Slightly Off-Kilter

Artist’s new show cultivates fragments — of her own work

Barbara Smith Gioia

Barbara Smith Gioia (Photos provided)

It always starts in the most fundamental way for Barbara Smith Gioia: the drawing of a line. More follow, without conscious intent. In this way, she begins, without any vision of what the work will be. She says the freedom of not knowing opens the door to the unexpected and unplanned. 

Nine examples of Smith Gioia’s work in mixed media will be on display as part of Cultivating Fragments, a solo show that opens at the Buster Levi Gallery in Cold Spring on Friday (Sept. 3) with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m.

Many residents of the Highlands know Smith Gioia from her many years of teaching, including at the Storm King Art Center and Hudson Highlands Nature Museum. Her most recent solo show was at the Rockland Center for the Arts in West Nyack, and she has a studio at Atlas in Newburgh. 

In her latest work, Smith Gioia begins by disassembling: She cuts up prints she has made of her drawings. “It’s my idea of how to propagate my work,” she explains. “I find these little parts intriguing; they trigger the next step, a progression.” 

Smith Gioia, a native of Cresskill, New Jersey, who lives in Cornwall, guides each painting through multiple iterations and layering. “It wouldn’t be the same painting without all that went before,” she says. “I start seeing the possibilities to be made by combining fragments, which are culled and given a new identity through printmaking mediums that can include silkscreen, linoleum prints and woodcuts.”

For Smith Gioia, “drawing is meditation in motion. The drawings are meanderings that reflect thoughts and emotions at that moment.” The generic term for the work is mixed media, but to her, “it’s the place where drawing, printmaking, collage and painting intersect.” 

She has always been engrossed by process and found in college that printmaking tapped into that with its “deferred gratification and unpredictability. In my work there’s always something off-kilter, not perfect, a reflection of how I see the world.”

While pursuing a master of fine arts at Hunter College, Smith Gioia initially did figurative work and then segued into the abstract. Most recently, she has been inspired by the quilters of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, who make their quilts from secondhand fabrics, including denim and “anything they can get their hands on. Run out of a piece of fabric, pick up any other piece of fabric. You get this balance/off-balance feel for the work.”

She adds: “Once I get inspired I forget about the inspiration. For me, inspiration comes from working and getting involved in the process. Process / discovery / mystery — these are the reasons I keep working.” 

The Buster Levi Gallery, at 121 Main St. in Cold Spring, is open from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, or by appointment. Cultivating Fragments runs through Sept. 26. See busterlevigallery.com.

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