Leah Guadagnoli’s playful shapes always come with a story. Her patterns, colors and textures represent pieces of a developing narrative that journeys both backward and forward in time, inhabiting an ever-growing number of communal spaces. Her solo show, “I Just Want to See You Underwater,” is currently up at Victori + Mo gallery in Bushwick.
Guadagnoli was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1989 and grew up in the suburban Midwest. This is of great significance to her work. Many of the patterns and materials that she uses are based on her memories of Midwestern interiors from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Accordingly, her mixed-media work is inspired by art deco and Memphis group designs, and often makes use of gaudy, outdated fabrics she finds.
However, at a certain point, it became clear that it was time to think in the present and beyond ready-made materials. Still using retro design work for inspiration, Guadagnoli began designing and digitally printing her own fabric. “It could have a nostalgic feel, but also look fresh and new. I liked this dichotomy” she explained. “These forms reminded me of my childhood, but more so I loved the good vibes and pure joy they inhabited.”
This is Just a Test (2017) is made with fabric based on Guadagnoli’s own design that was printed ultimately to be used for a much larger work. As its title playfully suggests, this smaller piece is a test run with the material. Made in Guadagnolin’s signature style, it incorporates elements of both painting and sculpture as it pairs crisp edges with free-form patterns and hard and soft materials.
Guadagnoli’s Numbered Song in Heaven series takes us back into the past. She started the series while working in an old church-turned-studio space in rural Pennsylvania. “The title of the series is meant to mislead,” she explained. “It actually comes from this 1979 song by the Sparks called ‘No. 1 Song in Heaven’ — a seriously synth-filled late disco jam.” Perhaps inspired by her surroundings as well, Guadagnoli added, “I was thinking of … archways and windows and how simply adding a half circle at the top would activate the work beyond its abstract qualities and leave it open to interpretation.” Celestial bodies easily come to mind.
Channel 47 (2017), situates the viewer in Guadagnoli’s childhood home. Though to New Yorkers this title may bring Spanish-language network Telemundo to mind, where Guadagnoli grew up, Channel 47 was the station on which the Cartoon Network aired. In this work, textured black and white surfaces pick up on smaller, black and white shapes present on the fabric. These black and white surfaces may evoke television static in one instance and, in another, the Cartoon Network’s company logo. The thickly outlined shapes and irregular, curving lines of the fabric pattern give the piece its cartoonish quality.
While the previously mentioned works are hung constructions, Straight Shot (2018) is a large, free-standing structure made with scraps from multiple works. Guadagnoli described the piece as having dichotomous qualities. In her words, Straight Shot is meant to be both “monumental and accessible,” “familiar and unfamiliar,” “ancient relic” and “art deco skyscraper,” something one can “walk through” or “sit on.” It is a piece the viewer may physically look at and through, perhaps with the nagging feeling that it represents something that one should really be staring up at.
This year Guadagnoli was awarded a month-long Tilleard Projects residency on Lamu, a small island off the coast of Kenya where she continued her geometrically inspired journey. There she fell in love with traditional Swahili architecture. Describing the experience, Guadagnoli said, “Everything was handmade and made from plaster. Any building materials had to be brought in from the mainland on these small boats … Arches and glorious geometric forms filled up homes and facades.” She added, “These influences have left a huge impression on me and my work.”
Starting with those imprinted on her earliest memories, Leah Guadagnoli continues to follow and gain inspiration from geometric designs wherever they may be located in space and time. Working in mixed-media such as pumice stone, plexiglass, fabric and acrylics, her work deliberately defies categorization. It walks the line between painting and sculpture, fine art and decorative design, retro and contemporary, Midwest America and beyond. Guadagnoli’s pieces, however, come together to form upbeat, balanced wholes, perhaps providing us with a small dose of necessary idealism.
I Just Want To See You Underwater
June 8 – July 22, 2018
VICTORI + MO
56 Bogart St.
Brooklyn, NY 11206