As an internationally-exhibited, award-winning fine artist, Gabriella’s work investigates material structures under the assumption that they function as cognitive and moral evidence. She is best known for her highly inquisitive, pro-craft, feminist fiber works and multimedia collage. Visually, Gabriella combines imagery in unexpected ways and with elaborate specificity. In doing so, she embraces complex meaning based on the truth of material experience rather than inherited narratives, emotions, expectations, and cultural norms. A marriage of eclectic and warm minimalism, Gabriella’s works emphasize harmonious energy, irregular patterns, and a new-feminist conception of storytelling based largely on intimacy with everyday things and materials. Gabriella’s relationship with the materials of everyday living is explored throughout her book, Getting Dressed In The Dark, an artist’s memoir that traces her way home after personal crisis. Her work has been exhibited at biennials, salons, embassies, and galleries across the world.
Gabriella grew up in Morristown, NJ. After receiving her BA in Philosophy and the History of Science and Mathematics through the Great Books program at St. John’s College, she moved to Boston and then Maine, where for two decades she immersed herself in costume design, quilting, leadership roles in nationally recognized fine craft organizations, and teaching courses on creativity. She holds an MFA in Intermedia from the University of Maine, Orono.
Gabriella lives and works between Mt. Tabor, New Jersey and New York City with artist C. W. Crawford, son Luciano Dove, and their four dogs.
Q: What town do you live in? Where is your studio/place of work?
A: I live and work in Mount Tabor, New Jersey.
Q: What kind of art do you create/what do you do in the arts?
A: I recently finished two books—one based on my history of creative practice and another one rooted in dreams. I’ve been making non-objective landscape paintings since around 2010. I make videos using nature imagery and animation, and use a lot of my writing as narration in those videos. A lot of my work uses rhythm, pattern, and collage—tactics I began using in quilting and fiber art, which in some way still forms the heart of my practice and is the work that’s best known.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: After living in New York City for a while, I’m now in a place where I can garden again. I’ve been studying to become a Master Gardener through Rutgers and I’ve been practicing forest bathing. These changes in my life have brought me back to landscape painting.
Q: What is your art background/education/
A: During my undergraduate degree, I studied philosophy and the history of math and science, but by the end I was disillusioned with the kinds of ideas that could be written down and analyzed. I was more interested in what it means to know and to be in relationship with the world. For me, that meant spending the next 20 years investing in marginalized and often feminine modes of knowledge creation such as quilting, home-making, shamanic journeying, divination, mediumship, dream tending, embodiment practices, and imagery. In that time I studied painting at the Museum School in Boston and designed costumes for two years at a professional theater. I taught and studied at both Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine and Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago. I spent years as a member of Maine’s craft guilds as a quilt-maker, and I received my MFA in Intermedia from the University of Maine.
Q: How do you balance your time in the studio/in the workplace with other commitments?
A: My practice has always been integral to my daily life. Working this way feels fundamentally feminine to me. My creative work is a spiritual practice which is nothing without the food I eat, my garden, my family, my home, and my friends. I am interested in what it means to know the world and that knowledge is embodied and pervasive. I avoid balance because that word suggests to me that I am being pulled equally in different directions. I’m all about integration. That feels healthier for me.
Q: Has your practice changed over time? Why/How?
A: The materials and methods I use change often, but the ideas and inspirations have been consistent. Sometimes the reason is as simple as the constraints or characteristics of space. Sometimes a change in space changes the way that I work. When I lived in a fifth floor walk-up in Harlem, I wrote more than I painted. When I lived in Maine, I was focused on the land around me. Now that I live in Morris County, I have a renewed interest in the land around me, but it is a very different land.
Q: What is your favorite thing about being in the arts? Least favorite?
A: I was partly drawn to art post-undergrad because it has the potential to change the way that we engage with the world. Art, as a contemporary practice, is limitless in the tools, methods, and strategies at its disposal. It is constantly and self-consciously creating its own rules as part of its prerogative; it’s more reflective of our humanity in terms of how we know the world. It’s a holistic practice in that sense.
However, once art is stabilized into a discipline, an art market, an art world, rules dominate again, as is natural, but sometimes we get stuck there. Art starts to be made from the outside in, instead of the inside out. Being in the arts is fine, but probably won’t change the world. On the other hand, being an artist is essential, and can change everything.
Q: What inspires you? Who are your favorite artists/ artwork? Favorite museum/ gallery (outside of Morris County
A: I’m inspired by land. I’ve recently discovered a section of parkland in Morris Plains where paths meander through acres of tall grass, milkweed, and wildflowers. There are rows of plastic sleeves protecting saplings: white lines drawn on top of grays and browns. There are so many intersecting patterns, syncopated visual rhythms. I grew up in Morristown and my earliest inspiration was the New Jersey park system. Patriot’s Path. The Frelinghuysen Arboretum. I recently visited the Cross Estate, which was completely enchanting.
I am inspired by spiritual practices: shamanic practice, forest bathing, and Vipassana.
