Arts & Entertainment, Gallery Beat

I Went to Art School a Long Time Ago…

By F. Lennox Campello

To me it was not only one of the most interesting parts of my education as an artist, but also my first taste of what happens when artists immerse and surround themselves by other artists, as art students are forced by the nature of the beast, at art school.

I started at the University of Washington School of Art, in splendid Seattle when I was 21 years old, on a Navy scholarship (not for art, but for Math – but that’s another story), and fresh off a couple of Mediterranean cruises courtesy of USS Saratoga. Nearly everyone around me was 18 or 19 years old, so at 21, and considering myself a “Salty Dog” in Navy speak, I felt vastly more knowledgeable than all the students around me, and most of the professors, including the amazing Jacob Lawrence.

I enjoyed art school in many ways – and I learned a lot; but there was one thing that I always rebelled against: it was the sense of “victimism” (as I called it back then) with which I felt art students were being soaked in and brainwashed to believe and accept as part of being a “true artist.”

“Van Goghism” I called it back then, the artistic path where the artist, as the grandmaster of creativity, toils unsupported and unrecognized, and misunderstood, and unappreciated by the rest of society.

I suppose that happens, and I suspect that it happens a lot.

But it doesn’t have to be the “norm” and the standard and the path to artistic development.

Creating artwork, good artwork, is a labor of love, creativity, and skill; but it is also dependent on having a good work ethic.

Not everyone has to agree with me on this next part, but I firmly believe that the goal of creating artwork is to then place it in someone else’s home – the worst place for a piece of artwork is inside your studio gathering dust.

By spreading your artwork – once created – you (as the artist) are then leaving an artistic footprint behind you as you progress through the years.

That takes work, a lot of work.

There’s a show at Kensington’s Adah Rose Gallery (one of the hardest working art dealers in the DMV) which is a perfect example of this.

Dramatically titled “The Splendid Silence, The Glorious Performance”, the show is a terrific showcasing of Virginia artist Sheila Giolitti.

One can make the case that Sheila Giolitti is now Norfolk, Virginia’s best-known fine artist. Her work is shown all over the world at some of the best art fairs on the planet by one of Europe’s top art galleries, and she’s also represented in the DMV by Adah Rose Gallery – easily one of the top art galleries in the region.

Artists water at the mouth at such exhibitional gravitas, and a little professional jealously creeps in, and even the occasional jealousy yields a… “she’s so lucky,” as the uninformed would mutter over a glass of Pinot Grigio at the opening.

Sheila Giolitti is not only a superb artist, a formidable technical master, and a cool mom, but she’s also one of the hardest working artists whom I’ve ever met.

When I first met Giolitti closing on 30 years ago, she was somehow managing being a single mom, a struggling artist (somewhat saddled with being the daughter of a very famous artist father), and exhibiting her artwork at a dozen or more outdoor art shows all around the mid-Atlantic. She was also the only Italian-American whom I’ve ever met that had (and still has) a slight English accent as a result of her schooling in London.

Doing outdoor art festivals is hard work – more than that: it is extremely hard physical work and very hard mental strain work. It is not for the soft of backbone or the easily defeated by temporal setbacks… or by rain.

There are some really good outdoor art festivals around our region – in Giolitti’s own area there’s the Boardwalk Art Show in Virginia Beach, and the one in Stockley Gardens in Norfolk. In our area there’s the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival in Reston, and the Bethesda Fine Arts Festival in… ahem… Bethesda.

Giolitti did those shows for years – improving her technical and creative skills, sharpening her business acumen, and learning how to interact with the public.

Then, when the high end art fair phenomenon started to develop in the early 2000s, Giolitti took the enormous risk of re-focusing her attention, finances, and art on this “new” avenue for her art to move from her studio to someone else’s wall – it demanded gallery representation, so Giolitti began to exhibit in galleries. By then she was armed with some many artistic and personal “people” skills, that it helped her to land galleries.

The art fair “scene” is an electrifying experience for both artists and novice galleries – there’s nothing like it and I’ve written ad nauseum via this column why artists and art galleries need to make the jump. And Giolitti makes a perfect example of several of the “whys” – this was the “last mile” on the road that guided her to most of her present success.

And now I’ve gone and spent this entire column trying to use her as an example of how there are several ways to achieve artistic success – and Giolitti’s way included a lot of hard work – physical and artistic, and I have not said anything about her amazing show at Adah Rose Gallery, which was one of the best that I’ve seen in years.

The current state of her artwork (like all good artists, she has massaged it into many forms and shapes over the decades, refined it, and re-refined it…) is hard to describe because words do not give it justice: it is abstract, but it is not; it’s non-representational, but it has elements of representation in it; it is beautiful without being saccharine.

And it is nothing, absolutely nothing, like anyone else that I’ve seen in several decades of looking at artwork is doing.

Nobody… anywhere around here, or elsewhere in the world where Giolitti’s work is now being placed in someone else’s walls.

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