Cianne Fragione

Like any artist, I am involved chiefly with the requirements of my materials, the literal processes of making art, and how object before me takes form. But a great deal of experience lies behind the day-to-day engagement of the studio, and from this perspective, I can offer three narrative elements that may provide points of entry into the work itself.

One, I was raised in an Italian neighborhood in Connecticut, a neighborhood comprised largely of immigrant families, and the memories of those early years – the language, the retention of many customs from the land left behind, the pervasiveness of religious practice – have left an indelible mark upon me. Two, I had a career in ballet and jazz dance, beginning at a very young age. I turned to visual art when I left performing, and the values of dance continue to affect my work. Lastly, I received my art training in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I encountered many of the artists associated with the beat and funk movements there, and I was influenced by their approach to materials – both art and non-art – and the physicality of making, and by their desire to demonstrate the richness and density of the making process rather than virtuosity or high finish. As the years have passed, these elements have become increasingly integrated, and are now all but inseparable from one another.

My father’s parents came from Sicily, my mother’s from Northern Italy, and I am always aware of my history as a second-generation Italian American. This can be most readily detected in my love of color and light in painting and my intuition as a colorist; in my respect for craft, which I regard as virtually genetic, passed to me through my father, a builder, and my grandmother, a fine seamstress; in my sense of composition and form, which often takes shapes from clothing or garden forms, or from the ornamental forms I knew as a child in Italian festivals, in church, and from my study of Italian art history; and in the deep empathy I feel for the found objects that I incorporate into assemblage and collage pieces, objects that typically are old, much used, and imbued with the atmosphere of their histories. I turn, as well, to the vivid memories of trips to Italy, where I discovered a feeling of homeland that I have not always found here.

My family immigrated to this country after World War I, seeking the opportunities and stability available here, yet they never entirely abandoned the cultural upbringing they had left behind, its habits and manners, nor could they have done so, nor did they truly want to. Though they adapted well to American life, the old ways provided a particular kind of stability, continuity, and foundation, offering unity with the past and common ground with the local Italian community. For me, however, this has created a situation in which personal identity and a sense of living tradition are more conflicted, something that I have needed to confront for myself through my work. Who am I? Where do I fit in, and how? By what means do I remain true to both my present and my past?

As a dancer, I performed professionally throughout the 1970s with number of well-known companies. What I have carried into visual art is something like muscle memory, especially in painting and collage: an instinctive feeling for time, rhythm, and implied movement in the spatial setting of the artwork. These lead to the qualities of animation and liveliness that give the work an atmosphere of presence, and by extension, a connection to the human origins and processes of making. Marking, layering, texture, the addition of collage materials, a sense of how forms and colors yield movement – all have their basis in dance. They also aid in seducing the viewer’s eye, in drawing others into the work, and into the other issues and concerns there.

Certainly I can see connections between dance and the work of the beats, funk artists, and abstract expressionist painters who were among my teachers and early mentors. It is a way of making materials perform, as well as a way of organizing and building. By the same token, the passion of the beat and funk artists for materials – for the physicality and improvisation entailed in combining disparate materials in a deeply personal, poetic manner – also joins with the traditions of craftsmanship and building in my heritage. I seek a kind of work that has immense visual and tactile appeal, and at the same time demonstrates the harmonious integration of a specific personal past with the conditions of the present time and place.