A French connection: Ivana Minafra returns to 1821 Gallery with depth and vigor
California grabbed Ivana Minafra and hasn’t let go. When the Italian-French artist first visited the state in 2015 for a group show at the Corridor 2122 gallery, she felt an immediate and visceral connection.
“I fell in love,” she says.
So she did what any inspired painter does: She painted.
Pictured above: Ivana Minafra at 1821 Gallery & Studios. Photo: The Munro Review
Minafra is now on her third visit to Fresno, and her enthusiasm for various parts of the state — from the central San Joaquin Valley to San Francisco and Los Angeles — has not diminished. She is opening her second solo show at 1821 Gallery & Studios, titled “Profondeurs,” at November’s ArtHop. (The monthly open house of galleries and studios in the downtown and Tower District neighborhoods runs at most venues from 5-8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 1; check the Fresno Arts Council’s listings for details.)
I dropped in at the gallery earlier this week while Minafra was working with owner Bruce Kalkowski to install the exhibition. Here’s a rundown:
The Fresno-France connection: Minafra, who lives in the French countryside, was part of a group show of women artists at a gallery in Paris. So was noted Fresno artist Leslie Batty. They didn’t actually meet in person at that exhibition, but they got to know each other through social media and became friends. Batty encouraged Minafra to participate in the 2015 Corridor group show. The Italian-French artist liked Fresno so much she came back the following year to 1821 Gallery & Studios with an exhibition devoted to California-inspired paintings. Now she’s back with a body of work that is inspired both by the state and also her rural home in France. (She was born in Genoa, Italy, and moved to France in 2003.)
The title of the show: Profondeurs means “depths.” The artist loves to get beneath the surface. Depth can refer to the spiritual and environmental explorations of her works, and also to geography. An example is the painting “To the Beach,” which is dominated in the foreground by a parking lot jammed with cars. In the distance, you can see the beach and oceanfront offering a respite from this urban-feeling congestion. (This is a California scene, but Minafra prefers not to identify the specific locations that inspired her paintings; she likes the viewer to bring his or her own feelings to the experience.) Yet this is no heavy-handed indictment of car culture. There is an environmental theme, but it’s subtle and intriguing. That sea of cars is depicted with bright colors and a soft, almost lush, sensibility.
The ambiguity: Minafra tells me something that I find fascinating. Perhaps, she muses, the reason she’s so drawn to California is because of what it means geographically. “It’s the feeling that we are at the edge of Western civilization here,” she says. “Everything is so visible — the good sides and the bad sides. I love when they touch. In my paintings, there is the ordinary world that we live in — the cars and parking lots — and I try to find my way out of that.”
The dreaminess: The artist has vivid dreams. (I’m not surprised to learn that.) That’s another way to think of her paintings. Just like dreams, they accentuate the world, make it bigger, brighter, darker, grander, weirder, more perplexing. In another work, she combines two views — one from France, one from California — in a street scene that seems to dissolve into a familiar small-town landscape. And don’t dreams do that as well in terms of juxtaposing elements from our lives into strange and fascinating new combinations?
The artist: Though I only spend a half hour or so with Minafra, I learn enough from talking with her that she, like the title of her show, is a person with great profondeur. She does not consider her works optimistic, even though some, like the one depicting the beach parking lot, seem almost cheery. She worries about the times in which we live, the way we’re living beyond our means and endangering the environment, but that darkness doesn’t overwhelm her works. She is thoughtful and pensive, yet she paints without preconceptions, not even knowing where a painting will take her until she begins it. In other words, she offers a depth to her works that mirrors the human experience.
The Golden State appeal: I’m also a little touched — even proud — of Minafra’s embrace of my native state. She was surprised, frankly, by her attraction to California and its vast, sloppy, beautiful and infuriating strengths and weaknesses. It was almost like a smell, she says, when she got off the plane. “What is that?” she asked. “That was true in San Francisco, and it’s true here in Fresno — which is completely different — and it was true in Los Angeles. I do not know what it is. But it’s something.”
Ivana Minafra’s “Profondeurs,” 1821 Gallery & Studios, 1821 Calaveras St., Fresno. Opens 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1. Continues through Dec. 22.