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Roman painter Giorgia Grassi on healing through art

Roman painter Giorgia Grassi on healing through art

  • Rome, Italy
  • Cover photography: Viridiana
  • Photography: Gioia Maruccio
  • Makeup Artist: Alice Tomasini

People have been relying on the arts for communication, self-expression and healing for thousands of years. Born and raised in Rome, Giorgia Grassi is an abstract expressionist who began painting as a way to channel and process certain deep emotions. As a sufferer of both bouts of anxiety and sleep paralysis, it was through her art that she found a way to explore and perhaps better understand where such issues were coming from and how she could deal with them. Having studied at Università Roma Tre in the Disciplines of Arts & Music, it was about several years ago that she began to explore painting seriously. Over the years, she has tailored her own techniques and processes to better reflect the feelings caused by such moments, a style of art to experience the intimate nature of such happenings.

“I realized that art was becoming a very important part of my life since the moment I picked up the brush for the first time. I knew that what I was about to do would have some kind of impact on my inner self, I was feeling scared because I was so afraid that I would ruin something, even though I had a blank canvas in front of me. That awareness, that power to make a change for myself through a brush changed my life. Art healed me.”

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. In one of Breakaway Magazine’s rawest covers yet, this photograph of a painting and the artist who created it, says so much more. Giorgia photographed beside her artwork “Abbandono” speaks to a person’s silent scream, their inner anguish and darker thoughts and feelings. But it also speaks of their ability to convey those ideas onto the canvas and use the resulting art as a way of communicating with the world.

Shot in Giorgia’s home studio in Rome, she experiences raw emotions next to her piece Abbandono.

The abstract nature of the art itself is also telling. Rather than explain precisely those feelings, it requires you to ask questions of it, examine its nature, try to understand what it being expressed. Through such examination, such questioning and such understanding, the viewer hopefully enters a state of dialogue and empathy, just as if they were having the conversation with the artist themselves. Conversation, dialogue and empathy are the end goals and the whole point of the process and creation.

The Emotional Wounds series (translated from Ferite Emoitive in Italian) is a series currently composed and consisting of five works that chronologically traces Giorgia’s autobiographical path. The aim is to put on canvas an abstract concept such as that of the inner turmoil, which is not perceived externally but which hurts and marks on a psychophysical level. The aim with this, like so much of her work, is to be able to convey through paint and canvas an abstract expression of the inner wounds. The unseen pain, which remains hidden to the external viewer can be wonderfully expressed through art. A way of posing questions, begging interpretation and opening conversations about such unseen, and often unexpressed suffering.

Abbandono (Abandonment) is the first canvas of the Emotional Wounds series representing the emotional rift that follows the abandonment by an important figure in one’s life. “Painting about my traumas was the best thing I ever did because it helped my coping with them. When I first painted it, I had no idea what I had just done. I was just curious to experiment with oil colors and my new spatula and so that is what I did – experiment. Once I finished the canvas I felt really moved by it. I was looking at something painful that haunted my whole life and so I knew what the canvas symbolized was abandonment. I care deeply about Abbandono, I think of it as the canvas that changed my life, that made me realize that I need to paint and to create in order to live a life I can be satisfied by and proud of living.”

Annichilmento

The color that covers the texture of Annichilmento (Annihilation) is red, the binding color of all in the series. The red is covered by a thick blanket of black, which starts from the top and flows downwards. The black covers the green symbolizing hope and white symbolizing innocence to convey the unstoppable stain of negativity that annihilates the soul of the artist.

“When I first started painting it was a particularly dark year for me. I was struggling with panic attacks, anxiety attacks and sleep paralysis that led to insomnia because I was very afraid to fall asleep. I was in deep state of sadness and depression. Having tried almost everything in order to get better I just needed some kind of relief, a way to truly connect with myself and so I picked up a brush I found chewed by my cat and an old canvas that was my mom’s, some of my sister’s old acrylics and started to paint. I just started to improvise following how I felt at the moment and I’ve been doing so ever since.”

