For Pia, Lotta & Nicolas
Parallel/Bend (Folding): School of Mathematical Sciences, QMUL, 2019 Acrylic marker pens on wall and vinyl on glass
CONTACT TRACING THE HAPTIC ABSTRACTION OF GIULIA RICCI
‘Pattern is central to my work. It is a subject that allows me to create relationships between the sense of sight and the sense of touch, through the use of textured surfaces that suggest physicality and tactility.’ 1
It would be easy to characterise Giulia Ricci’s practice as a purely cerebral endeavour. Her work exudes a spirit of deep mental concentration; painstaking adherence to a defined set of rules and systematic processes. Using just one or two ready-mixed colours, she has predominantly explored the permutations of right-angled triangles, mapping orientational change across a meticulouslymapped grid. But this assessment provides only a partial understanding of Ricci’s motivations as an artist. Hers is not a detached investigation of a purely geometrical realm. Rather, it is a hands-on inquiry into the relationships that exist between our bodies and our surroundings; a desire to connect knowledge gained from looking with that gleaned through touching the objects that surround us. Through closer inspection, it is possible to assess Ricci’s practice as fundamentally interdisciplinary - performative, even sculptural - in its multi-sensory and spatial concerns. Born in Northern Italy in 1976, Giulia Ricci was raised in the intensely flat agricultural landscapes close to the town of Bagnacavallo in the province of Ravenna. Hers was a simple, if circumscribed, childhood. Her family has farmed the land for longer than the tree can trace. There were few possessions at home beyond the intensely personal or the hand worked useful. Diligence and graft were assumed without question. Ricci filled her spare time by teaching herself to draw and, despite initially pursuing studies in classical literature, she eventually loosened the chains of parental expectation by deciding to study art. Due to limited opportunities, Ricci always knew that she would leave the region. Physical distance, however, has not diminished her innate attraction to repetitive units as reflected in the neatly partitioned landscapes of her childhood, nor has it
weakened her discerning eye. Even today, Ricci visibly winces at the thought of clutter. Less is more; a quiet, one-to-one engagement with things is preferred. Ricci’s decision to study sculpture at The Slade School of Art in London in 2005 was driven less by a desire to make objects and more from a need to understand her work in relation to a given space. Supported by her tutors, the sculptors Edward Allington and Cathy de Monchaux, Ricci embarked on a gradual journey of loosening things up, often experimenting with edible or malleable domestic materials to create sensuous work with a featherlight presence. With a nod to artist Shelagh Wakely (1932-2011), Ricci used stencils and sieved wheat flour to create ornate triangulated patterns on the floor. Over time, this vulnerable installation eroded underfoot, enabling reflection on temporality and on the challenges of giving structure to substances that resist compliance. In a similar ‘kitchen experiment’, Ricci carved triangular recesses into a wax tablet, infilling them with chocolate to create a decorative slab reminiscent of exquisite marquetry or an ancient tiled floor freshly unearthed at an archaeological site. This process of embedding a material into shallow recesses anticipates her subsequent laser cut infill works. Changes are also discernible in Ricci’s post-Slade work on paper, particularly in her Order/Disruption series of drawings where one glimpses a growing trust in intuitive working processes and a willingness to challenge systems. Triangles are pushed and pulled in different directions to create fault lines and deliberate deviations that revel in the particular and the unique. Ricci has asked herself many times, ‘what kind of abstraction do I do?’ Even the briefest analysis of her influences reveals a plethora of global approaches. On the one hand, Ricci acknowledges a long tradition of op, kinetic and concrete art practices. She also cites work that fuses minimalism with a certain intricacy or personal intensity by artists including Anni Albers, Agnes Martin and Ricci’s friend and mentor, Tess Jaray. Equally evident is an interest in so-called ‘poor’ materials championed in the work of the Arte Povera artists. Ricci recently noted the strong influence of Marisa Merz: ‘I see my work as quite humble. Merz had a very caring, gentle way of treating her materials that I empathise with.’2 In addition, there are many important interdisciplinary sources informing Ricci’s practice including Islamic architecture, the buildings of Carlo Scarpa and Aldo Rossi, the insightful writings of Italo Calvino, Portuguese azulejos, quilts, textiles, maps and diagrams; not forgetting the incidental ornamentation encountered in daily life. The
