Studio Visit

Pauline Galiana

June 2019
Pauline Galiana

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.

Part Three:

RHC: Your series titled “Winter of Will” implies a struggle...and a cold one too! What is that series origin?

Galiana: Does it look like a struggle to you?

Pauline Galiana, Winter of Will 18, 2009, Oil paint on paper hand stitched on paper, 16 1/2” x 16 1/2” (42cm x 42cm), ©2019 Pauline Galiana/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: No, they don’t look like a struggle per say…but the word “will” implies a certain level of fortitude to get something done or enduring something, in this case the winter.

Galiana: If there is a struggle, it’s not personal. Winter of Will is a sort of offspring from my oil painting series Silent. Just like traditional quilts used to be made from salvaged fabric, Winter of Will consists of quilts made out of my painting rags. The challenge of the material and technique brings out the endurance, the strong will and determination required to accomplish the work, while its formal aspect - paper, fabric, thread stains and traces - signals fragility and domesticity. My purpose, with these assemblages, which are a second-generation process out of the respected medium of oil paint, is to rehabilitate the invisible and gentle daily tasks women perform, which in fact demand fierce actions such as slicing, piercing, processing, restructuring – actions usually associated with male activities. In Winter of Will, the needle is a weapon, the seamstress a warrior.

RHC: Well…you just described it in terms of war metaphors and wars are struggles, which isn’t a criticism, merely an observation. What is intriguing is the delicacy and fragility of the material juxtaposed with the violence of the process…

Galiana: It’s my interpretation of The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello, 15th century!! Just kidding...Stitching fabric is [taken] for granted. Stitching paper napkins or plastic bags, which I do in another body of work, outline both the fragility of the material and the sharpness of the needle. It’s incongruous. Sewing, used to be a vital ordinary domestic task mostly done by women. The legend says the American flag was designed and sewed by a seamstress, Betsy Ross. And that fact...false news say most interesting by itself, wether it’s true or not. Some shoot their guns, some activated their needle to make flags, both defend their territory. We celebrate veteran’s day. We do not celebrate seamstress’ day. I hope this answers your question.

Pauline Galiana, Silent , 2004, Oil on canvas, 72" x 48" (1.8m x 1.2m) ©2019 Pauline Galiana/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: Let’s talk about your paintings in the Silent series. How does the imagery, egg-like orbs that look either contained in a rectangular format or just about to push beyond that constriction…how does this imagery relate to the title of the series?

Galiana: Haha! Constriction: Good point. Are they celestial orbs or biomorphic unicellular creatures? To me they look like cells, injected with dyes and squished in between microscope slides. Actually, the inspiration for the Silent paintings comes from of my photographic work (“Pola”) and, as I have mentioned before, my interest in scientific and medical imagery which visually renders what our naked eye cannot see. To go back to constriction, the “being at the edge of the canvas” in contrast with the blurriness of the image is, somehow, a way of questioning the art of painting. Why is the subject of the painting escaping the canvas, the frame? What is it to be painted today? Isn’t Fine Art Painting supposed to be dead? Is the subject of the painting or, to say it differently, the purpose of the painting, painting itself, or the painting process? What is there, on the canvas, to be seen? My issue or interest, here, is visual perception and the physical sense of sight. This is a tender twist after my beloved Marcel Duchamp’s Readymades created as a remedy to “retinal art”.  There is a neurological theory which explains Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland...his vivid imagination was triggered by his visual hallucinations due to his intense migraines. Sorry, this is turning into a headache...

RHC:…Ok, now, how does this imagery relate to the title of the series?

Galiana: Silent and Talkative are in a polar relationship. The gouache drawings, Talkative are visual observations of my immediate surroundings and notations of forms and shapes that obsessively occur to me. The viewer can connect quickly with the suggestive colors and shapes, then, eventually, gets lost in the maze of noisy visual profusion. At first look, in its boldness, simplicity and with its seductive colors, Silent does not let the viewer decipher its story, it stays mute. The viewer has to observe it a bit longer than the usual 30 seconds that most people spend at looking at one art piece in a museum or an art gallery, to be able to notice the shifts in color perception. In both series I use the grid system, isolating each individual drawing or canvas, providing multiple choices of study, just in the laboratory bench. It’s interactive art!

Pauline Galiana, Talkative (x42) Campus #1-42, 2017, Gouache on paper, 12" x 9" (30cm x 22cm) each, Series of 42 drawings, ©2019 Pauline Galiana/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: Looping back to something you said earlier…the connection to science in your work is an interesting aspect of your thinking…Do you have new work you are developing along these lines currently that we can talk about?

Galiana: Science, with its trial and error, is a well accepted system for interpreting and explaining the world. Science means knowledge and method; however it does not resolve all mysteries. I’m no rocket scientist, but I’m generally interested in systems and processes. I’m currently working on pieces called Fusion Mandalas. These geometrical collages of everyday color-coding dot stickers are highly process-oriented, where strict grids and systems collide with each other. Always shifting the center of attention, forces you to let go the desire of knowledge and understanding to eventually reach a meditative state. To add to the dynamic experience, the collages are mounted on a rotating engine.

Pauline Galiana, Fusion Mandala 9, 2018, Color coded labels collaged on Plexiglas, 17" (43.2cm) diameter
©2019 Pauline Galiana/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: Where do you see your work headed in the near future?

Galiana: Since most of my work requires time because of the laborious processes I use, I have plenty to do right now to finalize current pieces. I’m not sure where the future is, I’m going with the flow, waiting for the next idea to fully take form, one dot at a time, just like I do in my Fusion Mandalas.  Meanwhile I keep developing simultaneously various body of works with different media.

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