Coded Narratives: A Reviewby Douglas P. Clement

The Lionheart Gallery
Jan 26, 2017 7:57PM

Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you – 

Sweet dreams that leave all worries far behind you. 

But in your dreams, whatever they be, 

Dream a little dream of me. 

 —the song “Dream a Little Dream of Me” 

Leslie Giuliani’s improvisational embroidered encaustic paintings on display in Coded Narratives, running through February 28 at The Lionheart Gallery in Pound Ridge, N.Y., are like hypnotic dream sequences pulsing with color and mystery. 

The more you look at the result of a unique process the Weston, Conn., artist has mastered (more on that later), the more certain you become about the narrative being hinted at—and the less certain. 

The foundational geometry of the mixed media works suggests the importance of order, or the need for viewers to find order, but the symbols, shapes, glyphs, and funky characters defy interpretation, remaining tantalizingly indecipherable. 

Some seem amusing, others disturbing. Together the imagery has the power of a lost primal language—but what does it mean? It’s not just the visual puzzles that are transfixing. Giuliani is a serious talent choreographing powerful work at the top of her game. 

The standout work in the show, House and Garden collects some of the most evocative images—the surprised bunny, the little blue bird with the hooked nose, and, best of all, the pious old lady in black, reminiscent of the nuns from the classic children’s “Madeline” stories, but darker. Forget the optimism of the yellow tulip, something troubling has happened, or will soon. The nun, bird and bunny all know that, despite the indifference of the blue hand.

House and Garden, Leslie Giuliani

Don’t look for the artist to explain. 

Giuliani, who likens her work to “visual jazz,” says she’s “always surprised by the story that results.” You’ll have to fill in the blanks of these fairy tales, myths, tone poems, or nightmares, yourself. 

In making this journey of appreciation so enjoyable, the artist has created her own lexicon, like a visual alphabet whose characters mix and match for starkly different results, in the way that letters are arranged and rearranged to create different words and thoughts. 

In Roswell, Giuliani’s brand of free jazz feels like a haunting riff on the aura of aliens and UFOs surrounding the New Mexico city of the same name. Viewers who want to indulge such a narrative can take cues from a star shape, and, of course, the primal looking little fellow with a big head—but it’s the trinity of images of a young girl from the mid-20th century that seals the story. She might have witnessed the famous (and thoroughly debunked) crash of the UFO. 

Roswell, Leslie Giuliani

The deep, spiraling, magnetic appeal of the artist’s work unfolds as you linger in looking. Initially, the suite of boldly colorful paintings on display at The Lionheart Gallery is too much for eye and the mind to effectively process. The child-like symbols and characters and the repetitive geometry make the paintings feel simple at first glance. 

Hardly simple in content, these paintings are also quite the opposite in terms of method and mastery. The backdrop for all the works is Encaustiflex, a microfiber similar to paper that absorbs encaustic paint quickly and evenly. Giuliani begins by painting or monoprinting on geometric pieces of Encaustiflex. Each building block is embellished with embroidered images the artist first made as drawings, before digitizing them as stitch files that are sent to a computerized sewing machine. 

It stitches the images onto the painted or monoprinted pieces of Encaustiflex, and in the final step, the artist gathers individual building blocks that suggest a dialogue with one another and sews them together like pieces in a quilt. 

Sometimes the result is as sweeping as the History of the World, which features a sort of mini-devil with his own creationist theory, a black cauldron of trouble, a church with a crooked cross on top, what might be a DNA sequence (in dark pink) and a green border with a progression of existence from sun to snowflake. (Does the world not end in flames?)

History of the World, Leslie Giuliani

It’s up to you to decide—and in the meantime, definitely decide to go see this terrific exhibit by an artist clearly working in her prime. 

The Lionheart Gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. For more information and directions to the gallery at 27 Westchester Avenue in Pound Ridge, N.Y., visit http://www.thelionheartgallery.com or call the gallery at 914.764.8689.

The Lionheart Gallery