discovery of an old catalogue for the 2001 Fondation Beyeler exhibition Ornament and Abstraction: The Dialogue Between Non-Western, Modern & Contemporary Art helped Ricci to rationalise the roots of her eclectic interests, and to discern the clear unifying thread connecting everyday patterns with the realm of fine art.3 As Ricci explained recently: ‘it is not about pure ideas, but an abstraction of things.’4 The thingness of Ricci’s art is evident in all of her work on paper. Ricci does not perceive paper to be an inert support for images but instead considers it to be a sculptural material in its own right. It has a lightness: it doesn’t add too much to our overcrowded world. It is malleable and pliant, able to be inscribed and inlaid with the insistent pressure of the permanent pen, or caressed and accentuated by the soft nurture of the gouache brush. Ricci’s recent introduction of metallic paints adds additional lustre to an already precious surface. Small sheets of paper can fit onto a board, worked on in even the smallest domestic dwelling, tucked away neatly at the end of a session to make space for other things. Large sheets extend beyond the board, unfurling like fabric, falling like water. When working on a larger scale, as with the recent suite of large gouaches titled Alteration/Deviation, Ricci oversees the proceedings like a diligent weaver at a loom. She works this way and that, following the warp and then the weft: up and across, building the work gradually. Systematic, patient, insistent, controlled: this is drawing as making, drawing as performance. And when the work is finished it cannot be inhibited by the frame, encased behind glass. It must be allowed to breathe in its space. Pinned lightly, it remains fluid, maintaining its inherent structure: elegant verticality, a gentle kind of architecture. Ricci has made several interventions into real architectural space through her work on commissions. The increase in scale does not lead to a reduction in intimacy. Ricci often works in situ to deliver the installation personally, enjoying the opportunity to interact with a wider public. Liberated from the confines of the paper, her site-specific work creeps around corners, across windows, up the stairs, glistening in the light, interacting with the world at large. It adorns every surface like a protective layer, a porous membrane or an enveloping skin. Ricci has alluded to skin in a variety of ways across her practice, from the experimental projection of her patterned works onto her own body in a darkened space at the Slade, to the use of leather as an organic ground for intricate laser engraved patterns in more
recent work, leading to a fusion of animal and mechanical textures crying out to be touched. As the largest sensory organ in our bodies, skin protects us from external threats, but it is also the primary site for experiencing the world through touch. ‘Let us not forget the body of the artist,’ advised Ricci in a recent panel discussion with a fellow artist, a philosopher and a neuroscientist, ‘[the body] informs the brain… it’s all one thing. The mediation of my body is fundamental.’5 The intense pattern making in Ricci’s work is the result of the repeated physical actions of her body. In forging a deeply performative connection with her materials and dedicating precious time to doing things meticulously over and over again, her approach could be described as ritualistic in nature. Ricci acknowledges this comparison and particularly enjoys the connection between her practice and the cyclical rituals that articulate our everyday lives: ‘I want my art to portray those mundane domestic tasks, like washing the dishes, because drawing has a similar mentality. You go on autopilot - it’s quite reassuring.’6 To Ricci, the repetitive processes of work are deeply restorative: an overriding sense of wellbeing emerges when the mind and the body work together. With these soothing thoughts in mind, it is possible to discern a spirit of gentleness and tenderness underpinning the entire practice. Giulia Ricci’s work celebrates the often underrated qualities of quiet perseverance, handling with deep care and being truly attentive to the present.
Natalie Rudd, April 2021
1 Giulia Ricci, The Grammar of Orientation, unpublished statement, 2013. 2 Jessica Lack, ‘Giulia Ricci: Ring Here Gallery’, The World of Interiors, October 2011, p.345. 3 Markus Brüderlin [ed.], Ornament & Abstraction: The Dialogue Between Non-Western, Modern and Contemporary Art, Yale University Press, 2001. 4 Author’s conversation with Giulia Ricci, 27 February 2021. 5 Patterns of Beauty web stream event, Bloomsbury Festival, October 23, 2020, featuring artists Giulia Ricci and Conrad Shawcross and the neurobiologist Professor Semir Zeki, chaired by the philosopher, Professor Barry C. Smith. 6 Lack,p.345.
