Christina Giuffrida is a painter from Sydney with a strong background in performance, which has shaped her artistic expression. Now residing in New York, Christina’s scenic work interlaces nostalgia with fantasy while maintaining poignant nuances of satisfying representations of womxn.
We connected with Christina on FRONTRUNNER’s online social forum to talk about her creative inspirations and more.
When did you start your art practice?
I guess my art practice really started straight after high school. I graduated thinking that I was going to pursue acting, directing and writing, mainly for theatre. I auditioned for some big drama schools in both Australia and England but never made the final cut. So I came back to Sydney and started doing my own one-woman shows in different gay bars under the name Bonnie. The performances lasted anywhere from 4-20 minutes, a blend of burlesque and drag and that’s what I originally went to Art school for. Doing these performances and filming them in these sets that I would build in my bedroom. Artists like Catherine Opie, Ron Athey and local Queer performance artists greatly influenced me during this time. Halfway through my undergraduate degree I felt that I wanted to take a step back from performing and started thinking of sculpture as theatre. This is when the figures in my work started to take over the performance role. But it’s interesting to see how human bodies and story telling have always been an integral part of my practice, even though my practice manifested in many different forms over the years – now I am painting!
How do you describe your vision for your work?
I think my vision is very closely linked to my childhood fantasies: imagining futures that are also caught up in nostalgia for the past. Nostalgia is fascinating, it’s tender but it can also be dangerous and reductive: seeing the past with rose coloured glasses. I think a lot of unhealthy nationalism is caught up with nostalgia and that scares me. So creating these Australiana fantasias from the other side of the world is interesting because it gives me a certain critical distance to really question this home sick love affair I have going on. There is also the nostalgia for things I didn’t feel I had growing up. I spend a lot of time thinking about the kind of representation of womxn characters that I would have loved to have seen. I wanted, and still want, heroines that have that really grounded assertive presence and fighting skills like the UFC champion Amanda Nunes, who embodies that unapologetically. It’s not about violence as much as it is about ownership of space, big assertive energy and total confidence in your abilities. I find most heroines like Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman really anemic in that way. Pandering to the male gaze always seems to shank them before they even get out of the gate. Maybe it’s not even the male gaze, maybe it’s just pandering to attractiveness in general that stops them from ever getting off the ground. In that regard my vision is about satisfying my need for images of womxn in strong utilitarian compositions as much as feminine and silly ones. I aim to present that range in my own work.
How has your work evolved over time?
I think as my work has evolved it has become more self-aware. First in an insecure way, as if I’ve only just realised I’ve been talking this whole time with no clothes on, and now self-awareness is a gift of clarity. I’m at a point now in my work where I am finally leaning into all the things that I was assumed were my weaknesses: nostalgia, kitsch, drama, romance, anything generally considered ‘bad taste’. Even when I was trying to work away from those things in an effort to make ‘serious’ work, they still found their way in there because that’s how I operate, I’m just very Draggy and Baroque inside and it cannot be escaped. I might not be performing in big costumes on stage anymore, but I think the Drag in my work is still very much alive and well. It’s breadth and elasticity means that it can be beautiful, terrifying, tender, heart breaking and completely hilarious. Embracing humour and absurdity has really opened my work up in a special way.
What are your artistic/creative inspirations?
Right now my inspiration comes from: Mughal Empire miniature paintings, Frank Frazetta, Robert Crumb, Rodger Dean, The Highway Men from Florida, 19th century Romantic paintings. 4WD culture in Australia, one car in particular is the Nissan Patrol, the car my family had as kid. That car felt like another member of the family and I named her Blue Rose. I paint this car again and again in my work. The thing I miss most about home is the Bush and that has made its way into my work, all the way from the cold forests in Tasmania to Kakadu in the Northern Territory and all the wildly diverse flora and fauna. Mad Max is also on my mind a lot, my paintings are definitely creating a very specific nostalgic apocalyptic future, where Australia is finally a Republic and we take better care of the land. Not sure how the gas guzzling 4WDs fit in with my ecological paradise but I’m making it work.
