importance to Fragione, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, the Baroque master of azzurro, the celestial blue with which he blurred the borders between heaven and earth, God’s realm and ours. Fragione does not quite believe in the old delineations of separateness, either. When heaven and earth are dressed in their summer wear, all realms lie together and we cannot easily pick them apart, no more than we are able to separate dress from paint, one paint layer from another, or even one painting from another, as they absorb us into their atmosphere of fullness and sufficiency.
Bruce Nixon is the author of “The Form in Time: Relief Sculptures by Manuel Neri,” in Manuel Neri: The Figure in Relief (Hudson Hills, 2006), and “A Wonderland of His Own,” in Frank Lobdell: The Art of Meaning and Making (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2003), and has written monographs on Gustavo Ramos Rivera, Wolf Kahn, Charles Ginnever, Young June Lew, Wally Hedrick, and other artists. He was editor-in-chief of Artweek from 1990-1996. He received his M.F.A. in creative writing from Mills College, Oakland, California.
Education 1987 M.F.A., Fiberworks, John F. Kennedy University Orinda, California. Included study with Jay DeFeo, Mills College, Oakland, and Brian Wall and Anna Valentina-Murch, University of California, Berkeley. 1981 B.A., Fine Art, Goddard College, Plainfield, Vermont. Selected Solo Exhibition 2007 Salute, Antonio, Harmony Hall Regional Center, Fort Washington, Maryland. 2005 Love and Barley, Swanson Reed Contemporary Art, Louisville, Kentucky. 2001 No Greater Love, St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Assumption, Covington, Kentucky. Mezzogiorno, Swanson Cralle East Market, Louisville, Kentucky. 2000 No Greater Love, Spiritual Art Gallery, Cathedral Heritage Foundation, Louisville, Kentucky. 1999 Paintings, Swanson Cralle East Market, Louisville, Kentucky. 1996 Paintings, Bradford Gallery, San Anselmo, California. 1995 Paintings, Instituti Italiano di Cultura, San Francisco, California Selected Group, Invitational, and Juried Exhibitions 2011 Green: the Color and the Cause, The Textile Museum, Washington, D.C. 2010 Media Mixed: Four Artists, Esvelt Gallery, Columbia Basin College. Pasco, Washington. 2009 Cianne Fragione and Yumi Hogan, two-person exhibition, Hodson Gallery, Hood College, Fredrick, Maryland. Six in the Mix, Hillyer Art Space, Washington, D.C. Renee Stout, curator. The Object: Found, Multiplied, Manipulated, Ridderhof Martin Gallery, University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Virginia. Threads, Gallery 125, Trenton, New Jersey. 2006 ARTreston, Reston, Virginia. 2004 Religion, Spirituality and the Object, Indianapolis Art Center, Indianapolis, Indiana. 2003 Mezzogiorno, United States Embassy, Vilnius, Lithuania, through 2006; the Arts in Embassies Program, The U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C. Inspired by the Land, Attleboro Museum, Attleboro, Massachusetts. 2001 Paintings, two-person exhibition, Carnegie Arts Center, Leavenworth, Kansas. Tree of Life, Bernheim Arboretum, Clermont, Kentucky. 2000 Visions VI, Zahorec/Hughes Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1998 Renewing the Spirit, Spiritual Art Gallery, Louisville, Kentucky. Residences and Awards 2010 Artist-in-Residence, Soaring Gardens, Laceyville, Pennsylvania. A project of the Ora Lerman Trust, New York, New York. 2005 Artist-in-Residence, Spoleto Study Aboard, Spoleto, Italy. Selected Bibliography 2009 Jessica Dawson, “Group Show at Hillyer”, The Washington Post, August 14. Ilene Dube, “Hats, Heels & Lingerie, Artist and Poets pay homage to the garments we define ourselves in” The Princeton Packet, April 2. 2006 Trish Donally, “ … An Extraordinary Estate,” Washington Spaces, Winter. 2003 Julianna Thibodeaux, “Radical religious art,” NUVO, November 19. S. L. Berry, “Today’s art, religion have much to say to each other,” Indianapolis Star, November 14. 2001 Jerry Stein, “Stations of the Cross given a new vision,” Cincinnati Post, November 19. 34
Cianne Fragione Born Hartford, Connecticut
Heaven and Earth are dressed in their summer wear Burton Marinkovich Fine Art 1506 Twenty-first Street, NW Washington, DC 20036 Design: David Webber, Washington, DC. www.davidallenwebber.com Photography: Lee Stalsworth, Washington, DC. www.artshooter.com Printing: Anaconda Press, Inc., Forestville, Maryland. ÂŠ Cianne Fragione and Bruce Nixon, 2011. Cianne Fragione wishes to thank Flint Hill School, Oakton, Virginia, for its support of this publication.
Drawing sg126 (Heaven and Earth / are dressed / in their summer wear) (2011) mixed media on paper, 29 x 24 inches.