Leah Guadagnoli was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1989. She received an MFA in Visual Art from Rutgers University in 2014 and a BFA in Painting and Art History from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2012. This year she was a Resident Artist at Yaddo and had work featured at NADA, New York with the Bruce High Quality Foundation. In 2014 she was nominated for the Dedalus Foundation M.F.A. Fellowship and presented a lecture on her work at the Nassau County Museum of Art. Leah has exhibited in the US and abroad including shows at Pioneer Works, Mason Gross Gallery, Bridger Mayer Gallery, and the Krannert Museum of Art. Her work has been reviewed in Mississippi Modern and the Art Blog. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. She recently had a solo show, Addison Assassin, at 247365 in New York, NY.
My most recent work includes irregular shaped abstract paintings that integrate fabric, upholstery, paint, wall textures, and furniture padding. I am thinking about interior and communal space, social engineering, anti-aesthetic, the ora of time and how these elements can come together and challenge contemporary painting. This work breaks the tradition picture frame not only in its objecthood but also with its irregularity and three-dimensionality. I choose patterns and replicated surfaces that recollect the gaudy carpet, seating, and walls often found in waiting rooms, airports, hallways, and coach buses. The prints and textures are used not only to embellish ordinary and often overlooked floors and seats but are also functional in their ability to disguise stains, dirt, and grime collected by frequent passersby. The padded horizontal surfaces are displaced by vertically orientating them on a wall. People often ask to touch the paintings or just rub their hands against the surface without any permission.
They are plush, shiny, and meticulously constructed in such a way that seems mechanic and sterile. Painted parts come off as vinyl; patterned fabric looks painted. It is not until one gets up close, or sneaks in direct physical contact, that the mysteries are resolved, just slightly.
Q&A with Leah Guadagnoli
by Aaron Ziolkowski
Hi Leah, Can you discuss your studio practice and how you came to this particular use of materials?
I made the first of these paintings back in August 2014. Prior, I was making rectangular shaped paintings with brightly colored fabric, upholstery, and ribbon draped and secured over the surface. I used these materials like paint. Vinyl coated upholstery was my jam. I loved adhering the fabric to the tightly stretched canvas, manipulating and tugging it until the folds were on point. But it wasn’t enough. For one, this process flirted too closely with dressing up or wrapping a painting. My next fabric adventure to Jomar in Philadelphia involved a car stuffed to the brim with polyurethane foam. It took some time and unmentionable undertakings before I realized I wanted the upholstery to suggest furniture. I wanted to move beyond a typical rectangle. I wanted to bust out the delicious big tubes of Williamsburg paint that I neglected for the past year and a half. I bought some insulation board and got to work.
My first reaction to your work was 'this seems very 1980s interior design…
Yes. Pee Wee’s Play House? The Memphis Group? Definitely. The patterns and palette I use correlate with my perception of a past specific to my generation (mid-twentysomethings). At first I tried to hide my love for the eighties but then I thought, what the hell, there is a reason why I respond so strongly to this aesthetic. It is unapologetic. I love when people come up to my work and say this looks like it was dug up from a beach house in Miami thirty years ago.
You seem to be flirting with various forms of kitsch while also being in dialog with a long tradition of formalist abstraction.
Yes, totally, 100%. I use patterns that are wonderfully tacky—they have a voice. Formalism is direct. What you see is what you get. Combining these two seems unorthodox has a satisfying balance. Or maybe they just cancel each other out.
Where do you place your work in relation to Frank Stella?
There is a long history of things that come off of walls. I am definitely into Frank Stella’s work. His retrospective at the Whitney Museum is incredibility complex and overwhelming. Some of the pieces, especially those from the mid-eighties are just plain gross and exciting. He was really pushing the definition and possibilities of painting. I would say that his work deals more explicitly with the distance between painting and sculpture. I am more interested in how I can use the platform of the wall and the parameters of painting as allusions to communal space, my perception of the past, and structure that is anything but utilitarian.
I come from southern California and thus associate creative upholstery with low rider culture, what is your personal connection to the medium?
When you reupholster something you restore it according to your own taste. I relate the medium to the couches and furniture I had growing up. The all over patterns are relics of the mid eighties and early nineties and are also functional in their ability to hide stains (same with those itchy coach bus seats). Vinyl is shiny and smooth but also is easy to wipe. These utilitarian functions end up having very particular aesthetics that I incorporate into my work.
I am intrigued by your use of trompe l'oeil. To what end do you seek to trick the viewer?
I like to surprise people more than I fool them. I want the painted surfaces to look like vinyl or stucco walls. Often these sections are monotone or have an extension of the pattern painted onto it. The brushwork isn’t apparent until you are really close. Even when I tell people it’s mostly paint it still doesn’t stop them from gliding their hands across the surface. Perhaps they’re just that irresistible. There’s nothing better than a viewing experience that slowly reveals itself. A slow reveal is so sexy.
Thanks so much for taking the time to share your work and talk with us!
To find out more about Leah and her work, check our her website.