Installation HUB Building, Penn State University: Smoke Painting #50, Smoke Painting #51, and Smoke Painting #52, 2021, each 114 x 144 inches
Photo courtesy of HUB Galleries, Penn State
Documentation of Smoke Painting mural creation at Penn State University, September 2021. Photo: Ken Grau
Below: Fireclub Work Horse, 2020, resin epoxy clay and wood enamel paint, 44 x 24 x 75 inches. Photo: Cody Goddard.
Says the artist, "This Smoke Painting tool set is . . . comprised of 23 interchangeable pyrotechnic paintbrush heads that fit onto the top of a six-foot Fireclub handle. Each brush is charged with 1-6 color smoke cannisters that fit snugly into the heads. The brushes roll. When lit and spun across the canvas, this tool leaves trails of spinning marks as smoke is forced out of the brush through hole patterns on the bottom. I used this tool to create three public murals on canvas commissions by Penn State."
Fiore: Legacies to a Granddaughter
I am Italian American, specifically Sicilian and Neapolitan. My family history is familiar to most whose ancestors made the long voyage via ship from Italy to New York City. My great grandparents passed though Ellis Island on the way to citizenship in the 1800’s. My family still has my grandfather’s heavy wood travel trunk that is fitted with hardware made by a blacksmith. When he left Naples, everything he owned was in that trunk.
Upon arrival, my great grandparents moved to Morris Park in the Bronx. There was already a large community of Italian immigrants living there. The neighborhood was built on the Morris Park racetrack, which was sold to the city in the early 1900’s after a great fire had demolished everything but the present subway station at East 180th street. I live in the original house that my great grandparents purchased. It is located on the former finish line of the racetrack. My grandfather, Rosato, was a barber and made wine for his family in a secret room located below the basement during Prohibition. My grandmother, Assunta, was an avid gardener, amateur painter, and a New York City public school art teacher.
My Mom and Dad met and married in Morris Park, as both families lived in the neighborhood. The Bronx went through hard times in the Sixties and Seventies. My parents, like other families at the time, left Morris Park and settled in the suburbs. Growing up, I was surrounded by families from the Bronx and heard many stories about the “old neighborhood."
In my 20’s, I spent two years studying and teaching in Florence. There I perfected my pronunciation, saw amazing art in person, and worked toward a deeper understanding of my Italian American identity through living in Italy. The importance of family, friends and food, a profound appreciation for art and music in Italian culture was all very familiar to me as an Italian American. At the end of those two years, I had I better understanding of my identity.
I am interested in Italian folklore and customs. It is a way I connect myself to Italian culture, my ancestors, and to a country across the sea that is rich in traditions. At weddings we still dance the Tarantella and add Sambuca to our espresso. Each family has their own signature pasta sauce recipe and we all have opinions as to whose recipe is the best. In my childhood home, there was a miniature Sicilian cart souvenir that I was obsessed with. It looked like a jewel and was made out of wood, painted in colorful designs with a donkey that wore a headdress made of feathers. My mother told me that my Sicilian farmer ancestors used a cart like this to transport goods. It was a symbol of my heritage. When I saw a carrettino in other children’s homes, I knew they were Sicilian American like myself.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to be in residence in Palazzolo Acreide, Sicily. My mother had died. I was inspired to work on the performance, Lutto in her memory. There was a carretto on view in the municipal building in their Piazza Del Popolo. I studied the cart and researched its imagery. A Smoke Painting tool inspired by the cart was created and used in the performance. The ritualistic nature of the performance provided a public context in which I began mourning my mother’s death. During my stay I was exposed to the living history of Italy in the past though the local museums, which thankfully recognized the importance of preserving these objects, crafts, traditions, and stories for generations to come. I connected to what I saw and began to understand how my great grandparents lived and worked. In so many ways, this time in residence gifted me with an even deeper understanding of my ancestry, heritage, how I was raised and what it means to be Sicilian American.
I brought back one souvenir from my time in Palazzolo. It is a small circular ceramic figure of a Trinacria that hangs in my office. The mythological figure is symbolic of the triangular shape of the Island of Sicily. It is comprised of a Medusa Gorgon head with three bent legs decorated with prickly pear cactus imagery and red and blue wings. The legs protrude out of the slithering snakes on her head. She is in motion. Her bent legs and lava/sky-colored wings suggest she is spinning. I think of the Tarantella and imagine her dancing as she twirls in an endless circle to the music of La Banda Siciliana and the sound of tambourines.
My father’s family lived through the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-20 in the same house where I sheltered during COVID lockdown. Living in this house brought me comfort as I was surrounded by my grandmother’s gardening labors, now fully grown. My grandmother died when I was a teenager. The garden brings me peace and connects me to her. I often admire the 80-year-old Magnolia tree in the yard and gaze up into its branches covered with thousands of large pink and white blossoms. I love this tree. It is beautiful. Grazie Nonna, what a vital and generous legacy to gift to your granddaughter.
Lutto (I mourn), 2018, performance, Piazza del Popolo, Palazzolo Acreide, Sicily;
cow milking seat, handheld Smoke Painting tool with painted imagery adopted from Sicilian cart, linen with embroidery, black acrylic paint,color smoke firework residue, Trinacria headdress, mica, epoxy, hard hat
"In this performance I reflected upon the death of my mother, who was Sicilian American. I designed and created a traditional Sicilian public death announcement on linen canvas by embroidering my mother's birth and death dates onto the cloth and adding a black painted border. On this canvas format I created a Smoke Painting using a tool inspired by Sicilian cart imagery
The artists stands on Blue Skies Smoke Painting, a large temporary work she created during Blue Skies performance, 2021, at the Kohler Company, Wisconsin. Photo; Kohler Company