I met Georgianne Fastaia in her studio at Art Explosion, where she was fighting a cold that she had picked up from her young daughter. Over the next couple months, we exchanged numerous emails as I worked out how to tell her powerful story.
Born into a Sicilian family in Brooklyn, Georgianne Fastaia had a middle class upbringing in Connecticut. As an art teacher, her mother's influence kept the family very arts oriented and weekend treasure hunting in flea markets left a lasting appreciation for the dilapidated. Her family's experience as immigrants, from her grandmother's work as a seamstress to her father's work as an engineer, also impressed upon Fastaia:
"I kind of like the immigrant experience [...] I have that work ethic that I think comes from, 'Hey, I've got opportunity, let me do something with it' "
A self-described "loner" in school, Fastaia developed a passion for reading and literature. However, a tragic misunderstanding with her parents caused Fastaia to leave home at 16.
"Right then and there, I wasn't having a normal childhood, like going to the prom. I was already thinking, 'How am I going to survive?'"
After high school, Fastaia hitchhiked to California and worked multiple jobs to put herself through San Francisco State University, ultimately graduating with high honors. Though she had been an avid drawing growing up, Fastaia took only one painting class with Robert Bechtel. Her love of reading, which had driven her to San Francisco in the first place, prompted her study of creative writing instead:
"My refuge had been books, so I loved Jack Kerouac, I loved The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. [California] seemed like such a free place, it seemed in line with my personality [....] That's where I was going, as soon as I could"
Amidst the challenges of supporting herself through school, however, Fastaia had a life-altering encounter that left her battling addiction for years. Ten years ago, she successfully extracted herself from dependency, which required deep introspection and deconstruction of her existence:
"The process of recovery required rigorous honesty: a willingness to try to confront the unappealing parts of myself. And it required the willingness to do anything to rebuild my life"
Painting proved to be a critical new heading as she navigated farther away from her past. Despite minimal formal art training, she took up a small studio at Art Explosion and began experimenting with supplies that had been discarded by other artists, scrubbing the canvases with soap and creating a unique texture:
"The process is completely unpredictable and requires a fearless leap of faith […] By giving up control, this process forces [me] to stay lighthearted and adaptable to the paintings' evolution, while staying sensitive to the moments of beauty as they are revealed"
Over time, she continued to develop her technique of layering paint and then scrubbing away parts of the surface with Murphy's oil soap. The process has become her own form of story telling:
"From an early age I was aware of things having many layers. I seek to reveal these layers which give depth, history, and complexity to my forms. My route is a process which goes against all standard painting instructions: never mix oil and water. I am actively seeking to create "catastrophes" on the canvas and to work them slowly until their beauty is recognizable."
Indeed, catastrophe was a notion both familiar and inspiring. After Hurricane Katrina, Fastaia did a moving series on the flooding of New Orleans, recalling her own encounter with Mother Nature in New England:
"During the ice storm of 1972 we had to evacuate the house. My family spent Christmas in the Salvation Army. What I remember clearly about this were two very contrary ideas coexisting; this awful disaster somehow also held within it a natural beauty that I had never before witnessed, it was as if the world had disappeared into shades of gray"
The devastation and destruction left by both storms parallels some of Fastaia's own turbulent story. Many of her subjects appear desolate and as weathered as the canvas beneath them, reflecting the toll taken on life by such catastrophes:
"Periods of my past had been so self destructive that all the artifice which preserves our sense of self -- education, love, family, everything had been stripped away"
Guided by her own journey from tragedy to joy, Fastaia explores notions of transformations that emerge from these catastrophes. Ultimately seeking an uplifting message, she embraces the distressed aesthetic to create raw and emotive images:
"I think an artist who is really serious has to have something to say, has to have something to share that is authentically their own experience"
Having started a new chapter in life ten years ago, Fastaia finds peace in producing her enigmatic and beautifully distressed paintings:
"I produce a lot of work quickly because I feel like I wasted ten years [... Creating art] is a pure, creative exchange, and I feel blessed to be able to do it. I really appreciate my life now"