Two shows at the Harwood Art Center contrast science and environment with sharp angles of emotion and relationship.
Viewers can see these contrasting works by Toni Gentilli and Robyn A. Frank in Bodies of Evidence and Relationship is an activity through June 2.
Gentilli was working on an archaeological dig in Arizona when she developed a chronic infection.
The fungal infection Coccidioides, known as valley fever, entered one of her lungs and at the same time fueled her artistic practice. She had also developed diabetes at 28.
“I’ve lived with a chronic illness for about 35 years,” she said in a phone interview from her parked car in Los Poblanos in Los Ranchos, where she makes the company’s herbal products. “These are autoimmune diseases, but I think they’re environmental. Nobody in my family has these diseases.”
Gentilli abandoned her archaeological career because of the infection and embarked on a creative practice that began with photography. She had always preferred a plant-based diet, so she incorporated plants into her images. Gentilli chose an ancient technique called anthotypes, in which the print develops in the sun. She began using plant materials as a photographic emulsion, crushing the plants and painting on paper. She created her own negatives and developed a relationship between material and content.
Her creative burn continued.
“During the pandemic, I learned how to weave,” Gentilli said. “Then I started using natural pigments as colorants.”
The research found a parallel connection between people and our relationship to the environment and disease. Her current work continues this investigation using plants and discarded medicinal materials.
For “One Lunar Cycle” Gentilli combined natural blood sugar regulators such as the golden Jerusalem artichoke plant and mulberry leaves and berries. She embroidered the watercolor with diabetic test strips.
“This show is also very about healing,” Gentilli said.
The bright, upbeat colors signal this recovery, with yellow representing vitality, pink representing love, and purple representing spirituality, she said.
The hand in her painting Law of Correspondence is an ode to her two well-used hands. She painted it with prickly pear and chamisa pigments.
“I send them a little bit of love because I have to poke my fingers seven to 10 times a day,” Gentilli said. “It’s also a gesture of vulnerability, prayer and reverence.”
She papered the background of Fast Acting Energetics with inserts of fast-acting insulin. She painted them with mulberry and prickly pear pigments and Rio Grande clay.
“It converts it into some kind of healing and positive energy,” Gentilli said. “I try to understand how people and the environment are affected by environmental degradation.”
Frank’s acrylic painting explores relationships with the bold geometry and color of modernism. She moved to Albuquerque from New York in 2019 after growing up in Tampa, Florida.
“I was in New York for 16 years and living there took me away from my art,” she said.
“The idea is to take these emotional concepts and create a visual allegory,” she continued. “I think of things like shape and color as emotional ideas.”
Her color palette reflects the blue skies and rock formations of New Mexico.
“Each piece tries to capture those elusive moments of light and change,” she said.
Likewise, relationships change from moment to moment, she added.
With its rectangles and squares in bold colors, “Quilt 01” is reminiscent of Frank’s grandmother, who was a quilter. The blocks align to create a new vision.
“The color palette was inspired by some of the clothes my grandma made for me,” Frank explained. “I learned a bit of sewing from her; I have never quilted. But doing this collection made me want to pursue it further.”
Frank relocated to Brooklyn, New York from Florida to attend the prestigious Pratt Institute.
“I think (art) has always been how I work through my experience of the world,” she said.
Frank has shown her work at Zendo Coffee and Vital Spaces, as well as Harwood’s Emerging Artist Show.