Carleen Zimbalatti

On The Square #21, 2020, acrylic and ink on paper, 16 x 16 inches

Zimbalatti: Family Ties and lluminating Geometries


La mia famiglia was my greatest source of inspiration for becoming an artist. My youth was deeply rooted in Italian culture, its language, delicacies, and traditions. I grew up right outside New York City in a small immigrant village. The families who settled there were from around the world, however the majority were from Italy.


My great grandfather, Pasquale Pelagalli, was the first member of the family to emigrate. He was a sculptor, like his father. He came to America with his wife, Caesarina, along with many other Italian stone carvers, to work on Mount Rushmore. He had to leave this job and return home to Port Chester, New York, after his youngest daughter contracted polio. He continued to work as a stone carver, contributing to the cultural and civic vitality of his adopted country. The Italian sculptors and their families were an important part of my childhood. The monuments they created are scattered around the United States, many of them near my family home. The sculptures in my grandmother's backyard were the backdrop for family Easter egg hunts and summer cookouts. I have always been proud of my connection to the stone carvers and their achievements. 


The Italian community I grew up in helped me to develop an appreciation for the arts. My father, Anthony Zimbalatti, and my mother, Ann Penabare, had the greatest influence on me. My mother was a beautiful Italian girl who worked as a Ford Model in New York City in the Fifties. She studied musical composition, singing, dancing, and acting at Mannes College of Music. She was preparing for a career in Hollywood when the skinny model Twiggy put a halt to her dreams of stardom. She was told to lose 30 pounds or leave fashion. Eventually she left the industry to start a family. 


Zimbalatti's mother, Ann Penabare, worked as a Ford Model in New York City in the Fifties

As a young man, my father went to the Sol Vogel-American Mitchell School of Design and became a designer of fur coats. Later on, he signed a professional contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but quit baseball after a few years because players in those days didn’t earn enough money to raise a family. He went back to college, earning a master’s degree at Columbia University and a doctorate at New York University. He became an educator and an administrator of athletics and recreation in Port Chester and the surrounding area. He was honored for the theme camps he created for children and handicapped citizens, and for promoting the Special Olympics.


Both of my parents encouraged my interests in the arts. My mother introduced me and my brother, Edward, to music and dance. Jazz and The Beatles were played continuously throughout the house. My father taught me how to draw and paint, especially how to mix colors. He also taught me how to sew, which I always thought was an uncommon talent for such a brawny man.


I was surrounded by many creative and talented people on both sides of my family: an advertiser who worked on the Schaefer beer logo, a graphic designer, a photographer, even a tattoo artist. My cousin through marriage, Johnny Vita, was a landscape painter and a background watercolorist, known for working on animated films, including the original Spiderman and Tolkien's Trilogy. My uncle Tom Pelagalli, an engineer, invented an electric saw for the Homelite tool company, and my mother’s father, Philip Penabare, trained as an architect at Columbia University. He worked for a large architectural firm in Greenwich, Connecticut, designing many of the lavish homes there. To this day I use his drawing boards and credit him for my acuity for perceivable detail. My daughter, Chiara Blue Lafayette, is following in his footsteps, working at an architectural firm as an interior designer.


Like so many of the Italian residents in my blue-collar town, I strove to get a good education. I received a BFA in Metalsmithing and Fine Art from Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia and then worked in the jewelry industry for many years. I believe my paintings are informed by my training as a craftsperson, a detailed and process-oriented discipline. I also traveled throughout Europe, studying painting and drawing for five years with the students of David Bomberg at the Sir John Cass School of Art in London. I continued my studies in painting at SUNY Purchase and received a master’s degree in painting at Bennington College.


My work has always been concerned with one of the most fundamental aspects of pictorial language, the line. Forms slowly and hypnotically emerge from the use of line. The repetitive linear movement is an essential part of investigating the growth and development of each form. In my most recent body of work, I shifted my focus to explore the hidden geometries found within a single square. Earlier my work relied heavily on the use of a grid to design repetitive patterns. I was exploring the concept of repetition as form so that I could create a deep space that provided a way into the subject or voice of the work. This methodology was similar to quilt making. By illuminating the geometries found within the square or a single block, I have been able to bring a quiet tranquility to the working process with an emphasis on the clarity of pure contemplation. 


On The Square #20, 2020, acrylic and ink on paper, 16 x 16 inches

Aerial Dream, 2012, oil on board, 45 x 45 inches

Carleen Zimbalatti in the studio