“dear giotto” interview with artist deborah dancy

Deborah Dancy @ SACI
Deborah Dancy @ SACI

Dear Giotto is an exhibition of gouache on paper by Deborah Dancy currently at the SACI Gallery at Studio Art Centers International in via Sant’Antonino 11, Florence.

Her works seek to examine the tension between reality and the imagined. Dear Giotto is a series of works on paper created during this autumn while living in Florence. The title is homage to this artist across time and history and is a meditation on abstracting color, memory and stillness.

William Gass in his book On Being BlueA Philosophical Inquiry writes, “It is the sky’s pale deep endlessness, sometimes so intense at noon the brightness flakes like a fresco. Then at dusk, it is the way the color sinks among us, not like dew but settling dust …”

Deborah Dancy echoes these impressions in contemplating her creation of these works: “Colors still vibrant in ancient frescoes  imagined scaffolding that soared to staggering heights holding both artist and assistant; glimpses of wedges of color between buildings lit by the setting sun as I walk the city and the shimmering greens of distant cypress trees on the surrounding hillside, are also echoed in this series. The weight of history and the architecture of form illuminate my awareness. These works are my notes to Dear Giotto.”

I had a chance to speak with Deborah about her recent work and her time here in Italy:

Deborah Dancy exhibition @ SACI Gallery in Florence
Deborah Dancy exhibition @ SACI Gallery in Florence

Have you been to Italy and Florence before?

I have. My first trip here was in the 80’s and I’ve been back four times, always returning to Florence but then traveling out some to other regions of the country.

How do your travels influence your work?

In the past, I’m not sure the work was influenced by my travels. I was so focused on the newness of it all- trying to take it all it. Culture and art in Italy is so complete, so overwhelming that it competed for my attention. Also, I was traveling and not in a fixed location for a period of time. This time, I am stationed in Florence and have been here for almost four months so the looking is longer and things are saturating into my work.  Also, for me, it takes a while before a place has an effect on my work. Walking the streets on a daily basis allowed for a slower building of ideas to take shape. I think you collect colors, shapes, experiences with your mind and you sense of a particular moment and they arise in the work- sometimes when you least expect it, it comes forth and you wonder…where did that come from.

Deborah Dancy exhibition @ SACI Gallery in FlorenceDoes being on a temporary sojourn in a foreign land change your approach to painting?

It depends on a number of things, such as access to the kind of studio I may or may not have. I have to adjust my method of working. I knew I’d be painting here and I made a decision to work in water-based medium so I wouldn’t have difficulty transporting them home. I also shifted the scale of my work and made a lot of small square works.

Deborah DancyDoes language or other cultural experience play a role?

Of course, you’re always trying to contextualize yourself in a foreign country. Can you make yourself understood-are you understanding what is coming toward you? You make yourself available to this lack of control and see what it brings. Sometimes it places you at a disadvantage, because you feel like you’re missing a lot. So the work that gets made comes out this sense of displacement. But often out of that, new discoveries are made.

What were you working on before you left your home in Connecticut to come to Italy?

The work in Connecticut was primarily oil on canvas and medium to large in scale. The work has elements of figuration, fragments of legs and armed entangled. Conceptually the work was about examining a relationship. Formally I was interested in pushing the elements of tangible space through gesture and shifting degrees of specificity.

Deborah Dancy

You are now working with gouache on paper while in Florence for 4 months. What are these pieces about?

I was looking a lot a Giotto before I left home, and there was something about the stillness and the depth of the blue in the sky in paintings. I knew that I planned to work on some paintings that were in homage to him, about Blue, but I didn’t really know what to expect beyond that idea. Obviously the color of the buildings the tone and quality of light in the city entered into the work. I am also intrigued by the formal properties of tangles, nests and brambles, but here structures like scaffolding entered into the work. I began thinking about how artisan built these complex architecture devices in order for artists to use them painting the ceilings and walls in churches. I hadn’t planned on that entering into the work- that’s the surprise element of being somewhere, you respond to the visual saturation of what you are exposed to and they begin to seep into your work.

"The Sky is Not Falling" Deborah Dancy
“The Sky is Not Falling”

What about your students you are teaching here in Florence, also for a semester….how does their experience in Italy affect their work?

Well, it doesn’t so much really, except for the subject matter. They’re focused on observational drawing and I’m more interested in the tension between what is seen and what is imagined.

And your ideas and plans for the near future?

Well, to return to Florence and to see more of Italy, and to keep painting. You never know where it’s going to take you.

Deborah Dancy @ SACI
Deborah Dancy @ SACI

Deborah Dancy is an abstractionist who obtained her BFA at Illinois Weslyan University in 1973, her MS in printmaking from Illinois State University in 1976, and her MFA in painting at Illinois State University in 1979. Deborah Dancy has been on the faculty in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Connecticut since 1981.  Her professional career has been marked by a number of significant honors and awards, including: a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, Connecticut Commission of the Arts Artist Grant, New England Foundation for the Arts/NEA Individual Artist Grant, Nexus Press Artist Book Project Award, Visual Studies Artist Book Project Residency Grant, The American Antiquarian Society’s William Randolph Hearst Fellowship, YADDO Fellow, University of Connecticut Chancellor’s Research Fellowship, Women’s Studio Workshop Residency Grant, as well as a Connecticut Book Award Illustration Nominee.

She has exhibited in galleries and museums such as: Wright State University, Purdue University, The Rye Arts Center, Liz Harris Gallery, LewAllen Contemporary, The Fuller Museum, The Housatonic Museum, The Mattatuck Museum, The College of Saint Rose, The University of Rhode Island, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, The Spencer Museum, Mobius, The Mead Art Museum and The DeCordova Museum. Her work is included in numerous permanent collections including: The Boston Museum of Fine, The Birmingham Museum of Art, The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Montgomery Museum of Art, The Spencer Museum of Art, The Hunter Museum of Art, Vanderbilt University, Grinnell College, Oberlin College Museum of Art, Davidson Art Center, The Detroit Museum of Art, Wesleyan University, Hallmark, General Electric Company, Chemical Bank, Capri Capital, The Bellagio Hotel, and The United States Embassy in Cameroon. Her work is represented by: Sears-Peyton Gallery, New York; G.R.N’Namdi Gallery, Chicago; and Charles Young Fine Prints and Drawings, Portland. Dancy currently lives and works in Storrs, CT.


Through NOVEMBER 24, 2012

SACI Gallery
Palazzo dei Cartelloni
Via Sant’Antonino, 11
50123 Firenze, Italy
T (+39) 055 289 948

Open Monday – Friday, 9am – 7pm, Saturday & Sunday 1pm-7pm
Admission is free

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