My favourite artists making work right now are Nadia K. Waheed, Casja Von Zipel, Jenna Gribbon, Jessie Haley. Josephs, Mu Pan, Dan Hernandez, Raul de Nieves, Jim Shaw, Sasha Gordon, Jess Johnson and Fin Simonetti.
Tell me about your process.
Everything always starts as a movie in my head. I still conceive all of my ideas as performances in my head, so there is music, dialogue, a set or location. It gets pretty involved and I’ve learnt that it’s impossible for me to get the expanse of what is in my head out in a singular work. When I am making sculptures I start with sketches that are more like architectural drawings that allow me to figure out the engineering of the piece and then I just go for it. I think with sculpture it’s best when I allow the piece to find itself as I am making it, rather that designing it down to the last millimeter and then just fabricating it.
This process is in stark contrast to my paintings that I’ve started recently. There is a lot more planning that is involved. Multiple composition drawings, taking photo references for the bodies, putting together an overall color palette. Then doing a final drawing and transferring it to the stretched paper over panel. That’s when the painting starts and that’s been a whole learning curve! But thankfully my girlfriend is a brilliant painter and professor, and is never shy about giving me technical guidance. I think my paintings are going to revolutionize my sculpture practice though. I see the paintings functioning like film stills from the movie in my head and I’m imagining the sculptures being props or scenery from these paintings, but keeping the scale small. I’ve given myself a rule, which is ‘ If I can’t carry it on the Subway by myself, I can’t make it’.
Do you think your work has a message? How is it received?
I’m wary about making work that is didactic; to be honest I think most people are allergic to that anyway. I’m just sharing my stories and the fruits of my mental, spiritual and creative explorations. True open, soft, vulnerability is radical and I strive for that but it’s bloody difficult! It also leaves you open to rejection. I once had someone that bought a marble sculpture of mine at a fundraiser auction. We met and talked about the piece, how I made it, what I loved about it, she was very excited and keen to have it in her collection. The night ends and I go home, only to get a call from the sculpture’s new owner telling me she had just realised the piece was of two women embracing and that she could not own such a piece, let alone have it in her house. I was so taken aback because she had loved the sculpture and its form sense, how the white marble had only been polished to the slightest satin sheen. But the fact that it was now a ‘Gay’ work voided the beauty of the whole piece and the experience she’d had with me at the gallery, which had been so genuine. So the Sculpture went to the next bidder and I was relieved it was finally going to a happy appreciative home. I forget sometimes that those attitudes still persist and in that way it was such an odd interaction. But it encourages me to keep making my work and sharing it with everyone, even those who might not want it in their home.
What is safe and/or dangerous in terms of experimentation?
Experimentation is the only way forward. You have to be willing to burn everything to the ground and look like a complete fool. The stakes might feel high, but in reality they are not. You can always rebuild and square one isn’t so bad. Most journeys start with the fool. It will teach you a lot about grace, humility, and perseverance. If you are not learning about these things you might be a little bit too comfortable.
Where would you like to see your work in 3 years? What goals do you have for your practice?
Over the next 3 years I’m going to bring to fruition this new body of work. Comprising of a series of these small gouache paintings and hopefully some accompanying larger ones where I can really start to flesh out epic scenes. Along with sculptural works that highlight individual elements from the paintings. I have plans for making a few ceramic sculptures of Nissan Patrol 4WD’s, a gum tree with beaded gum blossoms and maybe a few figures of the women as well. Recently I’ve been pondering making a soundscape for the work, maybe I would work that into a sculpture. It would be great to present this work in Australia too, as Australians definitely relate to my work differently than Americans, or an international audience because of some of the cultural specificity.
Are there other emerging artists you can recommend?
Sophia Kayafas, Robyn Gibson, Liza Sokolovskaya, Colin Radcliffe, Lotte Schwerdtfeger, Prinston Nnanna are all fine young people making very cool art that makes my heart sing.
FRONTRUNNER online forum: @christinagiuffrida