Fred Giampietro peered hard at the assemblage of chicken wire, a funky old wood stump slathered with plaster, a drape of colored gauze, painted plywood, and other treasures from Home Depot. He began to see animals, a bird in flight, maybe a sylvan landscape.
He looked a little harder, and a third image arose: a reclining nude that could hold its own beside the sculpture of Henry Moore.
Giampietro is moved by and specializes in what he calls representational abstraction.
That’s why he’s showing the works of sculptor Christopher Joy and painter Becky Yazdan in an exhibition that just opened at Erector Square in Fair Haven. Giampietro paired the two artists’ works in the sleek, shiny-wood floored space at his Giampietro Gallery. The show runs until March 29.
“People always think of abstraction as not representing anything, or not having a springboard” for mental images, he said. “But it’s not the case.” A square of black in someone’s eye might be a tar paper roof.
The only truly non-representational artist he named is Jackson Pollock.
He cited the work of Willem DeKooning as a representational abstractionist in the manner he loves: You can see faces and bodies and landscapes amid the colorful geometries, where the two styles of seeing are in interesting tension and repay visiting over time and at varying distances.
Giampietro’s two-year-old gallery has a stable of 20 artists, all of whom meet this standard in wildly individually different ways, he said.
He paired Joy with Yazdan because “if I could make this painting a pop-up book, then it would relate to Chris Joy, this landscape, the architectural elements, layers, tight depth of field. All of her work has a pop-up quality.”
“If you could put a steam roller over Chris Joy,” you might end up with a Becky Yazdan painting, he concluded.
Giampietro (like his wife, oboist Kathryn Giampietro) is a Yale-trained professional musician. He has performed for years as a double-bassist with the New Haven Symphony and with orchestras in Florida.
He’s also a serial gallery owner. While they were music students, the Giampietros opened a gallery out near Mt. Carmel in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s, their City Life Gallery in the firehouse on Edwards at Nash was one of perhaps ten flourishing for-profit contemporary art venues, he said.
He later went on to run a gallery in Manhattan at 73rd and Madison. Then he created an early competitor to Ebay in selling art and antiques online.
After the financial downturn in 2008, he moved back to New Haven, where they kept a house and roots. He operated a gallery on East Street for two years before moving into Erector Square in 2010 “I always felt New Haven was an incredible place for a gallery—the university interest and the incredible stable of local artists,” he said.
Gallery Owner and Mentor
He mixes those with national and international artists like Madrid-based Valerie Brennan, who’s having a show at Giampietro in May. Her work is heavily impasto-ed—the colors are profound and abstract. But there’s a landscape lurking there for sure.
When a reporter remarked, “Starry Night,” the iconic painting by Vincent Van Gogh, Giampietro nodded that was the “lineage,” in part of Brennan’s work, just as Henry Moore’s work is the lineage of Joy’s.
It’s important for Giampietro to know that his artists have a sense of their lineage. If they don’t know, he mentors them so they do.
“I’m interested in helping artists,” he said. That included extensive conversations with Joy, for example, about what kind of bases his airy pieces should sit on.
Giampietro said that most artists are receptive to what he does. He feels they need it. Most go to art school where they are critiqued by their teachers, he said. They graduate, go into their studios and hit what he called a creative “brick wall.” In part, that’s because there are only their friends around to give them high fives.
“I want to be able to put this [sculpture by Christopher Joy] next to a Franz Kline. and I want it to be able to hold up,” he said.
“The only thing more difficult than being a classical musician is an artist. At least we can play at weddings.”
As this reporter was leaving the gallery, Christopher Joy came in to make some adjustments on his work. He looked at Giampietro and then at this reporter: “Don’t believe a word he says,” he said.