Grace DeGennaro

Lattice studio installation, Yarmouth, Maine

DeGennaro: The Visible and the Invisible

The strongest connection between my Italian American heritage and studio practice is a result of being raised in the Catholic faith. The cavernous space of the cathedral that my family attended, the glowing stained-glass windows that were both narrative and geometric, the hushed community, the soaring organ and choral singing, and the incense gave me a sense of both the visible and the invisible.

Twenty-five years ago, searching for an abstract vocabulary to communicate ideas of ritual, growth, and the passage of time, I began using geometric forms and specifically the image of a dot or bead. The beads are a direct reference to the counting of beads, each bead marking time and the saying of a prayer on the rosary.

When the pandemic erupted this year alongside our increasing awareness of racial inequality and global climate change, I was inspired by a dream image of a lattice. I began a new series of paintings and drawings of a lattice formed with cube shapes, the cubes rendered with colored beads. The lattice image symbolizes the passage of one mode of being to another. The rungs of the lattice representing an ascension of human knowledge and a realization of a new stage of existence.

Lattice (Clarity), 2020

oil and cold wax on linen, 78 x 48 inches

Lattice (Growth), 2020

oil and cold wax on linen, 78 x 48 inches

The artist with her father and grandfather

The photo above is circa 1957 in the Bronx of me with my father, William (real name: Raphael) DeGennaro, and my grandfather, Dominic DeGennaro.

Dominic immigrated to New York when he was teenager, sent for by his older brothers who had a grocery store in Brooklyn. He never spoke much English and never learned to drive. He did not return to Italy because the boat ride here was so traumatic, and he would not fly. He owned a corner grocery store in the Bronx for decades. He was so sweet and a wonderful cook, grew tomatoes and a beautiful pear tree in the backyard. Sadly the language barrier kept me from getting to know him better. His father painted and played the organ in church in Vico Equense. Pop married a fierce Irish immigrant, my grandmother Mabel Corr, who stressed education and music. It was an odd pairing. Her parents and brother lived with them in the Bronx.

My father was a charismatic public educator. Educated by the Jesuits in the Bronx, he loved reading, music, dance, theater, playing the piano, stylish clothes, and was a chain smoker. When I was in second grade and a classmate called me a "wop" my father marched into the school next morning to lay down some laws. He was very progressive, hiring African American educators in his districts and always supporting women. Both my sister and I were protected and encouraged.

Grace De Gennaro

Photo: Jerry King