When I’m inspired by artwork, it’s usually artwork that evokes poetic, intimate space. I am a huge fan of David Lynch’s Inland Empire, I find the sense of meaning and mystery he conjures has more in common with the natural world than is possible in more conventional narrative. Some of my favorite artists find truth in rhythm, like Marc Leavitt’s flower series, Lari Washburn’s sketchbook images, or the Alighiero Boetti piece The Thousand Longest Rivers of the World. I love work that has a deep relationship with the everyday: for example, Meg Chase is a farmer, restaurant owner, flower designer, mother, partner, and makes some of my most favorite landscape paintings. I love work that feels like it belongs to itself; like it was made by someone who had to make it, like Monica Lederman’s paintings.
Q: What are a few of your big artistic career goals? What is your dream project?
A: My career goal is to be more dialogic and less performative.
I believe in my vision and in its value to a larger community. My way of seeing the world is hard won, born of some admixture of commitment and compulsion. It arises from discontent, curiosity, dissonance, and injustice - a feeling like chafing. I’m interested in ways of actually connecting vision to our mundane, lived lives.
I think a large part of this is being able to see examples and to integrate the rhythms of these examples into our ways of thinking and being. I think we mostly have a hard time seeing things if we haven’t seen them before and artists are people who can see things that aren’t there. For example, I visited Giverny and it was as if the connection between Monet’s gardens and his painting of them became a part of me. It became how I saw. I felt this when I worked for Meg Chase on the farm - I could see through her style. It’s not unlike the meaning one receives from a dream. Our most human capacity is perspective and we can give that to one another.
My work is a lens. It allows others to see the world through my eyes. It is a way out, an alternative, a possibility, maybe an antidote to the logic of capitalism, patriarchy, and linear time. It is a mantra. It is hopeful. It is hair, petals, clouds, and the surface of the moon. It is throwing old family photographs into the woodstove and polishing my grandmother’s furniture that lives in my house.
I am more interested in dream relationships than dream projects. I would love to find genuine connection with advocates around my work, be it designers, curators, critics, or agents. I thrive in this kind of collaboration and I’ve seen glimmers of it throughout my career, enough to know it can happen.
I think of my career as a healthy metabolism where I am energized financially, collaboratively, and inspirationally.
Q: What memorable responses have you had to your work?
A: Lately, I’ve had a string of rejections to written work. In these rejections, I am struck that the reasons for rejection are all the things I value most about my own work: “genre-skirting”, “focused on artistic observations instead of feelings”, and “not rooted in time.”
I’m also really fortunate to have some great advocates whose work has helped to make me feel seen. Their writing, an art in itself, brings greater self-awareness and inspiration for me. Britta Konau on my 2013 solo exhibition, Landframes, in Rockland, Maine: “Through variegated repetition from painting to painting, the works do not only suggest landscapes but make perception and representation of the land itself the subject. The artist's extended inquiry into associative evocation frames the land in terms of eons and unformed masses as the "Landscapes” suggest material evidence of geological time. At the same, time they explore what makes us approach them as landscapes at all. The answers lie in the paintings themselves: color, texture, format and memory as they draw on what we have seen and experienced.” Exchange between critic and artist sustains creative practice. Britta Konau synthesized my most intimate cares from her deep attention to the works.
Q: How do you stay connected and up to date with the art world?
A: When I tune into the art world I find I end up making art about art. I prefer tuning into the world and making art about that. Perhaps that’s what I find so important about an interdisciplinary practice—I get claustrophobic when my work starts to take on the constraints of a discipline. I try to write like an artist and make art like a writer. So much of so-called professionalism is trying to fit into a discourse that is already familiar, and I guess I’ve always found that difficult. But, this is also why I’m passionate about the kinds of structures that need to exist around artists—educators, curators, critics, and dealers do incredibly important work to make new discourse in which artwork can find application.
Q: When you are working through problems in your arts practice, who do you talk to? What is the best piece of advice you've been given? What advice do you have to give other artists?
A: For me this goes back to integration. There are no parts of my life that my work doesn’t touch. I talk to my spouse and I talk to my five-year-old. I send voice memos back and forth all day to one of my best friends who lives in Louisville, Kentucky. She’s an educational consultant with an expertise around literacy and so we talk about how one makes and communicates meaning all day long. My cousin is an artist, writer, and law professor—we talk about art and writing all the time. For me, problems in art are truth problems, human problems. Maybe all art consists in is our own personal way of asking and answering questions. Advice is effective when it inspires, but ineffective when it informs.
Q: What do you want others to know about your art practice/artistic themes/stylistic choices/materials you use?
A: Figuring out what I see and how I see, figuring out what is joyful—these are the most difficult things. It feels like always wanting to put blinders on while simultaneously remaining completely porous. The title of my book is Getting Dressed In The Dark because that’s what it feels like to see with eyes, to see with a body.
Q: Where is your favorite place to find visual arts in Morris County?
A: I returned to Morris County after living in other states for almost 25 years, only to land in a pandemic. I’m definitely still exploring what art looks like here. That said, I’ve enjoyed visits to The Morris Museum.
If artists are amenable, I love studio visits.
I recently visited the home studios of Linda K Mead and Laufey Bustany; both Morristown artists. Hearing their stories, learning about their processes, and seeing the depth, breadth, and continuity of their work was inspirational.