Italian populism is on the rise, fueled by the era of Trump, but artist Francesca Galliani continues to push the democratic ideals where art and freedom of expression meet seamlessly between Italian and American culture via the rise of globalization. Photographer, Francesca Galliani doesn’t just take photos—she captures emotion. Through her imagery, which also includes mixed media works, collage and painting, the Italian born and New York-based artist explores feminism, human rights and the female body. From subjects including impoverished towns in Southeast Asia, to members of the transgender community, Galliani’s work has taken her across the world—and her photos bring the viewers right along with her.
Having discovered photography by chance, after taking a summer course in order to learn how to use her camera, Galliani fell in love with the dark room—and the process. Using experimental techniques to manipulate her photos, she doesn’t believe in boundaries. Instead, Galliani uses art to break as many barriers as possible, while always communicating a powerful message.
As part of the opening of BlackBook’s new experiential art gallery, “BlackBook Presents”, we’ve curated some of our favorite pieces of Galliani’s work, which will be on view starting November 28 at BlackBook Presents in Dumbo Brooklyn.
In anticipation of the show, we sat down with the artist to talk about her work and her responsibilities as an artist.
Tell me about your background.
I’ve been an artist since 1983. My background is: I went to art school and started out as a photographer. I originally just wanted to do fine art photography, but then eventually expanded. I come from the old school of being in the dark room, and developed some techniques that are unique to me. I use toner to do a manual intervention and take the image to another dimension. I’ve always been into manipulating images. So, I started in the dark room and eventually went to mixed media. I always start with my images and then add paint and other elements, especially with words. I love words, I love to take them out of their context and give them a new meaning when you isolate them. I’ve been working in the dark room for 35 years and that’s still my home base. I still am always in the dark room. There’s a magic in there.
Do you consider your work collage?
I think they’re bigger than collage—they take it a step further. So, I’d call it mixed media. I mean, I always start in the dark room, with my images, and then I work to manipulate them. There are elements of collage there, of course, but I also use things like paint, graphite, charcoal.
How did you first get into photography?
It really happened by coincidence. When I was younger, I decided I wanted to learn how to use a camera. So, I went to a summer class to learn, and had this nice surprise of really being in love with it. Then, you know how when you fall in love with something or someone, you just want to do it or be near them all the time? That’s what happened, and I started shooting, and working in the dark room everyday. But when the class was over, my teacher took me aside and she said, ‘The technique, everyone can learn, but the eye—you either have it or you don’t. And you have it. I urge you to keep going.’ I went to the Corcoran School of Art where I got a BFA specializing in photography.
What is it for you about photography that really allows you to express yourself in a way that other mediums maybe wouldn’t?
Any time I create—it could be photography, or painting—the process keeps me alive. It gives me life. The process of creation itself is everything—the medium doesn’t really matter. They all have the same result of feeding me, feeding my soul. But I also believe it’s the art itself that tells you what to do—that we, as artists, are just channels. So, when I create a painting it’s based on instinct. Photography is an art form—it’s just a different media that serves the same purpose, equally as good as a painting. It’s just about learning how to listen to your gut and follow it, but also let your intellect be part of the creative process. Don’t get influenced by what you think other people might like.
When did you start working with collage, though?
What made you want to start?
Well, look. I started in 1983, so it took me basically 20 years to get to that point. But I started because I use these toners that are very powerful. They give a great punch to the image, but they also contain Mercury, which is toxic. So, at a certain point, I used to think, ‘For my art, I don’t care if it kills me.’ But then I started getting sick, and my lungs started to hurt, and I realized I didn’t want to die just for the sake of my work. I changed my mind. But I wanted to keep creating in a unique way. So, I decided to continue shooting analog photos, then scan my work and create really large pieces. Then I decided I could still manually intervene, like I used to with toner, but with paint, or with collage, and still achieve that same effect. And I ended up loving the process.
When I was in art school, the first few years, you have to take sort of basic classes. So, everyone—myself included—had to take classes like painting, figure drawing, etc. But I did end up getting real training in painting. Of course, when I was in school, I didn’t care about painting—I just wanted to do my photography. But it was amazing, because later on, that education really served my work. Like, the work I’m doing now, I’m working with abstract painting, which I’ve never done in my life. But I just had this voice in my head telling me, ‘Abstract. You have to do it.’ At first, I thought it would be a disaster, but the more I work, the more I fall in love with it.
As far as photography goes—a lot of people find that photographing someone is almost like communicating to them non-verbally. Do you find that that’s true?