To begin with, it was acrylics that were the chosen medium. She has since branched out into oils that have crafted her early, formative pieces of expression. These first explorations were merely a need to vent her feelings, artistic salvos of pure expression, a way of letting her emotions loose without any concern for form, structure or planning. Perhaps the purest form of creation is to just let your emotions guide you, and that is what she did.

“You can really see how painting helped me because my first paintings were mainly black, but painting after painting, experimenting and failures I started to put in more color, green or blue and then red or yellow. Using colors was the result of my recovery, of my connection with my inner self which I was finally able to help.”

Autolesionismo

In the work Autolesionismo (Self-Harm), red emerges vehemently, totally occupying both the visual and physical space of the canvas. The dark colors present in the previous works are covered by white and red, creating visual gashes that convey the title.

In those first canvases Giorgia produced dark works that were dominated by the color black, a representation of the anxiety that she was trying to understand and express. As her anxiety attacks lessened, the artwork changed. Today, with such attacks now thankfully a rare occurrence, her work has blossomed into a riot of colors and shades, a cascade of tones and textures.

The relationship between art and Giorgia’s inner life is very close. More than anything, it’s an autobiographical and chronological path of the artist and the emotions she experiences. “It is a process during which I paint what I feel or what I felt in the past.” It is the inspiration that she draws from these very personal experiences, as well as exploring themes from literature, mythology and audio-visual media that makes her work so unique, so expressive and so specific to her. “Whether it is a feeling I get from a person, a book I read or even a movie. It’s the feelings I get from everything that surrounds me. Depending on what I want to paint the music I listen to will differ. If I’m painting a darker feeling I’ll listen a bunch of sad playlists, if it is stronger emotions I’ll put on some rock ’n roll.”

Apatia

In Apatia (Apathy) the predominant color is white, soiled only by a central red stain. White wants to represent the wall of apathy that is erected when you no longer want to experience any kind of emotion, whether positive or negative. This white wall, however, is not as impenetrable as it seems, since if you back-lit the canvas with a beam of light, you will be able to see all the layers of cracks, symbolizing how emotions pass through. Feeling emotions is human, and no one can get away from it. The central red represents the explosion of a multitude of emotions held back over time due to this apparent apathy.

Even though Giorgia paints abstractly, she puts a lot of thought and planning into her pieces. “I don’t have a regular painting process, meaning that recently most of my ideas come from dreams I have so I usually get a feeling from something that already is abstract, being just a sensation of something, and then I write it down on my notebook. I then think about that sensation a lot. I try to lay down and self induce a sleep paralysis in which I hope I can get that sensation or dream again. It doesn’t always work, but just resting and zoning out really helps to self-isolate from the world. I need to feel dissociated by everything and truly focus on that glimpse of a sensation.”

Once Giorgia has fully “meditated on it” and knows the colors of that feeling or the shape of it, she then makes a sketch with a charcoal crayon on paper and spends minutes staring at it. “If I’m satisfied I’ve got the final painting in my mind and I can start, knowing already that I might make some changes during the process. Some days it can take me only two days to complete a painting and sometimes even six months.”

Mortificazione

Mortificazione (Mortification) is the fifth and, momentarily last, canvas part of the Emotional Wounds series. Purple, with its shades, represents a profound sense of guilt and shame that once again covers and smears the white of purity. This strong sense of guilt and consequently inadequacy therefore collides with shades of red representative of the anger and frustration that mortification brings with it.

“The choice of color for my bodies of work is is always a critical moment for me. Every color represents something and in order to make a choice I have to understand exactly what I’m feeling in the moment. It is not a choice that I’m aware of in the moment, I do so by instinct. I now understand that for me the color white is both apathy and purity. The color red is both mad love and rage. The color black aims to prevail over all of the emotions and so it represents to me both destruction and the penetration of a strong emotion into something.”

Cimitero Delle Idee

Cimitero Delle Idee (Graveyard of the Ideas) is a painting of three crosses standing on a blood red ground with a deep blue as a background. The choice of representing ideas as crosses was born because in Giorgia’s opinion ideas can be painful and they crucify our mind. Giorgia sees the cross not only as a religious symbol, but also as an Italian expression “ad ognuno la sua croce,” meaning “everyone has a cross to bear.” As an artist, often the cross to bear is to have many ideas and dreams that are very hard to achieve.

