Studio Visit: Carla Viparelli

Photo Credit Gary Brewer

Carla Viparelli ~ Mending the World

By Gary Brewer

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
~Leonard Cohen, from the song Anthem

Art can be a spiritual practice, a journey in which an artist seeks to reassemble the fragments of that which has been broken. It is the practice of art not for its own sake, but as a means to mend and repair, to reconcile and bridge the gulf between spirit and matter.  

The artist Carla Viparelli lives in Maratea, Italy, in a home nestled within the dramatic mountains, forests and streams that follow a steep incline on their way to the Tyrrhenian Sea. She also keeps a studio in Napoli, a few hours north. I recently visited her and had a conversation about her work.

In her studio loft there were two new paintings that we spoke about. Each one is composed of pieces of wood that have been cut out and assembled into an abstract form creating a low relief, attached to a panel and painted. In the piece Border, a design suggestive of a floral element is superimposed onto these physical segments. It is painted in beautiful passages of luminous blues that transition into white and black. The other painting Estuche, is composed using black and pale browns. It appears to be an ancient parchment with an obscure text written on it. A swift moving abstract form passes over the image and the wooden relief. The transparency she achieves using oil paint, allows the enigmatic text to show through. She adds plaster in areas as a reference to historical Roman and Italian frescos from antiquity. The designs are created on a computer, adding a technological element into the work; it is a way to synthesize organic forms from nature with the digital world. She said, “We cannot go back to the old world. Technology, AI and digital realities are here and we need to integrate them into our creative vision.” 

Photo Credit Gary Brewer

I asked her about the assembled sections and how they fit into the metaphors and ideas that shape her work. “I am interested in, and honor each religious and spiritual practice. Within each there is some kind of truth. From my studies of the Kabbalah I learned about the idea of Tikkun Olam, meaning to repair the world. At the beginning of time, a vessel contained the spiritual essence of the universe, but the light was so bright that it shattered the container into fragments. Each person in their lifetime can seek to reassemble fragments of this broken vessel, but it can never be made whole. The cracks will always remain, but we can see the shape of this perfection.”

Viparelli practices Buddhist meditation. For a series of paintings, she engaged in a walking meditation; each footfall mindful and slow, noting the weight and movement of each step, of every sensation as her body moved through space. She walked through her garden and the flowers were transformed. In her mind’s eye, visions of Mandala-like forms radiating a perfect symmetry appeared. Later she walked through the garden using her phone to capture random images of her feet while she walked. She then superimposed her visions of the flowers with the silhouettes of her feet; the result is a beautifully complex synthesis of abstraction and representation, a spiritual visionary image emanating from her body. The paintings are done on wooden panels; the transparent colors allow the wood grain to become a part of the paintings composition. “Our phone cameras have become a tool to amplify our ability to capture images of moments in time. With ease we can capture hundreds of photos and look through them to find that one particular moment that conveys a poetic subjective emotion. It is a way for me to integrate technology into my process to express my creative vision.”

Photo Credit Gary Brewer

Her work speaks of the precarity and vulnerability of life: of human migration and movement from ancient times to the present, and the delicate balance of the ecosystems that support life.

In Fragile Earth, she juxtaposes a bird’s eye view of a California landscape, the golden rolling hills of central California with the San Andreas fault-line clearly running through the middle. To the left is a white lace doily that fills the space where the landscape drops off. She said, “I wanted the delicate lace to be a symbol of the fragility of life, and the vulnerability that we all share on this dynamic earth. I was born in Napoli and we live with Vesuvius always in view; nearby the Phlegraean Fields are an area of massive calderas; a super volcano that will one day erupt causing a major disruption to our world. This painting is a metaphor of these realities that we live with.”

In a recent performance piece Trespass that unfolded under a portico in the ancient Italian village Solofra, she assembled 25 young dancers from a school of dance to participate in this action. Viparelli rolled out a 75-foot long roll of canvas onto the ground. She prepared gallons of paint, primary colors of red, yellow, blue, white and black. The dancers stood along the length of the canvas, patient and present, with a focused awareness of their bodies in space. As a soundtrack of music that Viparelli arranged played, including David Byrne, Brian Eno, and Henryk Górecki, the artist used large brushes attached to long poles to apply the paint.

Photo Courtesy of the Artist

She was dressed in black. Wearing a cape with her curly, thick, graying head of hair, she looked like an enchantress. Her body moved swiftly between the buckets of paint and the areas where she applied it. Each color area was a single discreet color, approximately 10 feet long by 2 feet deep. As she proceeded along the length of the canvas, the dancers stepped onto the wet paint and danced in fluid, gestural improvisational movements. The wet paint stuck to their feet and mixed the colors, superimposing each trespassed step from one defined area to another in their footsteps onto the canvas.

The piece took approximately an hour to complete. Throughout this time, the dancers remained focused; their bodies made contact and moved together lifting and flowing in arabesque of fluid motion. The dance improvisations combined with Viparelli’s purposeful action of methodically applying each area of paint, and the musical score combined together, were deeply moving. It is a beautiful metaphor about the boundaries that attempt to restrict people’s movement, and the beauty of the dance through history of human migration and the new forms of culture that emerge from the synthesis of different groups of people coming together. The final canvas itself is an abstract painting, a kind of all-over gestural abstraction that reflects the movement of people through the shifting currents of history.

There is a deep sincerity to Viparelli’s art. She is a storyteller creating works that convey in a poetic language, important issues of today, including among others: sustainability, climate change, immigration and the environment. These concerns have a deeper inner core; they are part of her practice of Tikkun Olam. The works that she creates are all a part of the myriad fragments that fill the universe. With a heart big enough to embrace all of the life’s complexities, Viparelli is striving to mend the world and open our eyes to the spiritual wholeness at its center.

Carla Viparelli will have a solo exhibition of her work in Los Angeles in early 2025.

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