Merging Intellect and Aesthetic: An interview with artist Gabriella D'Italia

6 Oct 2010

I am always moved by art that eloquently brings together conceptual and visual qualities. This is no doubt what immediately struck me about the work of Gabriella D’Italia, whose textile pieces are a brilliant convergence of traditional techniques with contemporary concepts and aesthetics. Having received her BA in Philosophy and the History of Science, Gabriella now runs a quilting business, teaches fiber art workshops, and exhibits her artwork; her latest exhibition, “Elaborate Hegemonies,” is at Aarhus Gallery in Belfast, Maine through October 24th. Here she explains a bit more about the thought processes behind her work.

Tell us about your background. How did you go from studying Philosophy and the History of Science and Mathematics to working with textiles?

 I've always been drawn to the idea of making functional objects, of being purposeful about the things in my life. Sewing is a method of connecting to some of those objects, of giving me a way of being intentional about important things like clothing and my home. In school, I was always struck by the idea that looking at how things are said or done was perhaps more powerful than what. In this way, art seems to self-consciously consider how.

Quilt making has the incredible capacity of embodying sculptural ideas and painterly ideas, while always carrying at least a suggestion of home and functionality. I also love the potential in the transparent construction – you can see the piecing and layering; quilts are a material rhythm and visible time. In light of these considerations, the capacity both quilt-making and philosophy have to explore important ideas—they seem not so different from one another.

What is your typical working process? What techniques do you use/how do you go about creating your pieces/selecting materials? Or is it always changing?

These days, I have been thinking a lot about Goethe’s Metamorphosis of Plants. I can see my process as a metamorphosis: “Anyone who pays a little attention to the growth of plants will readily observe that certain of their external members are some­times transformed, so that they assume—either wholly or in some lesser degree —the form of the member nearest in the series.” 

In other words, one thing usually comes from another.  It is not infrequent for one piece to differ in only small ways from the one that came before.  This idea of metamorphosis can also be seen within many of the discrete pieces I’ve made; I like to repeat colors and use small piecing to form very homogenous fields, elaborate but simple.  There is a sense in which the repetition of similar parts is a metamorphosis of that part, or from that part to the whole. 

You have a quilting business, The Spring Street Co., which features functional pieces (quilts, bags, etc.), How are these items different than your artwork—or are they?

I do view the functional pieces differently because they have a prescribed form to a greater extent than my other work. This limits the choices I can make in terms of exploring certain ideas. I sometimes view this work as important sketching.  It keeps me working with fabrics, colors, and techniques, and I find that it is at times when I am most apparently constrained (by conventions or formal concerns) that the most interesting ideas can emerge. Ideas for my artwork are often generated while making the functional works. I started the business very simply because I love to make quilts.

What do you hope to cognitively (and aesthetically) express through your artwork?

I hope to convey some sense of compatibility in contradiction: the simultaneity of simplicity and complexity. I hope to give a material impression of time. I hope to give form to patterns that, although new, will have a deep familiarity. I suppose these are the qualities I find most interesting and compelling when I look at objects. 

These qualities have important implications, although I don’t try to express conclusions in the work.  For me, these impressions are foundational for a kind of moral disposition, one that finds intense optimism in limitless human agency. 

Tell us a bit about your new exhibition in Belfast, Maine. What is the theme of the exhibited work, “Elaborate Hegemonies”?

I am showing a collection of interrelated works, where one work comes from another, but in no particular order or sequence—a metamorphosis. These objects range from functional quilts to wall-mounted quilts, drawings of beds, paintings, books, and color swatches to a series of photographs of an all-white, silent dinner I hosted last October. There is chalk handwriting on the paintings reminiscent of the hand-stitching on the wall-mounted quilts. Color swatches derived from the white dinner were then translated into a functional quilt, and ink lines in the bed drawings relate back to the hand-stitching.

I love the idea of “elaborate” as both an adjective and a verb, and that ideas and objects exert a matrix of influence and power, but one so entangled that history and causality become implausible. I love situating these ideas at home, if only obliquely, in food and the bedroom.

Where will you go from here in your work?

I am looking forward to exploring the relationship of my work and my ideas to color.  This show, “Elaborate Hegemonies,” is primarily ivory, white, black, and grey. I think it’s time for color, and something extreme. 

To see more of Gabriella’s work, visit her website.



Images (from top to bottom)

  • “Erotic Index” • 76" x 56"
  • Tote bag
  • “Yellow Index” • 56" x 85"
  • Red monochrome queen-sized bed quilt
  • “Untitled Index,” Diptych 1 of 2 • 42" x 54"
  • “Untitled Index,” Diptych 2 of 2 • 42" x 54"

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