Jeanne Ciravolo – the resistance in making do

In Dialogue
A person standing in front of a wall with paintings

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Residency at the Anderson Center, 2019, Red Wing, MN

In her mixed-media work, Jeanne Ciravolo integrates collage, print, and stitching, materializing the stories of her female relatives—their stories of loss and hope. The female figures often reference representation of women in art history, such as medieval carvings or paintings from the Renaissance. The figure imagery is based on Ciravolo’s sketches, figure drawings, photos from newspapers and magazines, or photos she took.

You mention the 12th-century carvings known as Sheela na gig as elements that enter your process and content. Can you tell us more about that and how we can see it in your work?

I have a great trove of images from art history in my mind, and representations of women in art history are the most prominent. As I am working, certain images enter my thoughts. They relate to my idea and add a narrative layer to the painting. I often include details from these works as block prints or reproduced line drawings. For instance, in Expulsion, a piece I made during the spring of 2020, a large female figure is stepping out of the composition into darkness but is looking over her shoulder at the darkness from which she came. Block prints of Eve from Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden function in the work as a chorus of complaint. The idea to incorporate the visual quote from Masaccio came midway through the development of the painting.

A close-up of a painting

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Expulsion (detail) 2020, Mixed media collage with birch bark, and block print of Eve from Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, on drop cloth, 72 x 46 in.

I am looking at your 2022 painting Oath. What is your idea and the process behind it?

For this piece, the idea originated from the Oath of the Horatii, a painting by Jacques Louis David. I was specifically interested in the differences in how David depicted the male and female figures. My response to his work was to represent power and determination in two monumental female figures. As the painting developed, it became a symbolic portrait of me and my sister, with the figure on the left in a protective stance. The David painting is referenced at the ankles of the figures in a reproduced tracing of the weeping women from the Oath of the Horatii. It is a visual text that repeats—present but diminished, drained of color. To create the work, I employed direct painting in acrylic and incorporated collage, which consists of painted paper I created, colored tissue paper, and color aid paper. The figures are drawn in charcoal.

A piece of art on a wall

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Oath, 2022, Mixed media collage, with reproduced tracing of the weeping women in David’s “Oath of the Horatii,” on drop cloth, 105 x 51 in.

Tell us about your textile series

I often use kitchen towels and domestic textiles as substrates. Many of the textiles were made by my grandmother, great-grandmother, or other female relatives. Each towel or textile comes with a history—stains, tears, burns, bleach marks—which informs my alterations. In creating these works, I explore the resistance inherent in “making do,” which connects to female traditions of labor and innovation. The gestures I use in my textile pieces include stitching, decoupage, and patching, practices associated with women’s domestic labor and craft. Stitching and patching connect me to the immigrant women in my family who worked as seamstresses.

A piece of fabric with a pattern

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Hands to Work, 2020. Stitching, acrylic skins, paper doily, and paper collage on kitchen towel. 25 x 16 in.

You also work on paper. How does your approach differ from one media to the other?

My approach is similar. I begin with a figural idea. The difference is that the canvas drop cloths or domestic textiles offer wrinkles, stains, imperfections, or patterns embedded in the work to which I can react. When working with paper, I usually begin drawing with a brush in ink, then use scraps of color aid, painted paper, or press paint directly onto the paper to create visual textures.

A painting of a person hugging

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Weight, 2020, Mixed media on paper, 10 x 7 in.

You also teach and run a gallery. How do all these roles intersect?

I’m privileged to be a faculty member of the University of Connecticut’s School of Fine Arts, teaching studio art and directing the AVS Gallery at UConn’s Avery Point campus. Working with and learning about the experiences of different people, students, faculty, members of the public, and artists broadens my creative practice. Ideas for my research and curatorial work are influenced by these intersecting relationships. It’s a wonderful challenge to find ways to inspire students in their artmaking, support the work of other artists, and spark excitement for art in the community through creating programming and exhibitions.

About the artist: Jeanne Ciravolo is a mixed media artist whose recent exhibitions include the 7th Louisiana Biennial at Texas Tech University, the Prisma Prize Exhibition in Rome, Italy; Tokens and Traces, a solo exhibition at Buckham Gallery in Flint, Michigan; and Trio, a three-person exhibition at the Athens Institute of Contemporary Art in Georgia. The artist has exhibited at the Yellowstone Art Museum, Coral Springs Museum, Mattatuck Museum, and the Butler Museum of American Art. In 2020 she received the Walter Feldman Fellowship, juried by Ellen Tani, Assistant Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston. She has been awarded residencies at the Hambidge Center, Kimmel Harding Nelson, the Anderson Center, and the Jentel Foundation. Publications of her work include Manifest International Drawing Annual 15, Manifest International Painting Annual 10, and Rejoinder, a publication of the Institute for Research on Women at Rutgers University, in partnership with the Feminist Art Project.