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Artist Cianne Fragione

Cianne Fragione b. 1952 (Hartford, CT) Over four decades, Cianne Fragione has developed process-oriented work that crosses boundaries between abstract painting and sculpture, object, and image. She has exhibited extensively in solo and group exhibitions in national and international venues, including St. Mary’s College Museum of Art, Moraga, CA, September 2004 - June 2025; Gallery Neptune & Brown, Washington, D.C.,(2022, 2019, 2017); a ten-year retrospective at Harmony Hall Regional Center, Washington, MD, (2007); Anne Wright Wilson Gallery Georgetown College, KY, (2016); Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery, New York, NY (2021); American University Museum, Washington, D.C.,(2017, 2016); John D. Calandra Italian American Institute of Queens College, CUNY, New York, NY,(2013); Associazione di Museo D’Arte Contemporaneo Italiano, Catanzaro, Italy, (2012); University of Scranton Art Museum, Scranton, PA, (2012); The Textile Museum, Washington, D.C.(2011); Art in Embassies, Sofia, Bulgaria, and Vilnius, Lithuania, ( 2012-15; 2003; Indianapolis Art Center, IN, ( 2003); Elizabeth Foundation, New York, NY, (2001); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Gallery, CA 1991; among many others since 1981. Most of these exhibitions have produced publications.

Her works are held in public collections, a recent 2023 acquisition; the Baltimore Museum of Art MD; and DC Commission Art Bank Collection (also, 2017), Art-In-Embassies Permanent Collection, Guadalajara, Mexico, US State Department; as well as St. Mary’s College Museum of Art, CA; Italian American Museum, D.C; Department of Special Collections, Cecil H. Green Library, Stanford University, CA; and Comune di Monasterace, Calabria, IT; among others and private collections.

Fragione has been the recipient of awards, fellowships, and residencies, Art Omi Residence receiving the Milton and Sally Avery Arts Fellowship, (2019); The Legacy Project (Saving the Legacy) sponsored by Joan Mitchell Foundation(2015-16), with her oral history for research at Columbia University NY; Studio dei Nipoti artist residency, Monasterace, IT, (2012); Soaring Gardens, Laceyville, PA (2010); Spoleto Study Aboard in Spoleto, IT (2005); and an Artist-in-Institution grants, a project of the California Arts Council. Sacramento CA, (1985-1990). She was nominated for the Joan Mitchell Painting and Sculpture Award (2018) and; the Anonymous Was a Women Award for artistic achievement, (2016).

She received her MFA (1987), in Painting/Mixed Media at John F. Kennedy University Fiberworks Center for the Arts, Berkeley, CA. During this time, she was a guest graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, receiving a fellowship that enabled her to work with a number of artists associated with the beat and funk movements in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received her BFA from Goddard College, in 1981, in Plainfield, VT.

Fragione is an American-born Italian (dual citizenship).

"My current paintings, drawings, and assemblages respond to two collections of short poems by Eugenio Montale: Mediterraneo and Ossi di Seppia. One significant aspect of Montale's poetry is its ability to develop and vividly express an iconography of ordinary objects in ways that reshape everyday life experience with imagination, unpredictability, and sensitivity. I share this intention as well as some of Montale’s linguistic spirit; my work draws upon similar types of formal motifs that refer to memories, traditions, and histories, both personal and cultural. These encourage a fluidity of themes and imagery that soon overlap as they continue to reorganize themselves and open further avenues of exploration. A vivid combination of oil paint, and mixed medium materials, in conjunction with found objects and textiles, gives rise to graceful and rough transitions. Refined and scruffy surfaces evoke encrusted layers of time-laden structures and landscapes. Meanwhile, delicate drawn lines enlarge the surface narrative by creating open spatial fields. Collaged fragments add a sense of the figure, a human presence. Built slowly, over lengthy periods, each work becomes a dense synthesis of influences and personal perspectives, including mid-twentieth-century gestural abstraction, my close connection to the expressive work of the San Francisco Bay Area Beat and Funk artists, and the physical fluency of my early training as a professional dancer. But unlike a performance, which is ephemeral, the canvas or sheet of paper has become the stage, the space in which movement is orchestrated and inscribed in durable, articulate form."

Tell us a little about yourself (where you are from) and your background in the arts.

Throughout my life, I have had an intimate relationship with the arts, spanning over four decades in the visual arts and three decades prior to that as a dancer. As a visual artist, my paintings, drawings, and assemblages are influenced by cross-disciplinary practices, including classical and contemporary dance, poetry, and music.

Currently, I live and work in the Washington DC metro area, where I have been since 2001. Recently, my work was acquired by the Baltimore Museum of Art, MD, and also by the Art-In-Embassies Permanent Collection, Guadalajara, Mexico, US State Department; with a second acquisition from the DC District Art Bank Collection, Washington, DC. These acquisitions represent an acknowledgment of my paintings' significance and my commitment to process-oriented works that draw upon ordinary formal motifs.

I lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay area for twenty years. In 1987, I received my MFA in Painting/Mixed Media at Fiberworks Center of the Arts, John F. Kennedy University, in Berkeley, and I was granted a fellowship to be a guest graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley.

