Monday, May 16, 2011

Milisa Galazzi: Providence, R.I., Artist Interview—Part 1

I am delighted to introduce my friend and colleague, Milisa Galazzi. She has an interesting story to tell, so I decided to break the discussion into two blog posts; Part One this week, followed by Part Two next week.

If you are traveling to Cape Cod next month for The 5th International Conference, please look for Milisa’s work, as she will be a Guest Artist at Ernden Fine Art Gallery and part of the national juried exhibition, Wax in Motion, at the Bowersock Gallery, curated by Kim Bernard and Steve Bowersock.  Details to follow. 

Milisa Galazzi in her studio

Lynette Haggard (LH): Can you share a little about yourself?

Milisa (MG): I was born in Newport, Rhode Island, in the summer of 1965. My dad was teaching navigation at the Naval Officer Candidate School and my mom was acting as a good Navy wife, having left nursing school to marry my father during college. When I came home from the hospital, my parents introduced me to my 18 month old brother – he offered me his blanket and gave me the nickname ‘Misa’ which I still reserve for close friends and family.

In the early '70s, my Mom finished her degree at Simmons College – this time in teaching. I vividly remember my Mom’s college graduation. When she found me in the audience, she knelt down to my level and looked me in the eyes. She was wearing her black cap and gown. She told me that even though I was only 6, I should work hard to listen to the graduation speaker because she was a strong woman and had important things to say. While I could not fully follow all of what Gloria Steinem was saying in her speech, I was powerfully aware of the palpable energy under the tent at that all women’s college graduation.

Misa age 6
Concurrently, my Dad was teaching high school and building a big boat (a 31 ft Trimaran sailboat) in our back yard. In the fall of 1973, my parents took my brother and me out of school and we lived on the boat for a year sailing the Inter-coastal Waterway from Massachusetts to Florida. We were “boat schooled” which meant that when we finished our entire year’s worth of public school curriculum by Halloween, we began our own education. I remember making bread by cutting the recipe in half and then doubling it again to learn fractions. (If the bread tasted gross, my math was off!) We learned about Southern Slavery by visiting plantations as we made our way south along the coast. We each had jobs aboard the boat and one of mine was to blow the horn to raise the big draw bridges so that our boat could pass beneath while the traffic overhead waited. Above my bunk, I mounted a navigation chart and each night I tracked our slow progress marveling at how closely the drawing matched my observations of the land. At night, by kerosene lamp, we took turns reading aloud the entire Narnia series. I was a painfully slow reader and tested everyone’s patience – especially my own. By high school, I learned that I was dyslexic, not stupid. 

Weaving Together, 48 x 48
Oil and Wax on Birch, 2011 Photo Milisa Galazzi

After the boat trip, and a whirlwind sale of the boat, we washed ashore on Cape Cod for the first time. My parents found jobs working at a summer sailing camp and I entered 4th grade in public school on the Cape. We lived essentially in a commune, making and eating our meals with 3 other families who also lived out the winter at the camp. After living on the boat for a year, I was not like the other kids – and especially not like the other girls. I had become a true tomboy on the boat and loved playing outside, making forts, swinging from trees, writing secret codes, and digging in the sand for buried treasure. I liked being alone and preferred playing by myself. As I entered middle school, my parents each started their own schools: my Dad’s, a wooden boat building school and my Mom’s, an early childhood school and summer camp.

Through high school and college, I worked closely with each of my parents. My Dad taught me how to splice lines to make sailboat rigging and build wooden spares. He insisted that before I even take driver’s education, I should know how to change the oil and a tire on a car. My Mom and I sewed all of my band concert outfits and I loved picking the patterns and fabrics for each season while learning to be a proficient seamstress. I was so proud playing my saxophone wearing the outfit I had made for those performances. My grandmothers were also a very big influence on me. I remember sitting on the floor of my Nonna’s linen closet thumbing through her button box and touching all of her Italian hand cut lace table cloths. She cooked amazing food and I loved working with her in the kitchen. Her food was her art and I learned a lot from her about passion. She taught me to love what I do and do what I love.

Idea wall in Galazzi's studio

When I look back on my childhood, much of what I learned growing up in my family has a direct impact on me today as an artist. As a child I learned to dream big, set goals, and follow my heart – no matter how crazy those dreams might seem. I learned to finish what I start, especially if it takes extra work and a lot of time. I learned to march to the beat of my own drum – even if that means I might be all alone. I learned to create for myself, the life that I want to live – no one can do that for you. I learned to teach myself what I need to know and to ask for help when I need it. I learned to be passionate and share myself with others. Most of all, I learned to care for the people around me – because, I believe, we are all connected.

