The Art Connoisseur: Gianna Scavo
"Art can be an instrumental tool in who we become."
I connected with Gianna after discovering her work through an art collecting article she wrote for Darling Magazine. I love Gianna's mind, her knowledge about art is prevalent in everything she does as is her genuine love of artists. There are many things that I am still thinking about in regards to this interview, especially the thoughts she shares on art as both a projection of self and a tool of self-discovery.
Here is Gianna in her own words...
I am a proud multi-hyphenate! I’ve spent the majority of my professional life as a freelance photographer. Currently I find myself writing about art and life for various publications, conducting research for museums, and producing creative projects for arts and culture organizations on a freelance basis.
I’ve always had an awareness of beauty that has been so sensitive, it was almost painful. During college I developed an unrelenting interest in why and how people respond to beauty - I was tired of seeing beautiful things as mere decoration, and became interested in the power of aesthetics to change someone’s life. I became deeply interested in exactly what happens when a human being encounters something beautiful, whether it’s a painting, a poem, a landscape, a face… time seems to stop. I discovered that the fields of aesthetic philosophy and aesthetic theology seemed to explore the questions I was yearning to answer about where beauty comes from. I chose to pursue my questions in the form of an MA in art history, philosophy and theology from King’s College London.
On Personal Aesthetics
I tend to navigate towards the whimsical and ethereal - these songs seem to resonate with those themes:
“Forces of Attraction” by Icelandic composer, Jóhann Jóhannsson. “Heysátan” and “Sæglópur” by Sigur Rós, an Icelandic band that I’ve listened to since I was a kid (You can check out their documentary, “Heima” if you want to learn more - truly a fascinating group of artists).
Can you tell I like Icelandic musicians? All of these songs really seem to transport me to a place somewhere in my mind that is filled with utter peace.
In terms of my aesthetic, I go back and forth between minimalist works that ground me, and maximalist works that challenge me, that wake me up. I’m currently loving the busy works of LA-based artist, Maureen Meyer - her recent works feel like joyful puzzles. Her use of color amazes me. When I’m craving something more restful on the eyes, I’ve been turning to the works of London based artist, Liam Stevens.
I am very much a minimalist! Hopping between New York, Italy and London for several years during my early twenties taught me that I personally feel a lot more free when I can squeeze most of my belongings into two suitcases. I feel weighed down by objects and clutter - I strive to be as mobile as possible. Regardless of how many material things I come to own, I hope to maintain a “detachment to attachment”, that is, I don’t think that one should be completely detached to material items, as they do hold a certain beauty, comfort and necessity...but I do strive to avoid forming attachments to things that naturally will come to pass - this encapsulates what minimalism means to me.
Writing About and Perceiving Art
I’ve been fascinated by the human urge to create for as long as I can remember. I think that my relationship to art is very intrinsic to who I am because I have “grapheme-color” synesthesia. It causes one’s senses to blend. Synesthesia manifests differently from person to person, some experience a specific taste when they hear a certain sound, however it specifically causes me to perceive letters and numbers as having inherent colors, and to “see” the days in the week and months of the year - they each have a precise location in my mind, as if on a three dimensional map. All that being said, I’ve always been very sensitive to shapes, colors and composition. Visual art has therefore always been an inherently moving experience for me. I like to challenge people to see art as not simply decorative, but as able to have an immense impact on our wellbeing and emotional and personal development.
I first began writing about art due to pure frustration with how elitist and exclusive the art world can be, both in terms of the art market as well as within academia. I was determined to start writing about art in a way that anyone could appreciate, to avoid jargon and explore why art can matter to anyone, at this very moment.
On Personal Favourites
I am a total sucker for 20th century painting. I love Marc Chagall, Piet Mondrian, and Mark Rothko. I am also learning to see beneath the formality of the Renaissance period, and really appreciate the context in which those paintings were created. I would say that these artists and periods appeal to me as they were in some way marked by a search for meaning and in some way interact with spirituality. This field has always interested me.
Chrysanthemum (1906-1942). Photo credit: The Cleveland Museum of Art.
A lot of people know Mondrian for his deeply mathematical compositions, but I am utterly obsessed with his works depicting flowers.
I would say that both spirituality (creating art as a spiritual impulse or necessity) and color are themes that I am constantly drawn to. Combine them both, as Kandinsky does in a chapter of his book Concerning the Spiritual in Art, and I am pretty much in heaven! I’m super interested in how color plays a psychological and emotional role within our lives, especially through the use of art.
I have a complicated relationship with contemporary art, but I have gradually learned to understand that in order for art history to progress, we need to encourage new artists to continue to express themselves, to create, and to explore new mediums. After all, when most of the artists we love today began making works that were different and pushed boundaries, they weren’t often accepted immediately.
