When Emerging Painter Louise Giovanelli Runs Out of Ideas, She Turns to an Ever-Growing Personal Image Library for a Jolt

The artist's solo exhibition, "Auto-da-fé," opens on September 10 in New York.

Artist Louise Giovanelli. Photo: Michael Pollard, courtesy of the artist and GRIMM.

Two large pictures of seemingly diaphanous curtains, with layers of paint somehow both heavy like thick plush velvet, and light like summer bed sheets, shimmer in the background. These images of closed-off spaces, hidden and veiled, is a recurring theme in the work of U.K.-born artist Louise Giovanelli.

Giovanelli’s work is as much about what we can see as what we can’t: portraits of performers appear in fragments, cropped and magnified, lifted from their original appearances on TV and in film. The artist hones in on textures and movements, amplifying small details to magnificent stature, but always withholding something.

We caught up with Giovanelli in her studio ahead of her solo exhibition, “Auto-da-fé” (a terrifying word stemming from the Spanish Inquisition that translates to the burning of a heretic), which opens at Grimm gallery in New York on September 10.

View of Giovanelli's studio. Courtesy of the artist.

View of Giovanelli’s studio. Courtesy of the artist.

What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?

Stretchers, canvas, paint, palette knife, rags, media, and a mini fridge.

Can you share a picture of a work in progress?

Louise Giovanelli, <i>Auto-da-fé</i> (2021) in progress. Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM.

Louise Giovanelli, Auto-da-fé (2021) in progress. Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM.

What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?

Putting a final semi-opaque glaze on a large curtain painting. It really seals the image in and sets it back in the canvas. It opens up a new space between the canvas surface and the pictorial depth of the image.

What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?

I listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and music.

I prefer an introspective, contemplative mood while painting. If I’m listening to music then I tend to be drawn to music that doesn’t have discernible lyrics: a lot of ambient, minimal, shoegaze type stuff.

I enjoy dense, entwined, and congested sounds where atmosphere and mood are conveyed through composition and melody alone. If there are vocals, they tend to aspire to the condition of an instrument.

I paint for several hours straight during a studio day, so audiobooks are a good way of absorbing books when I can’t read them. Some I listened to recently are Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens, The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, Mythos by Stephen Fry, and Nomad by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise?

Admire—precise ambiguity. Despise—illustration.

Louise Giovanelli, <i>Caryatid</i> (2021). Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM.

Louise Giovanelli, Caryatid (2021). Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM.

What snack food could your studio not function without?


Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?

Olivia Jia, Dirk Braeckman, and Greg Carideo.

When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?

The spark for a new painting is usually triggered by an image or visual experience. So if I’m feeling stuck I usually flick through a big digital folder that I am regularly adding to. I think of this like a personal visual repository. These are photos I take myself or encounter—stills from films, online images, and excerpts from pre-existing artworks.

What is the last exhibition you saw, virtual or otherwise, that made an impression on you?

Frank Walter at David Zwirner London.

If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now?

Iridescent fabrics, theatre and stage curtains, disco balls, sequins, glitter, various light phenomena, the coloration of 80’s film footage, TV game shows, shopping channels, pop star videos, pastel pink frescos.

“Louise Giovanelli Auto-da-fé” is on view at GRIMM Gallery from September 10 through October 23, 2021. 

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