Giordanne Salley spends a few weeks each summer out of the city. She retreats to the rocky coastlines and glacier-carved forests of our Northeastern-most state. There, she quickly assumes the circadian rhythms of nature, in part, encouraged by a lack of cell phone reception. Swimming, kayaking, and hiking, Salley studies the sun and changing colors of the day. Upon returning to New York she begins painting these summer experiences. Nude figures running freely among raw pebbly beaches, silky waters, and deciduous brush; Giordanne has managed to transport the spirit of the spruce islands to her Greenpoint studio.
Greenpointers: When were you first exposed to art as a child?
Giordanne Salley: I am originally from Southwest Ohio. My parents took us to the Dayton Art Institute on the weekends which had an interesting collection of art for a city of its size. We would picnic in the gardens and spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the various exhibits. I remember once looking at a Josef Albers’ red square painting and wondering why it was in a museum. I find it ironic now because I’ve taken color theory classes and really appreciate his work. Being homeschooled until the sixth grade, my parents always encouraged me to take on any form of self-expression I wanted. I was constantly being supplied with paper and drawing tools. I could organize my time differently than kids in school, and was able to spend a lot of time exploring nature. This remains very important to me and my paintings.
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Giordanne graduated from Anderson University with a degree in Painting in 2009. She attended the Chautauqua School of Art during the summers following college. Giordanne later attended the Vermont Studio Center Residency Program in 2010 and received her MFA in Painting from Boston University in 2011, moving to New York in 2013.
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GP: How often do you paint outside your studio?
GS: Plein air painting was a big part of my painting education, especially at the Chautauqua School of Art where I spent a few summers. This is where I first learned how to handle light and color when painting outdoors. Since then, I hardly ever paint with oils outside the studio. My boyfriend and I do travel to Maine every summer and draw a lot. These studies of my natural surroundings strongly inform the work for the year ahead.
GP: How does your summer hiatus affect your paintings for the year?
GS: The place where I stay in Maine is located right on the water in the middle of a Nature Preserve where there is no cell phone reception. My boyfriend and I stay there for a few weeks, accompanied by various friends and family whose visits overlap. The only appointment we have each day is to meet on the back deck to watch the sunset. We schedule our activities like boating, swimming, and hiking around the time of day. I am more aware of my natural surroundings there than any other place. I am always consciously observing the changes in light, color, weather, and tides. Being disconnected from the news and other media outlets helps encourage the most primal feelings. I long for that feeling all year long when I am back in New York. That’s really what these paintings are about. They represent the freedom of being unrestricted, while adhering to the rhythms of nature.
GP: Your work is primarily about nature and the human form. Do you work from imagination or memory? Could you explain your creative process?
GS: I work mainly from imagination with some elements of memory. I spend time in nature drawing from observation and use that information to inform my paintings. I also use my own body as a reference for both scale and more general detail information. It is important to me that my figures are life-sized so they are quickly relatable to the viewer. My creative process has a few different steps. I usually begin a painting with a quick sketch of an idea—like a hand stretched out to touch the sun, or tree branches that are entangled, resembling two people embracing each other. Once the idea has become clearer, I begin collaging drawing materials to establish solid forms on the canvas. After the figures are distilled, I start to figure out color relationships. Color is the most challenging part of the process for me. In the end, I hope the work describes how the human body relates to its surroundings.
GP: How are your painting’s surfaces important to the work?
GS: The surfaces of my paintings are built up with multiple layers of paint because of my struggle with color. I spend a lot of time repainting areas to get a certain hue. I’ll scrub the paint into the bottom layers, using a small blunt brush so there are no visible strokes. In the end, the sum of the colors creates a vibrancy in the painting. I am also interested in the textures this creates. Even after multiple layers of paint, you can sometimes still see the weave of the original canvas which I like.
GP: You often use strong light sources in your painting but don’t always model your forms. Could you tell me a little more about this?
GS: Light is very important to me and my work because it describes how we experience nature and time. These paintings are more about a light feeling than depicting light realistically. I am interested in using light to create a naturalistic color palette. Most of my paintings are meant to take place at one specific time of day which happens at sunset on a rare hazy evening when you can look directly at the sun. The sight of the hot orange ball falling below the horizon and all the colors of the surrounding sky and trees gives me butterflies in my stomach. I am trying to capture that feeling in my paintings. All my imagery consists of flattened spaces because I am interested in building a story with pieces that create their own logic. My paintings sometimes consist of impossible situations. The idea of painting a bright green sky with an orange sun is really beautiful and fun to me. Rather than making an image that is absolutely possible, I provide the viewer with a set of information that tells its own story. I hope it is believable in its own context.
GP: Where are you hoping to take the work going forward?
GS: I am very drawn to tonal paintings, and eventually would like to experiment with painting in gray tones. I could see this appearing as a rainy day or a moody interior. Paintings in this scale would be a color challenge for me, as my paintings currently have a very punchy palette. After the eclipse this summer, I am excited to work that into some of my paintings. I am also playing with my figures appearing as shadows. I want the viewer to question their relationship to these figures, maybe even asking if the shadow is their own. This new body of work will be shown at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects where I have a solo exhibition mid-November.
GP: Who are some artists that influence your work?
GS: Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard are two artists I have admired throughout my painting education, and influence my work. I find myself thinking about their choice of colors and intimacy of figures all the time. Kyle Staver is someone I’ve also studied, and I love her work.
Giordanne Salley Upcoming Exhibitions:
- The College of William & Mary, No Man’s Land, September 14, 2017, Williamsburg, VA
- Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, Giordanne Salley solo exhibition, mid-November 2017, New York, NY