Duality of environment & emotion - Albuquerque Journal

Duality of environment & emotion

Courtesy of the Harwood Art Center
“Fast-acting Energetics (detail),” Toni Gentilli, wildcrafted botanical pigments (Helianthus tuberosus, Morus alba, Carya illinoinensis, Ericameria nauseosa, Alcea rosea, and Opuntia phaeacantha) and clay from the Rio Grande, 100.5×43 inches, 2022. (Courtesy of the Harwood Art Center)

Two shows at the Harwood Art Center contrast science and the environment with sharp angles of emotion and relationships.

Viewers can see these opposing works by Toni Gentilli and Robyn A. Frank in “Bodies of Evidence” and “Relationship is an activity” through June 2.

Gentilli was working at an Arizona archaeological dig when she developed a chronic infection.

The fungal infection Coccidioides, known as Valley Fever, invaded one of her lungs, simultaneously fueling her artistic practice. She had also developed diabetes at 28.

“I’ve been living with chronic illness for about 35 years,” she said in a telephone interview from her parked car at Los Poblanos in Los Ranchos, where she makes the company’s herbal products. “They’re auto-immune diseases, but I feel they were environmentally triggered. No one in my family has these diseases.”

Gentilli surrendered her archaeological career because of the infection and began a creative practice that began with photography. She had always preferred a plant-based diet, so she integrated plants into her images. Gentilli chose an old technique called anthotypes, where the print develops in the sun. She began using plant materials as her photographic emulsion, crushing the plants and painting them on paper. She created her own negatives, developing a relationship between both the materials and content.

Her creative combustion continued.

“During the pandemic, I learned how to weave,” Gentilli said. “Then I started using natural pigments as dyes.”

The exploration revealed a parallel link between humans and our relationship to the environment and illness. Her current work continues that investigation using plants and discarded medical supplies.

For “One Lunar Cycle” Gentilli combined natural blood sugar regulators such as the golden sunchoke plant and mulberry leaves and berries. She embroidered the watercolor with diabetic test strips.

“This show is also very much about healing,” Gentilli said.

The bright, upbeat colors signal that recovery, with yellow representing vitality, pink symbolizing love and purple for spirituality, she said.

The hand in her “Law of Correspondence” painting is an ode to both of her well-used hands. She painted it with pigment derived from prickly pear and chamisa.

“I’m sending them a little bit of love because I have to poke my fingers from seven to 10 times a day,” Gentilli said. “It’s also a gesture of vulnerability and prayer and reverence.”

She papered the background of “Fast Acting Energetics” with the inserts from fast-acting insulin. She painted them with mulberry and prickly pear pigments, as well as Rio Grande clay.

“It transforms it into sort of healing and positive energy,” Gentilli said. “I’m trying to understand the ways both the human and the environment are being impacted by environmental degradation.”

Frank’s acrylic painting explores relationships with Modernism’s bold geometry and color. She moved to Albuquerque from New York in 2019 after growing up in Tampa, Florida.

“I’d been in New York for 16 years and my life there took me away from my art,” she said.

“The idea is taking these emotional concepts and creating a visual allegory,” she continued. “I’m thinking about things like shape and color as emotional ideas.”

Her color palette reflects New Mexico’s blue sky and rock formations.

“Each piece is trying to capture those elusive moments of light and change,” she said.

Similarly, relationships change from moment to moment, she added.

With its rectangles and squares of bold color, “Quilt 01” hearkens back to Frank’s grandmother, who was a quilter. The blocks align to create a new vision.

“The color palette was inspired by some clothes my grandma made me,” Frank explained. “I learned a little bit of sewing from her; I never quilted. But making this collection made me want to pursue that more.”

Frank moved from Florida to Brooklyn, New York to study at the prestigious Pratt Institute.

“I think (art) has always been the way I work through my experience of the world,” she said.

Frank has shown her work at Zendo Coffee and at Vital Spaces, as well as in the Harwood’s emerging artist show.

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