Sugar Coated: Facebook AIR Program Commission, 2017 Acrylic marker pens on wood panels
Order/Disruption No. 22, 2011 Pen on paper 21.5 × 30 cm | 8 15/32 × 11 13/16 in
Order/Disruption No. 17, 2011 Pen on paper 33 x 33 cm | 12 63/64 × 12 63/64 in
Order/Disruption No. 38, 2011 Indian ink lightfast pen on paper 20 × 30 cm | 7 7/8 × 11 13/16 in
Orientation/Disorientation No.10, 2016 Rubber stamped archival oil-based ink on paper (Monotype) 70 × 70 cm | 27 9/16 × 27 9/16 in
Orientation/Disorientation No.13, 2016 Rubber stamped archival oil-based ink on paper (Monotype) 70 × 70 cm | 27 9/16 × 27 9/16 in
Order/Disruption No. 71, 2013 Lightfast Indian ink pen on paper 33 × 34 cm | 12 63/64 × 13 25/64 in
Untitled, 2018 Riso print on paper (Monotype) 29.7 × 42 cm | 11 3/4 × 16 1/2 in
Manifestations and Wall Drawings: Private Client London, 2017 Vinyl on glass and permanent markers on felt panels
ALTERATION / DEVIATION
Over the past two years, Giulia Ricci has been working on a new suite of works entitled Alteration/ Deviation. Employing a triangular element organised within a grid and her preferred method of freehand drawing, these new works take on a considerably larger scale than her previous works on paper. This is also the first time the artist conceived a series by applying pigments with a brush rather than pens or mechanical tools. The composition of each work is in essence a repeat pattern of bold and clearly ordered geometric arrangement. These works exemplify the principle that a small change can generate unexpected consequences and cascading transformations, something which might resonate with wider events unfolding around us.
Alteration/Deviation, Red No. 1, 2019 Watercolour and pencil on paper 120.4 × 100.4 cm | 47 2/5 × 39 1/2 in
Giulia Ricci is interested in the ambiguous nature of the relationship between abstraction and ornament; the seemingly abstract nature of the work is only partially so as the patterns she uses refer to physical objects such as textiles and architectural details. Using a pared-down language of minimal geometric units, the right-angled triangles are inscribed into the grid which the artist describes as her ‘vocabulary’.
Alteration/Deviation, Blue No. 2, 2019 Watercolour and pencil on paper 120.4 × 100.4 cm | 47 2/5 × 39 1/2 in
By using compositional strategies including repetition, rotation and mirroring, typical of processes of ornamentation, Ricci modifies and distorts the configuration of each work, thereby creating the impression that the flat surface is spatially activated through what may be optically perceived as shifting planes. Equally, the angle from which a work is approached, the variation in viewpoint and distance between viewer and piece, determine which patterns emerge or recede perceptually.
Alteration/Deviation, Black No. 3, 2019 Gouache and pencil on paper 120.4 × 100.4 cm | 47 2/5 × 39 1/2 in
As in earlier series, the artist uses a title consisting of a pairing of words: Alteration/Deviation. Previous bodies of works included Order/Disruption, Parallel/ Bend and Orientation/Disorientation. The artist’s titling emphasises the interplay of contrasting elements such as two colours, the interplay between fore- and background or the direction in which a pattern is drawn, which in turn relates to the idea of warp and weft. Each aspect carries the same visual weight, as a result, there is a sense of interchangeability between the contrasting components.
Alteration/Deviation, Green No. 4, 2019 Gouache and pencil on paper 120.4 × 100.4 cm | 47 2/5 × 39 1/2 in
The compositional strategy of Alteration/Deviation is based on a limited range of changes in a pattern which are obtained by modifying the orientation of a right-angled triangle within a square. As areas with differing orientations are placed in proximity, they generate contrasts that vary in intensity depending on the placement within the overall composition, producing a dynamic interference on the boundary of two areas; for example the contrast is significantly enhanced along borders occurring at an angle of 45 degrees.
