A Room of One's Own.
A cycle of 12 paintings by Sandra Rigali.


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Art speaks its own universal language and in Italy, with unbroken artistic tradition, artistic heritage is everywhere. Thus, the contemporary artist has a treasure trove of images and meanings at hand and yet, a key often helps to read and understand the contemporary message. Sandra Rigali's project features an image for each of the year's 12 months. This reminds one of the centuries-old tradition of depicting productive activities on cathedral facades, one for each of the year's twelve months as, for example, on the façade of San Martino in Lucca. Toils monumentalized in stone convey the message that lives spent gaining nature's riches are part of a divine order. The Project of Sandra is a cycle of revolving interplay between woman's existence, her work and her environment. She adopts the expression, "A Room of One's Own" as coined by the English author, Virginia Woolf (1929), not as a feminist battle cry, but rather as an expression of the woman artist's birthright to create and her legitimate need for the conditions that will allow her to bloom. The woman artist needs her own space, real and mental, a space of freedom. Through the freedom of art, Sandra Rigali creates her own space, truly a "Room of One's Own".
Though oft said that there is nothing new under the sun, even as newness of life is real, true art is newness of perception. At first view, Rigali's paintings appear classical, informed by female beauty, balance and harmony. The idealized female body has been an element in our western visual memory at least since the ancient Greeks, and Rigali's renderings inform a very personal figural aesthetic in a constant and beautiful manner. Her work adds new life to the truism that the female nude never ceases to fascinate. Standing, reclining, arching, crouching as in the WEIGHT OF THE WORLD or sitting, her females, often nude, are in their own universe. Each betrays a loving view of its being, rightly to be compared with the light hearted admiring male gaze of a Matisse, or to the passionate self view of a Frieda Kahlo.
But here resemblance ends, as Rigali's figures hark from a universe of her own. Their expressive glances with wide open or tightly shut eyes shout happy contentment, or questioning, or longing, or silence, or withdrawal. Often the position and rendering of the figure is the expression, with outline ranging from fine contour to thick colored line, from corporeal plasticity of classical substance to a Matisse-like linear sign as is ODALISCACONLIMONI. For all their differences, her figures reveal tenderness, love, and yes, commitment to femaleness.


It would be an omission to note only the harmony and well-being evident in Regali's work, for although she features all the traditional elements and attributes of women's art - luminous flowers, sensuous fruit - Regali's art doesn't allow for smug comfort. Rather, it lets the world's mixed messages intrude on self-absorption. Her creations betray a searching artistic temperament with all its disturbances and clashes as the non-ideal world with its challenges seeps in to her refuge. The world and its messages thus enter and become part of the artist's world. An intuitive creative process is alive and at work, rendered by a uniquely individual hand. Using mixed media, she applies paper to the prepared canvas to yield a patterning of folds, ridges and planes that will underlie her finished paintings, with the result that her finished images preserve something spontaneous and unplanned and in their stillness, retain energy of creation. Sometimes the paper carries texts, and often fields of color overlap the patterning. This technique bears testimony that verisimilitude is not the artist's aim, but rather, the creation of a unique reality.



Such magical reality is immediately visible in Regali's landscapes, where shapes and colors flow from artistic impulses. DALLMIASTANZA. One feels life's energy in her paintings showing Garfagnana's ancient stone homes twisted on their foundations and magnificent landscapes and in some examples re-inventing their horizons. They seem to be in uproar, and yet in balance through composition using fields of color in vibrant relationship. Her secure sense of color values and shades seem to flow from intuition. Objects seem to follow their own artistic laws and imbue the images with harmony and peace.
In MY THEATRE one finds an example of Rigali's introducing subtle disturbances to add complexities that animate harmonious space. The entire scene seems to spill forward, toward the viewer, in a spirit of generosity. The red curtains are parted, inviting the viewer's gaze to enter a world. It is a private space, a table with a vase that holds bright yellow sunflowers, an empty coffee cup on a book and Sandra's calling card, a classical nude on a panel that at times comes from her memory and not from a model. One sees a masterful interplay of shapes and bright complementary colors, an interplay between the public and the private. The red curtains hang in perpendicular planes, the left reaching forward to convey a "reaching out" while the right conveys a more secret, mysterious "inviting in".




It needs to be emphasized that Rigali is a bold and superb colorist. Indeed, her colors may be seen as their own abstract creations (have an own abstract identity) even without any relation to the objective world. Thick layers of color enhance intriguing textures, tempting one to touch and feel, to discover their message through the tactile sense. Each painting is a celebration of color with visual feasts of blues, reds, greens and yellows, the more stunning through the discipline and clarity seen in their usage to form planes of interlocking shapes that delight the eye. Blue under her brush triumphs in various shades as in the PENSEUSE. Let the eye linger a bit on the triad of clear blues and lilac planes in NEOMI and notice the energy in their juxtaposition. The way three planes meet to form a corner make a fascinating focal point to create a committed space to be inhabited by the artist's evocative figure. In its clarity and abstraction the space contrasts with the young willowy woman, the firey pattern of her dress and the glowing sunflower that she holds. Life and abstraction, figure and space thus set in subtle tension are superb example of what Rigali means with the expression, "a room of one's own". Using shades of color to enhance geometric depth, her painting creates imaginative mental depth.
In TOMMASO, the standing adolescent boy is set firmly in a room, beside a seat with his head framed tightly by paintings, Sandra's "toils", that are cut away by the frame. Here, the color red is the artistic element that links and animates the painting's various features, as it surrounds the boy's shiningly new shirt, contradicts the composition's strictness and darkens the plush upholstery (poltrone). The boy's blue-white stripes militate against the red and divide the painting horizontally. One senses boldness in tension with compositional discipline, especially in the adolescent rigidity of the boy's hands which is softened by the warmth of color. This example of Rigali's security of composition conveys the immediacy of a mother's love and her concern for a secure place of the adolescent boy.



Contemporary life no longer requires most of us to labor at agriculture, as was the case when cathedrals were built. Although we have lost close connection to the land, we still discern the passage of time through gradations of mood as the months pass in their yearly cycle. Sandra Rigali's cycle of paintings likewise progresses with cool to warm colors -see ODALISCACONLIMONI and UNA STANZA TUTTA PER ME - and moods ranging from introspective stillness to openness to the outside world. Rigali's art shows a mature consistency and a mastery of relationships between figures, objects and space. Each painting communicates shades of mood and life's experience. In her consummately feminine way, she balances openness and restraint, allowing intuition to guide her craft, with the result that all her artistic elements join in a dance of celebration of beauty. Life and movement and the miracle of color are the very tokens of her art.

Birgit Urmson
Dec. 2009

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A Room of One's Own.
A cycle of 12 paintings by Sandra Rigali.
by Birgit Urmson