Oh, absolutely. A lot of my work is really socio-political, even my nudes. If you look at the women I photograph, they’re all strong, powerful women. Usually, with nudes, it’s all about seeing and showcasing the body. But with my photos, it’s about showing female strength, and the power in their form. I’ve also been photographing transgender people since 1998. Now, that’s much more accepted, but especially in the ‘90s, it wasn’t something everyone was doing. I did all of those portraits to show the dignity and the beauty of the community. So, I definitely like to use my work to communicate a strong socio-political message.
Do you consider your work feminist?
Of course. My work is about human rights, and women’s rights are human rights.
How does your work explore human rights?
The LGBTQ community, being a woman, even poverty—these are all things that experience prejudice, and with my work, I want to shine a light on them, and the show the dignity in those communities. I do like to have a wide spectrum, and not just focus on one thing, because I want to share the power of all these different things. Even when I traveled to Southeast Asia and photographed all of these impoverished communities—that’s important to me. So many people think of success as how much money you make, or how many nice things you have, but I wanted to show that success can mean many different things. It was similar to what I did with the transgender community in that I wanted to show the beauty in these people, to show that they, too, are human. As for the abstract stuff, it’s really about exploring uncertainty and uncertain times, which is really what the whole world is dealing with right now—not just the United States. Everything is changing, shifting to the extreme right side, so there’s a lot of fear. But art can be a venue—I believe art changes things.
I know you’re from Milan originally. With your work, you’re clearly touching on relevant socio-political themes in regards to what’s happening in the U.S., but do you think your cultural background plays a part in your aesthetic?
Of course my culture has a role in shaping my work. But I came to the United States at a very young age, and the work I’m doing has always engaged with my current experiences. As an artist, I think we work 24 hours a day—we’re at work, even when we’re not physically creating. Sometimes you don’t necessarily feel inspired to work, and I used to have a really hard time with that part. Like, ‘Why are you not producing?’ But then I realized you need those periods of rest when you’re job is putting yourself, and all of your feelings, out there for the rest of the world to interact with. It’s necessary to recharge if you want to create again. So, who I am, the culture that I’m in, just walking around—all of that influences my work. And who I am is what I believe in, which has a huge impact on what I do.
I know you said you really fell in love with photography because of the process, and your experience working in the dark room, but do you think its ability to tackle these kinds of topics—like human rights or feminism—is part of what makes it so appealing to you?
As artists, I think we have a responsibility to create. You’re given a gift and it’s a responsibility for you to use that gift to create and share a message. Like I said, when I first started, I just wanted to learn how to use my camera. But then I learned to follow my gut, and my instincts, and use my camera to share what I believe in. It’s my responsibility to address what’s happening in the world, however it comes out in my art. Whether it’s more obvious with words, or just an abstract image, people can interpret it however they want, but I’m really not a conceptual artist. My work is emotional, and speaks directly to people. That’s why I don’t give titles to most of my pieces—because I want the image to show what it has to say. There’s a really intimate connection between art and the person who’s looking at it. So, I really don’t like to interfere. My job is just to act as a vessel and let the work speak for itself.
How do you think your work has changed since you first started?
It has definitely evolved. I always like to be experimental, and push boundaries with what I’m doing. I never like to find something that works and just get stuck in it. So, I’m always creating and trying to push myself to create differently. I think there are artists who get stuck in what they’re doing, and others, who get too excited and change their style quickly. I tend to be that kind of artist. So, I do need to force myself to slow down a bit, but I never want to stop evolving.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t an artist?
I don’t know. I’ve asked myself that many times. But I can’t imagine doing anything else. Art is my passion—I don’t know how to be anything but creative. I did do fashion photography for a number of years and I did really enjoy it, but that’s still a creative thing. The difference is, you have to follow directions from the client, which forces you to be creative within limitations. But when I do my own art, I don’t want any boundaries—I want to break them.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
I just want to make people think, and open up something inside of them that makes them want to journey within. Of course, I know there are people who aren’t going to like my work. But for the people that like it, I want to touch their emotions, and make them feel good. Someone who bought a few of my pieces once told me he likes coming home to my work because it makes him happy. That’s great. I can’t ask for anything more than that. I just want to have a positive impact.
See more of Francesca’s work at the BlackBook Presents opening on November 28 through January 1, 2019 at 20 John Street in Brooklyn.
Francesca’s recent exhibitions include:
2018 M.A.C. Milan-Italy
2018 Studio Tiepolo 38, Rome-Italy
2018 Biennale Internazionale Arte Contemporanea (Bias) Palermo
2018 Mc2 gallery, Milan-Italy