Alteration/Deviation, Orange No. 5, 2020 Gouache and pencil on paper 120.4 × 100.4 cm | 47 2/5 × 39 1/2 in
This latest series embraces the notion of setting a strict set of preconceived parameters, offering their own visual proof that a surprisingly wide range of possibilities for image-making can be developed from a simple set of rules and dispassionate unfolding of the motions of the artist’s hand. Indeed, Ricci remarked about her sense of gratification from exploring what at first appears to be a narrow framework only for this to open limitless possibilities for developing a diverse set of compositions.
Alteration/Deviation, Light Blue No. 6, 2020 Gouache and pencil on paper 120.4 × 100.4 cm | 47 2/5 × 39 1/2 in
Whereas the dimensions of earlier works were determined by how far the artist’s arm could reach, these latest pieces are made in sections, allowing Ricci to expand the overall size exponentially. These works, conceived as small maquettes, are then painted on a larger scale, resulting in a new physical experience. The realisation, for Ricci, that it is not necessary for the artist to see the entire surface of the sheet at once while working has made possible a new range and new level of nuance in her practice.
Alteration/Deviation, Pink No. 7, 2020 Gouache and pencil on paper 120.4 × 100.4 cm | 47 2/5 × 39 1/2 in
Giulia Ricci’s renewed interest in and engagement with architecture has sparked the interest in exploring works on a larger scale. Indeed, over the past five years, the artist has made a series of large-scale site-specific commissions within architectural spaces. Somewhat misleadingly described as drawings, these installations are made with materials as varied as vinyl or etched bronze. This has become a significant development within the artist’s practice and has led her to devise new approaches to experiential and direct relationship with architectural space, which in turn has clearly impacted on new studio work such as the Alteration/Deviation series.
Alteration/Deviation, Navy Blue No. 8, 2020 Gouache and pencil on paper 120.4 × 100.4 cm | 47 2/5 × 39 1/2 in
Thanks to a continuing collaboration with a neuroscientist at UCL, which started in 2019, the artist has also developed a particular interest in the concept of embodied cognition, according to which the body and its sensations influence our cognitive processes. This notion has informed her interpretation of the relationship that we have with spaces from a purely tactile perspective.
Alteration/Deviation, Edible Grey No. 9, 2020 Gouache and pencil on paper 120.4 × 100.4 cm | 47 2/5 × 39 1/2 in
The majority of the artist’s smaller works on paper have a landscape orientation, a reminder of the sense of proximity and physical relationship that occurs between the eyes and an open book or a video screen. Alteration/Deviation works are oriented to portrait format, not only because of their larger scale but rather to suggest the relationship of the whole body with architectural elements such as windows or doors.
Alteration/Deviation, Copper No. 10, 2020 Gouache and pencil on paper 120.4 × 100.4 cm | 47 2/5 × 39 1/2 in
Finally, a note on the colour and the type of pigments used and the method of their application. These signal yet another point of departure from previous bodies of works. Unlike pens, which are applied with a linear progression, subject to variations due to the angle at which the pen nib draws and the pressure applied by the hand, the water-based pigments (watercolour and gouache) used in Alteration/Deviation are applied by the artist as discrete sections of uniform colour. Following the guides of a grid initially drawn by pencil, a very fine brush is used to delineate the three sides of each triangle; this brush outline works as a boundary that neatly contains the viscous liquidity of the paint filling which is subsequently applied with a second brush.
Alteration/Deviation, Gold No. 11, 2020 Gouache and pencil on paper 120.4 × 100.4 cm | 47 2/5 × 39 1/2 in
The choice of pigment reflects the desire to achieve a super-matt finish, elevating sharp edges that dry to a uniform flatness. The precise appearance nevertheless retains the texture and feel of the hand-made and these apparently contradictory forces are equally important aspects of Giulia Ricci’s practice. Over the past year, the artist has been researching pigments that have a particular quality, allowing for uniformity of application and brilliance of colour; some of the chosen pigments are honeybased watercolours, but most are varieties of gouache. While the artist had often used black ink in previous works on paper, this new series features a confident use of bright colours, as such Ricci’s examination of these highly specific materials is also the beginning of an exciting journey of discovery into the field of colour.
