Giovanna Cecchetti: The Consciousness of Infinite Goodness opened Sept. 27, 2014 at the Hunterdon Art Museum. In the conclusion of this interview, she talks about her painting technique and tells us more about this solo exhibition.
Q 3. Is there anything unique about the techniques you employ when creating?
You know, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything special or new with materials. In the
paintings I adopt old master techniques. I take my time with creating a good ground – and
build systematically from the ground up. The paintings have lots of layered glazes and I
sand between each layer of paint; not only to keep the surface very thin but to also
confuse the layers, thereby confusing time. I use a cold wax varnish when finished and
then buff the painting’s surface. I like to think they are extremely archival.
Again, the works on paper are quite a mixture of materials, but nothing I consider special
or unique – it is all just a matter of using whatever will give you the right outcome for
materializing the vision. Though lately, the addition of using embroidery thread as a
drawing material adds a texture I find alluring and works with the concept of layering.
But nothing new – women have been using thread for embroidering probably ever since
the creation of thread – but when I discovered the embroideries made by the Shipibo
women in Pucallpa, well, they are just the most beautiful, sacred, visionary patterns –
melodic patterns that sing stories. During my trips to Peru I was able to create a modest
collection of their embroidered cloths and can say spending time with their creations
taught me how I too could use thread in my own drawings. The resonance I feel with
them is very powerful.
One question people tend to ask most often about my work is how many hours it takes to
make a piece. So what does that matter? Maybe the detail is a labor-intensive process; I
do everything by hand with small brushes – quite insane even to me. Embroidery is a
very patient repetitive process – but some repetitive processes really feel good, like
breathing. I bother with so much detail, but that is the quantum level interest I find so
fascinating – how all matter is made up of so many various tiny seen and unseen particles
of energy that continually include and transcend, as the philosopher Ken Wilber would
put it “All the way up and all the way down.”
About fifteen years ago I made the commitment to narrow my work down to a few
specific shapes because I felt overwhelmed by decision-making. So I basically work with
the circle, the square, the triangle, and the parenthesis mark. Over the years these
geometric shapes evolved into conglomerations that seem to transcend their parts,
creating new ways of patterning.
Q 4. Is there a particular painting that’s going to be on exhibition that you could tell me
To choose one work, I would focus on the Mahamrityunjaya diptych. There are actually
two works with this same title in the exhibit, one is a painting; the other on paper. But the
painting came about over the course of several years and uses a different handling of
process and materials. The panel on the left was begun a couple of years earlier than the
panel on the right. This is also the first painting in which I include the written text of
mantra. The mantra is to the three levels of Śiva; its title translates into Victory Over
Death. But I’ve been working with this mantra, and with mantra, the best way to
understand its deeper meaning is by chanting it. I have a fascination with the science of
how sound is capable of altering matter.
So for awhile, I was working with this mantra, and chanting it daily 108 times. I would
sense these visions of swirling energy in the air around me, which I attempt to capture
here. But there is also a tribal aspect to this piece. There exists a tribal lineage
surrounding Śiva; there also exists a tribal lineage of medicine tradition in the Amazon
jungle, which is growing globally. Having a foot in both worlds so to speak, I bring both
these worlds together in this painting. The patterned imagery in the first layer of this
painting is a re-use of a stencil design I made for a window installation for the Walsh
Gallery at Seton Hall University (2012) called Tribu, Tribu (image on my website). For
that installation I hand-cut the stencil and painted it onto the glass. In the right panel of
this painting Mahamrityunjaya, which I decided to add to the left panel after the
installation, I re-use the same stencil – a diagonal pattern of triangles – to set a tribal
And of course, the whole mantra is reproduced here, but slippery to read because it is in
the middle plane, between former layers and over-lying layers of pattern. I really felt in
order to illustrate my personal experience, the words needed to be in the middle. Being
able to read them is not the priority, but to feel the energy of the sound when the mantra
An English translation would go something like this:
“Om we worship the three-eyed one (Śiva) who is fragrant and who nourishes all beings.
May Śiva severe our bondage to worldly life, like a cucumber severed from the bondage
of its creeper, and liberate us from the fear of death by our realization that we are never
separated from our Immortal Nature.”
Perhaps going into my elder years has me contemplating physical mortality. So maybe
this piece is personal and somewhat autobiographical of the spiritual direction my life
and work is taking now. There is a saying, in some of the spiritual circles I’ve sat in, that
there is the practice of how to die. Working with this mantra, assists such a practice.
Q 5. Is there anything you in particular you hope viewers will get out of this exhibition?
In a sense, I would like for people to feel better after they’ve spent time with the work.
I see these works as medicine pieces. Neuron-stimulators. Serotonin injections. Imagery
that becomes activated when viewed.
A recent statement written about my work describes this experience:
“The eyes search for an interpretation. But perhaps what we’re seeing is a mirror of our
own minds at that moment, a visualization of the synapses firing as we try to make sense
of it.” (Chloe Kanner, Enlightened Art, The Stowe Reporter, Sept. 5, 2013)