Living on the boat and later growing up on Cape Cod (which is essentially a crooked sandbar sticking out into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean) helped me to feel very connected to the earth. I am always aware of the wind, the sun, the stars, the smells of each season. All of my senses are finely tuned and I feel and see connections where others might not. I think that all of what I learned growing up helps me be an artist. I now live in Providence, Rhode Island in the fall, winter, and spring, and on Cape Cod in the summer months.

LH: At what point in your life did you become interested in making art and was there a certain point when you decided you were primarily an artist?

MG: I have always thought of myself primarily as an artist. Thinking back now, I was the little kid who, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, would respond, “I already am an artist.” Most adults would only look blankly at me and change the subject. I think the challenge for me has always been fitting “my life” in and around my art making, not fitting art into my life. Making art for me is like sleeping or eating: I have to do it. Finding this balance was most challenging when I had small children as well as the demands of a day job. (I remember desperately weaving with a hand loom while sitting on the bathroom floor as my kids played in the tub.) Figuring out how to be the kind of artist I want to be is becoming clearer as I get older. Mine has never been a question of ‘if’ I am primarily an artist, but simply “how” to primarily be an artist and get everything else done.

Misa fusing encaustic with her Fat Boy Torch

LH: What is your media?

MG: I am a conceptual artist and use a variety of media to express my ideas. In the past I used paper, buttons, old type, photographs, personal correspondence, and dress patterns. I now use a lot of lace, thread, and rope in my work. In my paintings, I explore unique applications of encaustic and oil paint. In my installation work, I use paper and dress patterns and wax.

LH: What is your current work about? 

MG: I am presently working on two series of paintings and one large wall installation piece. One series, called Ghost Lace, uses lace and rope as a printing tool in a bed of about 15-20 layers of wax medium. Once the lace is removed, I use oil paint in the ‘valleys’ and then build up the ‘hills’ with another 30-40 layers of wax. In this series, I am playing with the formal elements of surface texture and line while conceptually referencing the ways in which relationships are built and maintained even when the physical nature of the connection is no longer (as in the bond that one might have with a grandparent or a mentor who is gone).

The second series I am working on explores the formal elements of quilt patterns (color, rhythm, etc.) Conceptually, this series plays with the ways in which things are pieced together – the whole being greater than the individual parts. This second series might be called Threads of Time or Ethereal Threads…or maybe just The Quilt Series!

Lastly, I am working on a very large, delicate, cut paper piece with hand sewing and wax. I am essentially creating paper lace. When the piece is hung, the shadows that form on the wall behind it are visually stronger than the actual paper, thread, and wax. This work will be part of a show I am in this fall called Pollination. In this piece, I am working on the idea of visually capturing the invisible flight patterns of bees.

LH: What is your workspace like?

MG: I work in a 550 square foot studio in an industrial building on the waterfront in Providence overlooking a ship building and repair yard. I have HUGE windows overlooking Narragansett Bay and very high ceilings. For many years, I worked in a small home studio. Here is a link to an article that I wrote about that sweet space . I love my studio and have separate areas for the different ways in which I work. My ‘idea wall’ is a huge part of my process as is my ‘thinking chair.’

Misa's thinking chair
Misa's studio mate, Indigo

Stay tuned for next week's Part 2 on Milisa. 


Nancy Natale said...

Wow, Misa, what a great childhood you had and how well it prepared you for the life of an artist! Thanks so much for telling us about it. Your parents were such visionaries in the way they raised you. Good for them and for you. Thanks, Lynette, for this great post.

Milisa Galazzi said...

Thanks, Nancy, I will tell my Mom and Dad you approve - and thanks for reading and commenting!

Joanne Mattera said...

Love learning about your life, Misa. Thanks, Lynette, for the terrific posts you've been doing.

Milisa Galazzi said...

Thanks Joanne. I always felt like an odd duck as a kid and I think I am finally finding comfort with only took 4.5 decades!

Toni said...

I enjoyed reading your description of your experiences with your family, childhood and life. Also, liked reading about your "sweet space" home studio. There's lots of "pressure" for the professional artist to have a studio outside the home---and I have a wonderful studio inside my home and encaustic workshop in my large garage. I look forward to reading Part II of your story. ~Sparky