“It’s night and usually at night ideas are flowing as a river, but some ideas are bound to die as soon as morning arrives for many different reasons. Some ideas are obscene, some considered stupid, some seems impossible to achieve and others are too abstract. In this day and age, some ideas seem too crazy to even say out loud and so they die with us. When an idea dies also a little piece of us dies with it leading to the slow death of our dreams.”

Ad Occhi Chiusi

Ad Occhi Chiusi (With Eyes Closed) represents the emotion arising from an embrace given to a loved one. Black and white is the view that you have in a tight embrace, with your eyes closed. The central part is love, euphoria, joy, safety that one feels in embracing one’s love. The piece also wants to be an invitation to hug the beloved one with eyes closed, tightly and to savor the moment that may never come back. Each hug given can be the last, you shouldn’t be in a hurry to love each other.

“The main hope I always have every time I make a studio visit or an exhibition is that people can be somehow connected to what I do, like they can find themselves in some canvas. I’m always surprised when it happens because it is not a given and it is not common. I also love to hear different kinds of interpretations in my paintings because where I might have seen pain some people might have seen happiness. Some people actually see faces in some paintings and it is nice. It is a different point of view given by different background stories. I think that you can actually get to really know a person when you hear what they might see in some paintings, because they are telling you how their mind works.”

Il Mito Della Caverna

Il Mito Della Caverna (The Myth Of The Cave) the canvas represents the myth of Plato’s cave. Although it can have multiple interpretations based on the one who looks at it, the central point of light, that is yellow, represents the outside of the cave towards which the prisoners can escape. The streaks, applied with a spatula, are the shadows that the prisoners see passing. In this work the prisoner is the one who looks, wanting to exert a sensation of epiphany understood in Joycian terms. To stay in the cave or to go out into the light?

Anima (Soul) is a luminous sphere, which hovers suspended in the air, made with tissue paper and painted in oil, illuminated from the inside thanks to LED lights. The piece was born from a need to go beyond Giorgia’s typically two-dimensional limits and put herself to the test in the field of installations. “From the beginning it was a challenge, the process of creation, implementation and display. ” Through the help of fellow artists and the Iperione Exhibition in Rome in which light was the central theme, this piece shows divinity that was believed to dominate the light. It also takes on a higher meaning in which one can go beyond one’s mental limits, lightening the spirit.

Anima

There is such an important connection between art and healing. Giorgia began painting as a way to portray strong emotions elicited by her anxiety and experiences with sleep paralysis. It is somehow reassuring to see artwork that serves as a space for emotional output, and perhaps showcase the results of some deep introspection. Transformative artwork can reflect the emotional needs of the viewer. It provides you with another form of language and helps you express the things you don’t have words for. Through focusing on a person’s inner experience, art therapy is a technique rooted in the idea that creative expression can foster healing and mental well-being.

Understanding the healing power of art first-hand, Giorgia is also lending her work to help others that are also fighting their battles. She created a special piece of art for Stand Up For Ukraine: No War, No Oppression. She also collaborated with fellow artist Crollame for Endo Art. They created a painting representing the pain and the struggle women have to go through due to endometriosis. “We’re more than honored to have the chance to portray it and hence be able to help raising awareness.”

“I never truly feel the healing power of art when I’m actually in the act of painting, it is something I feel right after, when I put the spatula down and take a good look at what I created. I feel relieved, almost empty because I just poured out my whole self and emotions onto the canvas.”

Anyone who feels overwhelmed or pressured by the hectic world we live in should try creating their own therapeutic artworks. Creating art will give you a chance to slow down and explore any issues you may be having. As a result, Giorgia was able to express herself and create works of energetic abstract art that deal with trauma and healing. “I’m a firm believer in art therapy. It worked for me and the craziest thing is that I started to do it just because I felt like doing it. No-one ever talked to me about art therapy. I guess we found each other.”

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