Artist of The Week: Savannah Galvin
Fresh out of Parsons School of Design, painter Savannah Galvin is our Artist of The Week. Born and raised on the east coast, her work is inspired by her Catholic, Italian upbringing. We chatted with her about sourcing inspiration from The Godfather, what she finds interesting about men’s noses, and how she created a space based on the memories of her childhood home. Read below for our full interview accompanied by photos from Brooklyn-based photographer Corbin Chase.
So you just graduated a couple weeks ago from Parsons—do you want to talk a bit about your thesis? Where does the name “We’re in Little Italy” come from?
Previously in my other work, I had done a lot of self-portraiture and whenever I feel like I’m doing a lot of one subject matter and get sick of it, I try to do the opposite. My thesis process started when I watched The Godfather for the first time. I found myself drawn to Al Pacino’s character Michael Corleone there was something really appealing about his nose that I couldn’t quite place yet. I just started drawing him. Then I watched “The Sopranos” one of the characters, Christopher Moltisanti he had a really interesting nose as well, I did a series of pastel drawings of those characters.
The interior of my thesis was transforming my studio into a domestic space. By imitating furniture through painting on the walls and floor. Creating these works based off memory of my childhood home, memory has discrepancies as it is subjective, how you remember the experience or misremember something.
After creating my obsessions with the pop culture icons. I found similarities of interesting noses sort of all around me, different men that I have in my life; a lot of my friends, and friends of friends that I found really interesting. We’re in little Italy is the name of a painting of my friend Michel.
And so you grew up in Catholic Italian household; did you grow up in New York?
Yes, I’ve received my communion and confirmation! I lived on Staten Island until I was seven and then we moved to Tribeca.
So you went to school in New York, but then you also studied abroad in London as well?
I really like studying abroad in London. I recommend to anyone if you can study abroad somewhere to do it. I was really lucky to have friends that lived in London already, they were able to show me a bit of like the London scene. Being in a place by yourself makes you grow a lot and be more responsible, you have to be much more decisive.
Do you think that your art visually changed being in London?
I think being in London affected my work it was very insular. Even though I was able to make a lot of friends towards the end, in the beginning, I felt kind of alone. It was a very good time that I had being alone. It made me realize that I need to be stimulated by people. I do, however, think that the color palette was consistent, which is interesting for example, David Hockney, when you look at his work from when he was in LA to London, the color palette is completely different.
When I was in London, it was just like, “Here’s a studio, you have to take this class that meets twice a week, and then this other class that meets once a month. But other than that you have a studio space to do whatever it is you need to do in order to, ‘produce work.'” It was way more freeing and realistic to having an art practice outside of school. The studio was shared with a bunch of straight guys, it was interesting they would notice things in my work that I wouldn’t. It’s also just great to have people to discuss your ideas with. I became really good friends with them in the end and still keep in contact.
What do you think were some of those things that they noticed?
They would point out discrepancies with some depictions or just giving some opinions of my paintings. They would not hold back and could really tell when my heart was not in the painting or if I was struggling. Which was refreshing to hear sometimes during critique classmates don’t tell you what you need to hear but what they think you want to hear.
It’s so refreshing to be around people that just don’t think the same way as you.
It’s so true, you always need to have a balance. I’ve always grown up with my brother and a ton of cousins. I’ve always been stimulated around a lot of men and a lot of women, having an older brother always hanging around with all of his friends; I just have always had a lot of guy friends around and the way that we think is so differently. I feel like I look at so many more of the details and they’re looking more at the big picture. Sometimes it’s more logical and there’s more structure to the way that they think. I’m so nosy and curious about men!
How do you “practice” art? Do you have any routines or amounts of time you know you need to set aside?
My art practice is always trial and error. Currently, it has been a cycle of doing research, getting inspiration from museums, making a “mood board” for reference photos, coordinating people to photograph and making as many sketches as I can. When I am inspired I can paint for six hours, it can be very sporadic and obsessive. Playing around with materials oil paint, acrylic, and pastels or anything else that is in reach. That’s when it gets fun around 3 hours into a painting when you’re in it! Messy, off your phone, nothing else matters but you and the work to concentrate on.
I’ve noticed how space plays a part in your work; even specifically with your thesis of creating an actual room. In New York, everything is so condensed and everything’s stacked up on top of each other. How did you learn to utilize space in a place where there’s not much available?
There’s something that feels really mind-boggling and intimidating about working on a stark white wall.I painted it this really nice salmon-rose Sicilian pink shade. I liked having this space that feels inviting to everyone and feels comfortable. I wanted to create a space that felt more domestic and I wanted to make something that I could stand, or be a representation of that, or an invitation.
In New York, there is limited space it’s very different from London or LA where everything is spread apart. Everything and everyone grows or exists on top of each other in New York. Passed a certain point of living in New York you are adjusted to making decisions based off these limitations. This works in your favor later on when you have more space to play around with.
This aspect ties into the stereotypical Italian culture of wanting to make people feel comfortable in a domestic space. It’s cool how it could manifest into a physical space.
I never really thought of that as a thing but maybe that is what I am used to. My mom is so like that, always making everyone and anyone comfortable.
What classes did you take in your last year?
Our thesis classes and writing course. I had some really great faculty and we would have two different faculty alternate weeks of studio visits for six weeks straight, so it was a really good consistency; they would be able to see how much we’ve grown over the course.
Well, it’s when your mind and subconscious can relax for a second.
Do you find it hard to define your voice or is that something you even want to do? It’s almost caging to have to describe what your voice is, but at the same time, it’s what can totally drive you. Where do you fall on that spectrum?
I feel way more confident about my voice now than I did six months ago. I know what my coherent way of painting is; I have many ways of painting, but I feel like overall if my name was not on my them, you would be able to see a cohesive narrative and dial. Some of them are more like childlike are naive and then some of them are way more like painterly.
I just use different things to practice it. Sometimes, I will be focusing more on form and sometimes focusing more on color or technique. There’s just so many different ways that I work.
I was reading that you primarily worked with oil pastels and oil paint and then you kind of transitioned more to acrylic. Was your thesis acrylic?
All the wall paintings were all done in acrylic and all of the portraits, were done in oil paint, but I included acrylic in different areas in some of the paintings. Acrylic does have some really nice aspects of it and it also dries really fast; you have work quickly.
Who are some of the artists that you look to?
I look at Nicole Eisenman a lot, Elizabeth Peyton, and Genieve Figgis; I always go back to looking at John Currin, and Picasso and this Swedish artist called Mamma Andersson. Randomly I’ve been looking at a lot of artist writing so I was really interested in Julian Schnabel’s writing and Philip Guston. Other ones I really liked were Edvard Munch; he had some really beautiful paintings. Two contemporary artists, are Jamian Juliano-Villani and Jordan Wolfson. I love the methods they use to make art that’s funny.
A lot of your work is autobiographical too. Are you inspired by your friends? Do you collaborate?
This whole new work that I’ve been doing has really been inspired by my friends. It’s easy for me to paint them, they’re comfortable around me and naturally in situations where I want to take a reference photo. If I have ideas I’ll talk it out. We collaborated in helping each other with thesis work but I’d love to do more, it’s so fun working with your friends.
I’m doing a residency in London during August. Taking more reference photos, I need some new faces to paint! Until then I’ll be trying to relax and maybe do some traveling.
Stay tuned to Milk for more rising artists.