small talk // leah guadagnoli // visual artist

leah guadagnoli is one of my new favorite artists. i came across her art last month when she was showing at 247365 on the lower east side, one of my favorite galleries. leah gave me a tour of her exhibit and ever since i've been obsessed with her work! leah is a really sweet, bright and humble lady. i find her pieces to be a cross between painting, sculpture and installation. they remind me of 80s bedding and dentist office decor with their bright and muted colors, eclectic patterns and angular shapes. i get excited and happy just looking at her pieces -- i seriously can't get enough of them!

cultureisland: tell us more about you. how did you get into art making?

leah guadagnoli: i grew up in the suburbs of chicago. i always loved drawing and painting. i used to spend my summers as a kid drawing under this huge, magical tree in my back yard. my grandma (omi) would also take me to art museums and always encouraged me to make art. i got my first set of paint for christmas when i was in 5th grade and was so excited to use it. that night i spent the whole evening painting my first horrible self-portrait. i spilled a huge glob of cadmium red on my carpet in the process. after water, soap, rubbing alcohol, bleach, and nail polish remover didn’t remove the stain i just cut the chunk of carpet out and placed a rug over it. when my mom went to vacuum later that week she was furious! i was then condemned to working in the dark dingy boiler room in the basement which i cherished as my first studio all the way through high school. 

i then went to undergrad at university of illinois at urbana-champaign where i studied painting and art history. i lived in italy for a minute which was delicious and productive. when i graduated went straight to grad school at rutgers where i got my mfa. i then moved to brooklyn where i currently live, work, and have an incredibly supportive community. i spent last summer at yaddo in saratoga springs, ny. my time there played an enormous roll on the development and maturation of my newest work. 

cultureisland: tell us more about your fabric paintings.

leah guadagnoli: when i was in grad school i started collecting fabric. i wasn’t sure what i was going to do with it but i just kept buying more. i started making abstract paintings of the patterns. those were really tedious and boring to look at but an important step. there was one transitional painting (one of my favorites to this day) when i started draping and securing fabric over the painted canvas. i eventually stopped using paint all together and wanted to use fabric in a similar vocabulary to painting. that was my thesis show. when i moved to nyc i bought a bunch of upholstery and furniture cushion. i wanted to gain more control over the forms and somehow work outside of a rectangle while still making work for a wall. and boom! i made some drawings and used them to model these newer works. 

i use all kinds of fabric: cotton, velvet, thick upholstery, etc. i either try and find fabric online from etsy and ebay or i use illustrator to design patterns and have them printed using spoonflower.  

cultureisland: what is your process for making your work?

leah guadagnoli: i start with a drawing that i measure to scale and draw out on a large sheet of insulation board. i cut it apart, trim and place pieces polyurethane foam (furniture padding), and adhere canvas, fabric, or upholstery over each section. some parts are painted over and/or given different treatments to add texture. i make many of my decisions based on the patterns in the fabric (color, shapes, even textures). when each piece is finished i put it back together like a puzzle and secure it onto a larger piece of insulation board. the work is actually super lightweight.  

cultureisland: what kind of subject matter do you focus on?

leah guadagnoli: pattern and its link to memory. youth. communal space. furniture. gaudy interior design. architecture.

cultureisland: how do you name your works?

leah guadagnoli: i once designed some fabric based on a security envelope pattern and sewed the scraps into an oversized envelope i used in this epic prank where i filled it with phosphorescent glitter and gave it to my awesome boyfriend. when he opened it glitter spilled everywhere, it was amazing. i named the painting i made with this fabric from your secret admirer.  

cultureisland: what inspires you to create your work?

leah guadagnoli: i love being in the studio, listening to music, dancing, and bringing something new into the world. i also really enjoy being alone and left unbothered. i work from the living room in my apartment (which is actually spectacular) and choose not to have internet or a television. i shut my phone off when i work and really try to get into an uninterrupted headspace without any outside distractions. inspirations include the memphis group, pee wee’s playhouse, casinos, coach buses, broaches, second hand stores, modernist architecture, diners, movie theaters, hard candy, fashion

cultureisland: who are some of your favorite artist?

leah guadagnoli: julia bland, marc camille chaimowicz, gaby collins-fernandez, holly coulis, jennifer grimyser, ridley howard, noam rappaport, ruth root, aliza morell, nathan mullins, molly ledbetter, gyan schrosbee, sadie benning, wendy white, diane simpson and jing yu. 

cultureisland: what are you listening to right now?

leah guadagnoli: john maus, ariel pink, low, the space lady, prince rama, belong, anika, dan deacon, u.s. girls.

cultureisland: have you watched anything inspiring lately?

leah guadagnoli: the recent blizzard was pretty epic...

cultureisland: what are your favorite places to eat, shop, drink coffee in your neighborhood?

leah guadagnoli: for eating, cent'anni. for shopping, fat alberts (that place has everything!) for coffee, pel's pie.

* check out more of leah's work here // instagram *