My artworks are fed by a variety of artistic traditions, including mid-20th-century gestural abstraction as well as the expressive work of the San Francisco Bay Area Beat and Funk artists whom I encountered in the 1980s, some being my faculty and mentors. I still feel an affinity with those artists. I can detect influences from their material emphasis on engaged physical process, and from their emphasis on the richness and concentration of the making process over obvious virtuosity or high finish. I made a conscious choice to study with sculptors as well as painters, and from the earliest stages of my career, I explored three-dimensional forms, especially in metal and assemblage, with oil painting.

Prior to this, I trained and performed professionally in various companies from 1957 to 1996: In the early 1990s, I studied and performed with the Flamenco dance company, in San Francisco, CA, to further implant the values of dance in my visual work. Transferred to the visual art, are the sounds and rhythms of music and dance, as well as those of language, and are inherent in my work. They are the visible patterns that flow through a tactile composition of marks, colors, spatial relationships, and interior states that reveal my own sense of the enchantment of the ordinary.

What kind of work are you currently making?

Currently, I am at work preparing for a solo exhibition titled Isole: A Voyage Among Dreams at the St. Mary’s College Museum of Art, Moraga CA opening Sept 2024-June 2025. These include paintings, drawings, and assemblages that are based on a collection of poems written by Eugenio Montale, Mediterraneo and Ossi di seppia.

In a general sense, I seek a very particular quality that I find in Montale’s poetry, which is his desire to give a unique quality of voice to an iconography of common things. He writes between narrative and reflection — the ambiguous relationship between the sea and the horizon, for example. In Ossi di seppia, the shells of the cephalopods can look like ships or paddles, but for me, they also look like white necklaces tossed upon the shores, and I similarly want to exploit this rich and suggestive imagery.

Over many years of studio practice, warm-ups have become useful transformations of words, images, and page design, made directly on the pages of books. In this context, books start as familiar, prosaic objects that have a role in communicating and sharing information and, at the same time, developing the normative and systemized levels of language: it is in part this latter function that I wish to overcome — to recreate the book as a site of visual poetry, transformation, magic, high keyed imagination. The pages are often torn out of books — poetry, art books, literary texts — and reworked in a fast-paced manner with oil paint sticks.

I am also preparing ten “Combine” works from a large series titled Heaven and Earth Dressed in their Summer Wear to be included in a traveling exhibit titled Threads of Time with John William Gallery. The exhibition brings together multi-media work by luminous international women artists in collaboration with national and international museums. It visualizes the complicated relationship between body and feminine adornment, as well as the rituals of handcraft integrated into domestic life.

In the end, my work recounts my own narrative of encounter, disclosing an atmosphere of consistent, ongoing conversation with the places, objects, and themes that support it, exchanges carried out in voices that reshape everyday life experience with imagination, unpredictability, and sensitivity.

What is a day like in the studio for you?

Each day, I drive from my home in Virginia to my studio in downtown DC. I transfer myself from brick walls, graffiti, and loud sidewalk conversations, and step into an illuminated three-dimensional experience of texture and color that I have created.

I am a process artist, and I work on multiple pieces concurrently. The presence of time is a crucial element in my work, often embedded in the extent to which I give myself over to process. The completion of a painting or assemblage may require years. Old works or fragments of works, suitable as structural groundwork for the new idea, are retrieved. They may be so thoroughly reworked that the original is erased, or only a part remains visible, an intentional token of its past, a history now known only to the artist. Time is not simply duration, and I want to capture its complexity.

The studio is a place where objects and artifacts gather. I keep collections of Italian lace near at hand, among the pigments, brushes, and palettes, along with recovered fragments from marble altars, vintage photos, and an abundant array of objects that I have gathered over many years. The use of assemblage and collage are integral to my practice, allowing me to incorporate evocative found objects along with traditional fine art materials that together can express a love of beauty, a rawness, and the femininity that occurs in everyday life.

Poetry and music are united in the working process. Right now it is Taranta music; that adds an element of hope; like Montale’s poetry, it is invested with anguish, sorrow, joy, a human journey of transformation and redemption. Blue is the color of strength and hope.

There is one window in my studio that is cracked and broken, and I have layers of plastic on it. The plastic covering keeps the studio warmer, of course,! I don’t change this particular window because I draw from it. The morning light tends to be too bright here, so by diffusing it like this, I get a soft light, that is lovely. When I work at night and the lights are on, the darkness from the window is like a whisper. My environment affects me. I don’t try to control that.

Rituals and experience are real, the stories are real, the landscape is real; they matter, and they are part of the work, but they are created in a suggestive way that creates a strong coloristic effect of illumination. The spatial shift, motion, and dramas are orchestrated in a body manner of an artist who is intimate with the physical movement of dance.

What are you looking at right now and/or reading?

The collected Poem of Eugenio Montale: 1925-1977 and recently saw Rothko's works on paper at the NGA. I go to the NGA monthly to just look and study.

Where can we find more of your work? (ex. website/insta/gallery/upcoming shows)

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