Studio Visit

Pauline Galiana

June 2019

Pailine Galiana in the studio in residence at MassMoca, Photo: ©2019 Linda Stilman

On June 1st, 2019 we visited Pauline Galiana in her Manhattan studio to learn more about her history, current work and what the future may hold for her studio practice.

RHC: Where did you grow up? What years and where did you receive your university training?

Galiana: I was born in North Africa, moved to Geneva Switzerland at the age of one and I crossed the French border every day to go to school, until I moved to Paris at 12 years old. In Paris, I graduated from ESAG with a master degree in art direction in 1984. ESAG was founded in 1953 by Jacques Dandon and Met de Penninghen. In 1968 the school merged with the Académie Julian, founded in 1867 and which provided academic Fine Art training in painting and sculpture. Today, ESAG Penninghen combines academic training with contemporary design and architecture studies.

Pauline Galiana, Self-Portrait, 1995, Mixed media, Approximatively 3"h x 4" diameter (7.6cm x 10cm)
©2019 Pauline Galiana/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: Are there specific experiences you can remember from your childhood that have a direct bearing on your work today?

Galiana: I can only say that I can’t remember not observing my surroundings, drawing and making things. I was raised to be a very quiet little girl and was a bit isolated. I had to channel my energy and self-expression into an acceptable format. Playing dolls wasn’t satisfactory; drawing, collecting and building was. I developed an acute sense of observation, which, I think, is vital for being an artist. 

Pauline Galiana, Self 1, 1999, Dry pastel pigment, paper collage and wax on paper, 14" x 11" (35.5cm x 28cm)
©2019 Pauline Galiana/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: At what point or was there a specific event in your life when you discovered the desire to make art? 

Galiana: I believe my desire to make art is built-in. However, I remember making the categorical decision, early in my school education, of not becoming a fine artist. After graduating, I had to support myself, and graphic arts in the active cultural communication area in France at that time, gave me a way to work right away and happily. Overtime, I re-discovered, not my desire of making art...but the intense need of doing it when I took a sabbatical year after ten years of intense and prolific activities of visual art direction for cultural institutions and moved to New York. 

Pauline Galiana, Pola x4 #1, 2001. Archival inkjet on Cotton Rag, 30" x 30" (76.2cm x 76.2cm)
©2019 Pauline Galiana/ Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: What are the dominant themes that appear in your work...the ideas that interest you the most?

Galiana: Seriality/composite, process, deconstruction/reconstruction, analysis/synthesis, introspection/exploration, color...

Pauline Galiana, Box 2, My Yayoi Kusama, 1997, Mixed media, 4 1/2"h x 3 3/4" x 1/2" (11.4cm x 9.5cm x 1.3cm)
©2019 Pailine Galiana/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: Recycled materials, the metaphysical and circles seem to factor largely in your work. Do you see a connection between them?

Galiana: Absolutely, they do relate to each other. All three revolve, obviously cycle! They seem to be in perpetual movement. No beginning, no end, continually processing the basic principles of being, knowing, time and space, with slight changes in form and analysis. That’s what metaphysics are about. The circle, the sphere, is an adequate and common visual representation of metaphysics. Recycled materials is a concrete representation, so to speak, of transformation, yet materiality—physics—is the antonym of metaphysics. Does it make sense? 

Part Two:

RHC: Your Shredded Series is made from recycled shredded papers ...where does the paper come from?

Galiana: That’s right, most of the pieces in that series are collages made from recycled paper. But, it is not the concept of recycling which matters here, it’s rather about deconstruction versus construction. I was fascinated by how my eyes kept searching for patterns, constructing meaning out of the shredder bin’s chaos. It defies the randomness of the shredding. This observation started an endless game of chance and resilience.

Pauline Galiana, Shredded 4, 2009, 8” x 8” (20.3cm x 20.3cm) Paper collage on paper
©2019 Pauline Galiana/Robert Henry Contemporary

Galiana: Early on, I was only using my own discarded drawings, mail and documents. My first Shredded collages were sort of visual haikus, short, moody, ordinary but mysterious. The paper stripes were mounted flat, the finished works never bigger than 8” x 8”. I wasn’t satisfied with the flat juxtaposition of the paper stripes.

RHC: So, what did you do to move away from flat, surface oriented work?

Galiana: I adjusted my collage method in order to reveal the surface of the paper as much as possible. This led to 3D loops and also it leads to collecting more patterned material, such as the New York Marathon result pages from The New York Times, or luxury wrapping paper published by the Metropolitan Museum’s edition or security envelopes that I ask friends to collect for me from their own mail.

Pauline Galiana. Shredded 56, 2019, Paper collage on paper, 12" x 12" (30.5cm x 30.5cm)
©2019 Pauline Galiana/Robert Henry Contemporary

Galiana: The hide-and-seek quality of the looped stripes adds spice to the puzzle. I want the viewer to get lost in the work a little bit like when one tries to find a way out of Escher’s visual riddles of his Impossible constructions.

RHC: You were trained to be an art director...and worked in that field for many years. Can you tell us more about that? What type of projects and for whom did you work?

Pauline Galiana. Shredded 56, 2019, Paper collage on paper, 12" x 12" (30.5cm x 30.5cm), Detail
©2019 Pauline Galiana/Robert Henry Contemporary

Galiana: I mostly worked for public and cultural institutions such as theaters and museums, designing visual identities, logos, graphic charts, catalogues, posters, exhibit design and signage. I always worked in small structures and had my own four-partner graphic studio. Over the years, I designed for Le Louvre, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, La Villette, Le Cargo de Grenoble, just to name the glorious ones … honestly, it seems now far away, and not that interesting.

RHC: How does this experience shape your studio practice today? Do you ever find you are art directing yourself?

Galiana: There is a huge difference between the two activities. A good designer is the person who translates in visual language the content of the commissioner/client. She/he does not create the content but rather its exterior appearance and how it reaches its audience. In my studio practice, I do not answer to anyone else but myself, my curiosities and my obsessions. In other words, and to make it short, the designer answers the question, the artist search for the questions to be asked.

Pauline Galiana, Talkative 27, In & Out of Campus, 2019, Gouache on paper, 12"x 9" (30.5cm x 30.5cm) each
©2019 Pauline Galiana/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: You tend to group elements in your work whether those elements are loops of recycled paper or 4 panels to a painting or swatches of painted paper, etc. Your "Talkatives" series, which are groups of 12” x 9” drawings, is a good example. What interests you about this process of smaller units adding up to a larger finished work?

Galiana: Is there any more fun than breaking the rules? Yes, there is: you make your own rules and you do or don’t follow them. Setting the rules, setting the grid and the color discipline for Talkatives for example, is like mapping a road trip or sketching a speech: once you have the main direction decided, you can develop the variations, you can enjoy the detours on the road. I didn’t initially come to seriality through art. It came to me through scientific influence; my father was a physicist. I’m intrigued by scientific imagery, old and new, collections of pinned bugs, magnetic resonance imaging and satellite imagery. There is a lot to say about imagery and how one, today, is under visual influence … I mean under constant visual high-speed bombing. Breaking it down into slides, grid, moments is the a very fluid way to capture a few crisp observations here and there.

Stay tuned for Part Three...coming up!



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