Post Road Magazine #9

Michela Griffo: Paintings and Drawings Introduction by Kathleen Bitetti

Michela Griffo's works are visually complex, seductive, and usually presented in a self-contained diptych format within the picture plane. She often divides her canvas or paper into two separate frames that in turn present co-existing yet competing vantage points of the so-called world we live in. Since her early works of the 1980s, Griffo has been creating impeccable drawings and paintings in a somewhat realist figurative tradition that echo the political and layered meanings found in history painting, historical portraiture painting, and in Dutch still lifes. Her works offer biting commentary on the reality that society has chosen to construct and believe while at the same time calling attention to the so-called truth or actual reality that society as a whole avoids acknowledging. Griffo masterfully, much like fairy tales and Greek myths, calls attention in her works to the timeless dangers that plague the human race by intertwining those very fairy tales and Greek myths with contemporary news, Disney imagery, and her own black-and-white cartoons. Griffo is a modern-day Cassandra who often describes herself as “the kid who saw that the emperor had no clothes.”

All of her recent work directly and unabashedly confronts the overlooked violence and injustice that permeates our society via her choice of imagery and text. Her earlier works also addressed violence but in a more visually encoded way. In her current body of large paintings she creates one frame of colorful imagery juxtaposed with seemingly unrelated subject matter drawn in graphite and devoid of color. At the top of the work is one of her black-and-white comics/cartoons. Usually in the colored frame she chooses to depict a moment from a well-known Disney cartoon excerpt that is very disturbing and violent. However, in the film version and in true Disney fashion, the horrific scene doesn't read as horrific. It is only in Griffo's isolation of the image in her painting that it reads as unsettling. The color images are always juxtaposed with black-and-white graphite images of a horribly violent contemporary news event, which further underscores the violence of the accompanying color image. Her comics let the viewer know her perspective and reasoning for pairing the two images. She states, “The black-and-white cartoons, which I write and create for each tale act as a “Greek chorus” wherein the contradictions between the testimony of the perpetrators and that of the victim complete the vision of what we choose not to see in a world where truth is at a premium.” She has also begun to create small works on paper solely of her black-and-white comics.

Today's primary story tellers, our film and TV producers, unlike the creators of the ancient myths and fairy tales, have sanitized, sensationalized, sterilized, and made most of their work devoid of lessons/meaning. Disney is perhaps one of the biggest offenders, peddling its sanitized constructions of truth/reality worldwide to its target audience of children. Griffo is fearlessly taking on the Disneyfication and numbing of our collective consciousness. She states, “In fairy tales the figures are not ambivalent, not good and bad at the same time as we all are in reality. It is this duality which is the basis for my work.” Hopefully, unlike Cassandra, she will be able to shake many of us from our unconsciousness. •

Kathleen Bitetti is the Executive Director of the Artists Foundation (www.artistsfoundation.org), where she has worked on public policy, advocacy, community building, and development of resources/services for artists working in all genres. She is an exhibiting artist and she will be an artist-in-residence in Fall 2004 at artSPACE in New Haven, Ct. For information on her work see www.ThePrincessProject.com.

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