Gianni Giuliano, Montreal studio visit with a Western feel
I entered the the large University of Montreal campus building and as I was asking the guard how to find the exact address when Gianni Giuliano suddenly appeared in front of me and asked if I was Paula? Perfect timing to meet because UQAM (University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) is a bit of a large rabbit warren! Up we went to his work space which he shares with 10-12 other students but luckily they are not usually there at the same time.
He had two nice large 5×8 foot pieces on easels. He works on linen with gouache and oil paints, enjoying the flat dullness of the gouache on the background and the richer oil paints for the figures. He experimented with some florescent spray paints but soon dropped them as he didn’t like the distance between the spray and the canvas; he needed the physical contact between brush, hand and canvas. He is in his final year to complete his Masters degree. There were big civic strikes in Montreal last year and this UQAM area was a major hub for police helicopters, foot patrols and mounted police on horseback. The mounted figures have found thier way into his current body of artwork.
Gianni is influenced by spaghetti westerns, comics, western music which come together in his paintings. Elements of the advertising world, the Marlboro Man, come together in a deliberately staged and realistic but not quite correct rendition. He likes to keep the audience guessing a bit and spending more time with his images as there are elements that seem like things we’re all familiar with and yet something is not quite right. He is not concerned with the correct technical elements, like the rider whose one foot is supported in a stirrup and yet the other one has no stirrup.
After doing Fine Arts Bachelors at Dawson College he stepped away from art for about five years as other things in life took precedence. A teaching stint at Creative Boost brought him back in touch with art students and he often felt that he was getting back as much as be was giving and decided to continue with his studies and pursue his Masters. Working on his art does not seem like work at all as he finds it so fulfilling, satisfying, and all-comsuming.
At UQAM the teaching is all in French. With Italian as his native tongue and a childhood best friend across the street who was French-Canadian and then education in English, he grew up in the vibrant multi-lingual milieu that makes Montreal so vibrant, vital and such a hit with foreign immigrants.
He credits growing up in a time of family road trips with 8-track country and western music, influences from comic books, posters, pop rock t-shirts and album covers as being fertile ground for his imagery. The movie and the music of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Clint Eastwood were early influences too. He remembers buying music cassettes because of the wonderful artwork on the tiny album covers and the music was completely secondary.
He used to use mainly an earth toned palette, quite dull with maybe one brighter color focus point as he didn’t quite know how to integrate the colors he wanted to play with into a piece. Drawing upon advertising strategies from posters, he tries to grab and sustain the public’s attention in his current work. With his current large scale works, he feels the color speaks for itself and bring to life images which seem deliberately staged and yet very realistic. Like media news which only ever shows an image taken in a split second picture frame and about which we don’t quite know what went on before or after the moment of the image, he plays with elements of absurdity, media bias and power. Did it really happen? Is it a conspiracy theory?
The use of the horse harkens back to historical references as a symbol of authority and power over the weaker classes. Is the rider a cop? Is it the Marlboro Man riding towards us with the sunset on his back? Or is it the moon and is this an astronaut with a space helmet? An angel ascending or even floating down onto the horse? Is it a visor or a halo? The style of the visor suggests a cop but it’s really left for the viewer to ponder.
He borrows from John Curran’s comment to the effect that artists who strive to paint in the style of the Old Masters will never quite master that and so they may as well play with that. Gianni mixes fine art, graphic art, contemporary art and even elements of graffiti in his works.
The use of greens and pinks runs through his works and he credits influences of Francis Bacon among others with this color sensibility. Like the old spaghetti western films and even the comic book character Lucky Luke, his character forms seem to be slightly stretched.
He credits his time spent at UQAM pursuing his Masters with making him much more capable and confident of speaking about his artwork and realized he probably couldn’t have had this in depth discussion two years ago as he didn’t quite have the words for it all at that time. With all the digging and personal journey that his education has brought him, he is excited to move forward after December 2013 into life and the adventures that will come after UQAM. As his pieces are too tall to exhibit at the normal location, he will show his final show at a Dawson College venue, coming full circle in his art education in Montreal.
On a personal note, I had a laugh when I followed our meeting up with a classic Montreal poutine and what was playing on the cafe’s sound system? Johny Cash country and western music! Perfect timing!