"I'm working to approach my art practice like I do meditation, as a connection to the present moment, because it is this space I am less confined, more open, less likely to question myself and just go for it."
This past Saturday I met artist Toni Gallo and I viewed her multimedia solo exhibition, I CAN FEEL TRUTH SOMEWHERE OVER THERE, HERE BEYOND FURTHER, showing at Soo Visual Arts Center in Minneapolis. After immersing myself in her art, I participated in a special meditation she lead in the gallery. Ten minutes into the meditation, I felt my closed eyes begin to water, thinking that maybe teardrops where forming. I touched my face and felt dry skin. At that moment, I felt the very essence of meditation - the feeling of being connected to the self, the body, truth, and the inner mind. I felt present and moved. I also felt a release that I think created the sensation of tears. It was transformational. I hadn't experienced anything like that during any of my previous meditations.
So, thank you, Toni, for letting me enter that place - though your art and openness.
You can participate in her next meditation session this Saturday, August 24th at 2 PM at SooVAC. Toni will be available from 1-3 PM to talk about her art as well. You'll see so much and feel so much!
Toni Gallo grew up in Minnesota drawing dinosaurs and pond life, graduated from Perpich Center for Arts Education and headed to California where she received her B.A. in studio art and was awarded a scholarship to attend California State University intensive painting program in Italy following graduation. After returning home she continued making and exhibiting art in Minneapolis and between 2008-2012 was a member of Rosalux Gallery. Over the past 6 years, integrating yoga and meditation practices and eventually becoming a yoga instructor now compliment her studio practice. This combination of practices has formed a body of working exploring consciousness on an aesthetic level. Toni currently lives and works in NE Minneapolis with her husband and children. Toni is also a fiscal year 2019 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board.
I feel fortunate that Toni answered some of my questions about her art and practice, featured here in this special interview! Read and admire on!
Jes: I am excited about your exhibition with Soo Visual Arts Center. It’s strongly interdisciplinary. Can you talk more about your show and the themes behind the work?
Toni: Originally, I had proposed to make 8-10 new paintings and offer meditation sessions in the exhibition space. I ended with 11 paintings, some much larger than I had originally imagined, an audio component, and a few scheduled meditation sessions.
The project is about practice. Developing the habit of awareness.
A combination of practices have converged in the studio, which have formed paintings exploring consciousness. The paintings express captured experiences of connectivity. Although it may be fleeting, the momentary connectivity that occurs to make the art is present moment awareness. Being awake and engaged to the current moment is access to self under the ego; your vital energy permanent and connected to past future and everything in between. It’s the state you’ve been pining after. Here beyond further.
The works are suggestive, figurative, landscape abstractions, naturally uncovering paradox through a balance between polished and raw, busy and calm, intuitive and intentional. Each painting is a different path to the same place.
The idea of the paintings talking to the viewer came later. It made so much sense. Writing, teaching, yoga and meditation are so integral to where I am with painting, because of the stretching of myself it demands, which has empowered my life beyond measure. People want to know the why and how behind art and I would absolutely not have been able to unearth this expression in paint without exploring these other practices. It made sense to find a place for this expression.
I am interested in how you explore impermanence in your art. Can you talk more about this and how it relates to the body as well as the mind?
It seems fitting that I answer this question with one of the pieces I recorded for the show [above image].
THE WALLS SEEM SURE OF THEIR SEPARATION EVEN IN THEIR STATE OF DECAY.
You think you don't have an impact, but everywhere you are leaving a trail.
Nothing is permanent, but all leaves a mark.
The moment of construction is the beginning of decay.
Notice the intricate structures you've built around yourself.
Let go after you build up.
Become aware by observance at the seat of consciousness
Awareness is illuminating, is knowing.
Once something is known, let go, because it has already changed.
The challenge in letting go lies in our belief of the importance of forms holding everything together.
The walls come down, by practicing non attachment, what's left is THE stuff.
The reach to achieve another version of yourself dissolves, authentic expression flows, fleeting, impermanent and perfectly as it is.
these are the rough parts,
the fluidity in between, puts union in focus
Connect to your knowing. Your intuitive validity
It is housed in an inward focus rather than an external search.
As you observe the endless waves of change unfolding, it increasingly becomes easier to practice non attachment, knowing that this too will morph, transform.
Just when the habit of awareness is developing, serendipity becomes the current wave.
It carries an ease. Along comes change, without care and space, attachment to the experience emerges and the push and pull sets in, the search is on again.
Away from self the naming begins
Roles are confining.
Get out of your own way.
Identities are the product of naming, these forms are limiting to infinite potential.
To understand what is divisive becomes the force of unification.
To let go is the only way in.
growth turns towards decay
the fade becomes the build
I appreciate your poetic and mindful response! I feel this moves nicely into my next question: How would you describe your art practice? What’s a typical studio day like for you?
I'm working to approach my art practice like I do meditation, as a connection to the present moment, because it is this space I am less confined, more open, less likely to question myself and just go for it. When I get too tripped up in my thoughts and start looking too far ahead, I remember to notice my breathing as it is happening. These moments of connectivity are for sure fleeting, but the habit of awareness is building strength.
During the preparation for this exhibition I worked longer stretches of time, more often than I can EVER remember. It was amazing!
Most of the time I'm working on more than one piece. It's important in the moments where I hit a block to have something else to turn to, otherwise I start to force it, which usually causes more problems. When I'm inspired by a new piece, I get the materials right away to keep the connection strong and stay open minded. I write a fair amount too. My meditation cushion is in my work space. I don't have a specific time or structure around when I sit or for how long, it's a gentle, resonant reminder of the power of practice. And, I listen to music, so much music. Although, this last few months I spent hours listening to the Ram Dass Here and Now podcasts, which I highly recommend.
You recently received the Artist Initiative Grant through the Minnesota State Arts Board. What was that process like for you? Do you have any recommendations for other artists who are interested in applying for this funding source?
Writing the grant was so hard for me. Honestly, a few times I wanted to give up, but I kept questioning the truth out of myself. I’m so glad I did, because the process and the experience have been transformative and I am so grateful.
My best advice for artists interested is to make it another practice, go through the exercise of challenging yourself. Even if you don't receive the grant it's important to stretch out of your comfort zone and articulate things in another way. I was able to look back at a previous attempt and consider the strengths and weaknesses. They offer valuable resources, it’s helpful to read the other recipients’ proposals as well.
Now that you have this show under your belt, do you have anything on the horizon that you’d like to share?
I'm so inspired right now. I'm planning on applying for another grant. I've got a handful of short-term plans/projects and a long-term dream to have a large studio space outside of my home to work, experiment, teach and exhibit from. I'll continue building the body of work that is on display, exploring what is expressed from the habit of awareness.
I had never before done anything multidisciplinary and now I'm really curious about creating spaces and happenings that offer people an opportunity to view and experience art gallery spaces with a different sensory component. And different, meaning closer to home rather than far out. At home people are raw with a greater tendency for the intuitive spirit to permeate, while outside there is a more calculated presentation.
This fall I'm planning to do a series of smaller still life paintings tentatively named, My Living Museum. The intent to continue exploring the power of expression through documentation of external accumulation, personal aesthetic and design; the visual materialism/make-up of home. I've never previously painted subject matter for the purpose of documentation in time and place, but I was reminded of the intrigue that looking into a record of how things appeared in times past held, by looking through art history books, the recognition of sameness and contrast in living then and now.
Artists I Admire is a series of interviews with artists I think highly of.