A little bit funny, and perhaps a little bit scary, too. The narratives that emerge in the mixed media works of Weston, Conn., artist Leslie Giuliani are like hypnotic dream journeys undertaken against a backdrop in which every element has the power of a lost primal language.
“I am always surprised by the story that results,” says the artist, whose characters, botanicals, and geometric shapes and grids alternate between algorithm-like sequencing and jaunty asymmetry. Among important influences are Louise Bourgeois’ textile works, the freeform patchwork of quilts, Philip Guston’s cartoon imagery, and Byzantine icon paintings, for their strong composition and flat space.
The strong, bold works that result may be most notable for the means through which Giuliani achieves her desired end result in a new body of work that began with the question, “I want to embroider on paper. How do I do that?” Encaustiflex was the answer. It’s a microfiber material similar to paper that absorbs encaustic (hot wax) paint quickly and evenly.
In the first step in her process, Giuliani uses Encaustiflex for painting and monoprinting the geometric pieces that will eventually be assembled into a finished work—but that’s only the beginning of a high-tech, digital age process. The painted or monoprinted building blocks are embellished with embroidered imagery that begins as drawings, which are then digitized and become stitch files that can be sent to the artist’s computerized sewing machine.
It stitches the images onto the painted or monoprinted pieces of Encaustiflex with impressive speed and complexity. Some designs have more than 20,000 stitches and take hours to sew, and colors are determined by thread choice, including metallic. In the final step of the creative process, the artist gathers individual building blocks that suggest a dialogue with one another, and sews them together like pieces in a quilt.
“It’s purely enjoyable because it’s improvisational. It’s visual jazz,” says Giuliani, who has been freed to explore the tropes of fairy tales and myths via technology that gives her the equivalent of an artist’s handmade deck of cards. “It’s all because of this material, which allows me to be really free with my sewing and piecing together,” says the artist of Encaustiflex.
Giuliani has about 20 large works completed, and was making smaller ones in preparation for the exhibit at The Lionheart Gallery. “The wax and embroidery give the pieces a very tactile surface,” the artist says. “Encaustic paint is waterproof, which allows the pieces to be hung without glass, like a tapestry, using tiny magnets.”
Giuliani’s work has been exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the U.S. She was a recipient in 2008 of an Artist Fellowship Grant for Craft from the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism and her work is included in the state of Connecticut’s permanent art collection. She teaches encaustic painting and rug hooking and has written articles on rug hooking for Rug Hooking and Hand/Eye magazines.