Alteration/Deviation, Cadmium Red No. 12, 2020 Gouache and pencil on paper 120.4 × 100.4 cm | 47 2/5 × 39 1/2 in
Order/Disruption (Windows): School of Mathematical Sciences, QMUL, 2019 Vinyl on glass
Order/Disruption No. 73, 2018 Pencil and Indian ink lightfast pen on paper 56 × 76.5 cm | 22 3/64 × 30 1/8 in
Order/Disruption No. 63, 2013 Pencil and Indian ink lightfast pen on paper 56 × 76.5 cm | 22 3/64 × 30 1/8 in
Untitled, 2010 Pen on paper 33 × 34 cm | 12 63/64 × 13 25/64 in
Untitled, 2009 Pen on paper 33 × 34 cm | 12 63/64 × 13 25/64 in
Parallel/Bend No.10, 2014 Lightfast Indian ink pen on paper 31.5 × 29.5 cm | 12 13/32 × 1139/64 in
Parallel/Bend No. 40, 2016 Lightfast Indian ink pen on paper 50 × 70 cm | 19 11/16 × 27 9/16 in
Parallel/Bend No. 44, 2016 Lightfast Indian ink pen on paper 50 × 70 cm | 19 11/16 × 27 9/16 in
Parallel/Bend No. 39, 2016 Lightfast Indian ink pen on paper 30 × 31.5 cm | 11 13/16 × 1213/32 in
Parallel/Bend No. 36, 2016 Lightfast Indian ink pen on paper 35 × 50 cm | 47 2/5 × 39 1/2 in
Order/Disruption (Window), 2011 Vinyl on glass 200 × 200 cm | 78 47/64 × 78 47/64 in
Untitled, 2005 Stencilled flour Approx. 50 × 50 cm | 19 11/16 × 19 11/16 in
Skin No. 1, 2014 Laser engraved leather 45.5 × 77 cm | 17 29/32 × 30 5/16 in
Order/Disruption, Painting No. 4, 2012 Laser engraved laminated board and acrylic paint, hand painted Edition of 5 36 × 36 × 1.8 cm | 14 11/64 × 14 11/64 × 45/64 in
What is Normal?: Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging UCL , 2020 Quilted wall hanging 200 × 150 cm | 78 47/64 × 59 1/16 in
The Grammar of Orientation: 7 Air Sreet, London, 2015 Etched, patinated and polished bronze panels
Nathalie Rudd Natalie Rudd is a curator and writer. She is currently Senior Curator of the UK’s Arts Council Collection. She has written widely on modern and contemporary art including monographic texts on artists including Peter Blake (2003, Tate Publishing), Tess Jaray (Ridinghouse / Sotheby’s, 2017) and Paul de Monchaux (2019, Ridinghouse). Recent publications include The Self-Portrait (Thames & Hudson, 2021) and an essay on Veronica Ryan’s early sculptural practice (Veronica Ryan: Along a Spectrum, Spike Island, 2021).
Giulia Ricci would like to thank Clara Cowan and Christopher Adams Clara Goldsmith and Joe Taylor Modus Operandi Josephine Kelliher Commission Projects Amos Marchant Dr Anjali Bhat Andrew Bick Natalie Rudd Edward Goodwin Niklas and Daniela von Bartha
Photocredits: Fotohaus, with permission from QMUL [Order/Disruption (Windows): School of Mathematical Sciences, QMUL] Jake Fairnie [What is Normal?: Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging UCL] Robert W. Mason Philip Vile [The Grammar of Orientation: 7 Air Sreet] Vijay Sebastian
Credits: Order/Disruption No. 17, 2011 | Private Collection London, UK Order/Disruption No. 63, 2013 | Private Collection Miami, USA Untitled, 2010 | Private Collection Buenos Aires, AR Untitled, 2009 | Private Collection London, UK Parallel/Bend No.10, 2014 | Private Collection London, UK What is Normal?: Quilt | Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging UCL, 12 Queen Square, London, UK
Editing (Alteration/Deviation): Andrew Bick Limited Edition published in 2021 Online Edition available at gricci.art
© Copyright, Giulia Ricci and Bartha Contemporary Ltd.
What is Normal?: Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging UCL
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