Gabriella D’Italia, “Landscape 3,” 2013, vellum, ink and paint on board, 44 x 21 in.
Gabriella D’Italia, “Landscape 3,” 2013, vellum, ink and paint on board, 44 x 21 in.
I have written about Gabriella D'Italia's work in this column before; but she is continually and intelligently pushing into new terrain, so it would be difficult to repeat oneself in writing about it. The work currently on view at Asymmetrick Arts at first glance does not seem to have much in common with the quilts and fabric-based sculptures she contributed to a two-person CMCA show in 2011. Yet there are continuities and overarching concerns to this most recent body of work grouped together under the exhibition title Land Frames.

The show consists of 16 paintings, five drawings, a silkscreened and embroidered work, a video loop of images, and a two-volume publication. None of it framed. The idea of framing land is not meant literally, but conceptually and perceptually. By her own account, D'Italia has drawn inspiration for these works from the "hills, farms, wooded and open land" that surround her home like "visual mantras." I understand this as an awareness and appreciation of infinitesimal difference and change within repetition and sameness. The more you chant a mantra, the more variation, albeit inadvertently, you bring to it.

Collectively titled "Landscapes," the paintings are potently horizontal. Within this traditional landscape format they contain similarly proportioned sheets of vellum as their beginning points. For her 2012 MFA show, D'Italia used a conventional printer with a new cartridge to print an image of a cloud formation on sheets of vellum until the ink ran out entirely. Some of the visual detail the printer failed to transmit was added by hand in silver resulting in 600 versions of a single image. These were documented as a looped video and in book format, which are included in Land Frames. The sheets themselves were layered on a grid of panels in a complexly balanced arrangement of weight and monochrome tonality. For Land Frames these same panels underwent a stunning transformation into individual, vibrantly colored paintings. D'Italia scraped off the original vellum to varying degrees, painted over the remains with colors usually associated with nature, mostly blues, greens and browns of varying intensity, and added highlights of black, red and iridescent gold.

Each work brims with its own history and is suggestive of the history of the earth itself. In an interplay of chance and control, the richly worked surfaces reveal beautiful translucencies to layers underneath. Within some works the grid format of the original vellum arrangement is still obvious; in others remains seem to rise up from the depth. In still other paintings, edges of vellum have peeled back to reveal another color underneath, like windows in time opened just a crack. In a sandy-colored painting only a few vestiges remain, which float in a pictorial space modulated by drips and strokes of the brush.

The untitled drawings on panels are layered fields of vertical graphite hatching of varying length and intensity. While they too suggest water and natural landforms they are less convincing and interesting than the paintings. However, another highlight of the show is an earlier piece that incorporates similar imagery much more successfully. "Metamorphosis of Plants" of 2011 incorporates a silk-screened network of positive and negative rhizomatous lines on pieced cotton. A few passages have been generously embroidered in natural colors like nuclei of attention. While these moss-like clusters act as interruptions, they are also actualizations of the underlying black-and-white structure.

D'Italia's work in general is of a highly inquisitive nature. Time, incremental change, and material layering are recurrent interests and strategies. And while her paintings are beautifully nuanced abstract pieces in their own right, they do not stop there. Through variegated repetition from painting to painting, the works do not only suggest landscapes but make perception and representation of the land itself the subject. The artist's extended inquiry into associative evocation frames the land in terms of eons and unformed masses as the "Landscapes" suggest material evidence of geological time. At the same time they explore what makes us approach them as landscapes at all. The answers lie in the paintings themselves: color, texture, format and memory as they draw on what we have seen and experienced.