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The Woskob Family Gallery is a space for contemporary arts and culture in downtown State College, PA.

Artist Q & A: Giulia Piera Livi

September 18, 2017

Giulia Piera Livi is an interdisciplinary artist from Philadelphia, currently living and working in Baltimore City. She received her BFA in Painting and Drawing with a Minor in Art History from the Pennsylvania State University in 2015, and her MFA in Multidisciplinary Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art in May 2017. She is currently a visiting professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and was recently awarded the Trawick Prize Young Artist Award.

You graduated from Penn State with your BFA in 2015, and at the time you were mainly focused on portraiture. Can you talk about the dramatic shift in your work, and what led to the development of your recent oeuvre, particularly your interests in abstraction and domesticity?

My shift away from portraiture started in my senior year at Penn State. I came to find, with help from Brian Alfred, that what I enjoyed about the portraits was the material and color, not necessarily the subject matter. I was getting more out of investigating the forms that made up my figures, than the figures themselves (I was mostly just painting friends and family). I continued working with geometric abstraction, mainly to work out ideas about making that were devoid of the figure and to find my color palette.

In grad school, I naturally moved towards working with domestic materials (chairs, lamps, etc.). I had been thinking about minimalism and light art for a while, but through critiques with my advisors (namely Luca Buvoli, Stephanie Barber, Claude Wampler, Siobhan Liddell, Mark Harris) I was introduced to artists such as Andrea Zittel and Lily Van der Stocker, who work with ideas of living space and also Design Research and a move to merge minimalism and modernism in the home. The line between the gallery and the home is bizarre. I also started to think more about my own life and experiences. I grew up in an absurdly curated home space because my dad collects antiques. So, thinking about over-designed homes and why we fill our homes with things we can’t use, and what is art’s place in all of that. I try to focus on the acute and the polite, the domestic and the utilitarian.

Much of your work distorts the utility of certain domestic objects. What do you hope to inspire by removing purpose from an object?

For a long time, I was trying to use function as a trick in a painting: to see behind the surface, or create a glow in some way. But, my tricks were bad, and I learned I was more interested in investigating the absurdity of convenience. Byron Kim gave me the term “weirdly functional” which I clung to. It felt right. The pieces have a function, but sometimes for no logical reason. I’m also thinking about/struggling to find art’s place in our ever more modern society, working towards abstraction and accessibility, perfection versus imperfection.

What role does running water play in Polite Interior Misgivings?

I was immediately excited when curator Ann Tarantino told me she was doing a show about water. I had been using light as the main function in my paintings for a while, and water seemed like a natural next step and a new challenge. I was thinking about how great it would be to have a painting as part of your kitchen sink, but also how incredibly unrealistic that would be. Water would splash onto the painting; it would get gross. I wanted to juxtapose that idea with the clean white surface of the painting. The water, being constantly recycled from the bowl is inherently dirty. Whereas at first glance the piece may look as though it signifies purity, it leans further into the realm of precision and impracticality.

What is a day in the studio like for you?

I am very much a project-based artist. I usually have an idea or concept which I find specific materials for and then go for it. The plan usually changes throughout the making, but the general idea stays the same. When I’m not working towards a specific piece or project, I make paintings because it is still my first love. I experiment with prints, and more recently collages. All while listening to Dr. Dog.

People usually assume painting only inhabits a two-dimensional field. While your work seems more sculptural, you consider it painting. Can you speak to this distinction between objects and painting?

I still call myself a painter, but yes, I’m definitely also working with sculpture and installation. At Penn State, I always wanted to be working in the wood shop, and am still always interested in making something that I have no idea how to make, which right now means adding dimension. I’m still relatively wall-bound, but I have grown to work with more immersive spaces. I have a background in mural work, so painting the space has also become really important to the process. My paintings and objects take up these spaces, but I still enjoy having them in conversation with the history of painting in some way. I am really interested in the Supports/Surfaces movement and thinking about pushing painting further. Although at the moment I am working with a lot of dyed fabric, I believe the sewn line references the hand and the painted line in some way.

What can we expect to see from you next?

As I move forward, I plan to continue to make my pieces into more immersive environments for the viewer to enter. I would like to experiment with bringing my pieces into domestic spaces rather than just creating a faux space (although I have a lot of fun with faux spaces). I am shifting into an interest in monochrome work, to put a greater emphasis on form. My next solo show is opening in Spring 2018 at the Arlington Arts Center (Arlington, VA).

Anything else you’d like to share with us about you or your work?

Mostly just that nothing I have ever made could have been possible without the conversations I have had with my peers and mentors. The editing process, especially during installation, has always involved multiple voices and perspectives. I really believe that these days with the hyper-sharing of information, no great work can or should be totally insular.

For more information visit Giulia Piera Livi’s website at and follow her on Instagram at @giuliapiera