Woman Around Town: Joan Giordano— A Painter Finds Her Passion for Paper

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012
by Charlene Giannetti on Woman Around Town

During the last presidential election, Joan Giordano became very involved watching the political process unfold. “I was totally sucked in,” she said. “All these talking heads and pundits. We were constantly bombarded. It’s about the noise that we hear constantly in our heads and how it doesn’t always relate to what is occurring.” Joan took newspapers and began to create. “I was weaving in papers from all over the world,” she said, incorporating other materials like corrugated cardboard, burnt papers, wallpaper, copper wire, ancient Chinese paper, found objects, and wax.

The result was “Who Owns the News.” It’s easy to be mesmerized by the piece.”You get close and you read little excerpts and it’s fun,” she said. “You have a window into what was happening at that time.”

Joan grew up in New York, has an MFA from Pratt Institute and was awarded a graduate fellowship from Hunter College. Her show, “Spin Out,” which featured “Who Owns the News,” was held at the June Kelly Gallery in New York this past summer. Currently, her work can be seen at the Hillyer Art Space in Washington. (Joan, above, with two of her pieces in the show.) Organized by Lo Studio dei Nipoti, the Hillyer exhibit brings together art from Italian American artists whose relatives immigrated from Southern Italy. “I visit Puglia where my mother was born and where my relatives still reside—a harshly beautiful and exotic landscape of thickly gnarled olive trees,” Joan said. “Sicily is where my father’s family was from, and the textures of crumbling walls there appear in much of my art.”

Joan was practically born an artist. “When I was able to pick up a pencil, I was drawing,” she said. Her aunt bought her some oil paints seeing that her niece was totally absorbed in art. “I painted my first oil painting when I was seven or eight,” she said.

She began to make prints, studying at the prestigious Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop on West 39th Street in Manhattan. Joan’s current studio is also located on West 39th Street. (Above, Joan at work in her studio.) For many years, she printed lithographs and then turned out mixed media prints. “At that point, I began to make paper myself,” she said. “I was interested in the texture, the surface.” She discovered that heavy paper would hold its shape if placed on a form to dry, so she began creating sculptures with paper.

After a couple of trips to Japan, Joan’s works became more modular, large rectangular paper pieces that hang on a hanger. Her exhibit “Presences,” at the TENRI Cultural Center in New York (above), brought together more than eight of Joan’s accordion-like pieces in colors ranging from mustard yellow to black. One in reddish-orange is on display in the Hillyer exhibit. In these paper creations, Joan said she intentionally uses one color to keep the focus on texture. Although these paper hangings appear fragile, they are very firm.

Reviewers have compared Joan’s constructions to Samurai armor. “It’s a way of protecting ourselves,” Joan said. She believes her inspiration may have begun in Japan then was reinforced after seeing a show on Samurai shields at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Joan also is moved by sights closer to home, on West 39th Street in the garment district. “I walk past all these wonderful stores with buttons and trim and, I think on one street, there are millinery shops,” she said. “I find inspiration in all of that.”

Joan’s 39th Street studio is a vast space with high ceilings that can accommodate the large pieces she produces. “It’s extremely physical; I’m up and down a ladder,” said Joan. “The woven pieces are like eight or nine feet tall. I’m always moving so I can take in each piece in at a distance.” The oversized nature of what Joan is working on serves as a metaphor. “Woven Myths,” for example, shown with Joan above in her studio, incorporated a variety of paper products and measures four feet by eight feet. “Some myths are hard to handle,” she said. “It’s visual noise, loud and boisterous and you can’t get it out of your sight or your ears.”

Despite all her work with paper, Joan is a “painter always.” She said: “I love the process of putting paint on canvas or, in this case, board.” She mixes her paints with beeswax, because she loves what it does to paint. “It’s just a beautiful surface and it dries immediately,” she said.

At her country home in the Catskills, Joan enjoys gardening, planting up and down the hillsides. She received a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts to cast the hands of the vanishing upstate farmer. “Farmers and artists share an affinity as they both create with their hands,” Joan said. “I worked directly on the farmers’ hands with medical moulage. It was then replaced with plaster and covered with a two-part rubber mold into which I poured paper pulp. All the while I recorded the farmers’ stories about farm life.”

The sculptures are on display in Soho in the Henry Buhl Collection with artwork focused on hands. Joan’s sculpture resides in the indoor garden on the dining table under the Georgia O’keefe hands.

Joan describes herself as a “news junkie and an arts junkie,” adding, “I read everything.” Is she being driven by this election to create? “This election–the last one was so mesmerizing—some of the speeches during the conventions were certainly inspirational. I think I may add things other than political messages. We live in a global society so its more than politics. Everything is woven in.”