Collecting Art as Growth
I like to compare viewing art with going to the gym… I know that sounds strange, but hear me out. Before I exercise, I think of my goals; to get stronger, to stay mobile and healthy. My needs differ from day to day. Sometimes I want to work on my cardiovascular endurance, so I will go on a long run. Other days, I want to work on my muscular endurance, so I will plan a weight lifting session. Art can have the same effect as a fitness routine (something we also invest in monetarily), but for our minds. Before I visit a museum, to avoid the overwhelming urge to see anything and everything on the walls (only to burn out about an hour later and sprint to the museum cafe for a pick me up), I like to make a plan for the day: What do I want to meditate on, to explore emotionally through the artworks? Which emotional or psychological muscles do I want to train? Even if this results in viewing just three works, it allows me to fully experience the transformative journey that art can take us on. There are days when I want to rest in front of a work that calms me, and days that I want to wrestle with a work that challenges me. Some days, I need loud, vibrant brush strokes, and other days, I need a quiet, pensive canvas to simply lose myself in.
Yes, investing in art can definitely be a wise monetary investment. There are so many budding artists out there, and it also feels wonderful to play a part in supporting their work. But I also think that buying art is an investment in oneself. Just like a gym membership or a healthy diet, art is a form of nourishment. If there is a work that inspires you, uplifts you, challenges you, or even confuses you, it can be a valuable addition to a space you inhabit daily. Sit with it, revisit it at different stages of your week, month and year. Examine how your relationship to it changes. This is a practice that can bring such valuable insight into our inner lives.
Spending money on art was definitely something that I wasn’t too keen on at first. I think that in order to encourage more people to spend their hard earned money on art, we first need to reframe the way we view what the purpose of art actually is. While it has decorative qualities, and I do believe that it is entirely valid to appreciate art because of its beauty, it need not be mere decoration. Art can be an instrumental tool in who we become.
I can’t remember the first piece I bought, but I will tell you about two pieces I bought recently from Julia Kostreva Rosenthal. I had followed her work for many years, but never thought that I would be in the financial position to invest in her work, so I admired her from a distance. She then hosted an auction to support a hunger relief fund for children, and I took a chance and placed a bid on an original work that came with a custom commission as well. The original piece was titled Half Moon, New Sun, and I gave her full creative license to create the second piece, as I really wanted her to make something that felt true to her artistic voice. It’s called Crescent Flora, and they are both acrylic on linen. It felt like such a special purchase and experience. I still can’t believe they are mine!
On the Value of Art and Advice for New Collectors
One interesting thing that art adds to my life is mystery, in two distinct ways.
Sometimes I’ll ponder a famous portrait or abstract work and think about the fact that no matter how much value our society adds to it, it is so difficult to actually pinpoint the artist’s intentions. I find this notion pretty fascinating, and it’s why I think that each artwork’s meaning belongs to the viewer’s interpretation at that exact moment in time, regardless of what the art historical canon claims.
And also “mystery” in the sense that some artworks simply transport us to a different place. Their colors, shapes and sounds resonate in ways that we didn’t know possible. Why? How? I’m always open to having this discussion, so feel free to reach out for a virtual coffee to discuss!
Take your time, do your research, but don’t overthink it! There will be a lot of phases and changes that you will go through, especially within your relationship with certain pieces of visual art. As I mentioned earlier, during different days, months and years, you will inevitably crave something different to set your eyes upon. I’ve been indifferent to certain works until I read more about the artist and what motivates them. Don’t be afraid to outgrow a certain work in a few years.
You don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to buy artwork. It is truly possible to buy great artwork at every price point. If you simply can’t afford an original work by one of your favorite artists, why not see if they have any limited edition prints available? Nowadays, there are plenty of options to suit any budget.
Where to Find New Artists & Recommendations
While I am not a huge fan of the gallery space, I have found that two UK based galleries tend to represent some of my favorite contemporary artists, and they are Francis Gallery (Bath) and Cadogan Contemporary (London). Instagram has also been a very fun way to discover new art, as well as giving me a behind-the-scenes look at certain artist’s creative processes.
To discover more historic artworks, I often frequent the webpages of Art UK, who publish some incredible stories about some really unique topics and subjects depicted throughout art history. They are so fun to read. Also, Google Arts and Culture has been a great interactive way to discover new works, especially by using their “color explorer” tool.
If you’re in London, you must visit the National Gallery, The Courtald, and my personal favorite, Kettles Yard in Cambridge. If you’re in Italy - The Ostiense Museum in Ostia Antica, Rome. I remember wandering in there on a hot summer day and being swept away by some sketches from the Italian sculptor Giacomo Manzù...and the way that sunlight floods the space is breathtaking. Also, simply wander into most churches to find some of the most spectacular historic works.
If you find yourself in New York, you really can’t miss the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it surpasses all expectations. If you’re interested in the creative process, visit the Pollock-Krasner house in East Hampton, where Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner lived and worked.
LA-based artist, John Zabawa [is a favourite]. I have always loved his work, and I recently rediscovered it through his show Gateways at Francis Gallery. In the exhibition, Zabawa embraces the beauty of the everyday so well. I could stare at the works for hours. I’ve also been loving the work of the Belgium-based French painter Johanna Van Daalen. I recently discovered her via Instagram and I think that the way she creates texture is stunning!