Layla Fanucci

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about “new york, new york”
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“Fanucci’s paintings are paradoxes in the best sense, strong visual presences, yet somehow immaterial, even dream-like. These paintings exist as evocations of places we inhabit.” In her own words, “these paintings embody my complex feelings about cities. I like their energy, accessibility, people, history, and architecture. I also find cities claustrophobic, with the sensory overload of too many people and too much going on. My paintings have the whole range of these feelings, all at the same time—my impression of that place.” Born in San Francisco in 1957, Layla Fanucci’s artistic talent was first expressed in music. Fanucci, along with her brother and sister, was encouraged by her parents to study multiple instruments, learning to play the piano, clarinet, and guitar. She went on to teach the guitar, putting herself through San Francisco State University by giving lessons. She pursued a degree in sociology, and graduated in 1980. Fanucci had married her husband Robert the previous year and in 1981 they moved with their infant daughter to New York City, where he attended law school, and where they had a second daughter. Four years later they also had a son. They returned to California after two years in New York, and eventually the family settled in St. Helena, in the Napa Valley, where Robert practices tax law and produces wine, and Layla has her painting studio.

The Fanuccis, their vineyard, and Layla’s art were featured in November, 2010 on CNN. A .


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about the artist

Beginning in 1975, Layla Fanucci taught music and guitar, both privately and in schools, ranging from the elementary to the high school level. She became the director of music at the St. Helena Catholic Church, and wrote and directed concerts at the church’s elementary school. Fanucci has noted that of her many roles, it was composing music that gave her the most gratification. In the next stage of her creative life, this impulse for artistic invention was to be given full reign. In 1999, she found herself wanting some “big, live art” (as she describes it) for her home. Finding nothing to her liking, she bought some art supplies and created a large, colorful abstract painting.

Fanucci’s first painting opened the floodgates to the hundred of paintings that have emerged during the ensuing years. By 2000, she was ready to stop teaching music and devote herself full-time to making art. She followed her first painting with a version of Matisse’s The Red Studio, followed by two other works inspired by the same artist. Then she began to create portraits of her family, still lifes, city scenes, and abstractions with figures. These paintings, while diverse in character, often had vibrant color, bold forms, energetic brush strokes, and a sense that whatever the style, the painting was charged with underlying emotion. Fanucci’s canvases evince a real pleasure in the act of creating, and she has said that, “Every time I paint I get the same feeling of electricity, satisfaction, and completion” that she had first experienced in creating musical works. Among her influences beyond Matisse, she cites the work of Picasso and Cezanne, her architect father, and her extensive travels.

In 2004, those travels emerged as a source of an on-going series of paintings, each inspired by a specific city. These dense images realized in black brush strokes on colored grounds, capture both a sense of place and the wonder and intensity of urban life. Fanucci’s paintings have been exhibited in many galleries and museums. The Walter Wickiser Gallery in New York, The Christopher Hill Gallery in Saint Helena, Andrews Art Museum in North Carolina, Le Musee de Marrakech in Morocco. She has received many commissions and her work is in numerous private collections.


about “new york, new york”

From Monet to Joseph Stella, artists throughout history have been drawn to cities, attracted by their beauty, energy and architecture. In this stunning series of cityscapes, painter Layla Fanucci joins their distinguished company in an exuberant tribute to New York City. With delicacy and passion, she conveys the essence of its most famous sights, revealing their particular character through her keen sense of color and the vitality of her brushstrokes.

Driven by a desire to evoke her experience of the city, she achieves remarkable harmony in these resonant works. A musician before becoming a painter, she captures the rhythm of the great metropolis, the lyrical splendor of its skies and the cacophony of its streets. Looking at these scenes, one understands why people return time after time to these places, like musical phrases we never tire of hearing, always finding something new in them.

In Fanucci’s dream-like paintings, the relationships of buildings, massed like blocks, transmit the grandeur and intensity of the urban environment, framing the crowds that swarm below them. She appreciates New York’s complexity, approaching it in the same way as a portrait painter, who delves deeply to express the heart of his or her subject. She offers two works titled “New York, New York,” one in shades of gold and gray, the other in deep pinks, reds and green, two different aspects of the city, perhaps at dawn in winter, the other in autumn late at night, each one with its own dazzling dynamic. Deftly playing with light and perspective in the shimmering “New York Opus 6,” she presents a mysterious and ghostly place, belonging as much to the sky as to the earth.

She imagines bustling Times Square under a pale blue sky, its symbolic importance as a high energy theatrical neighborhood indicated by the thick black lines that depict the jumble of the incongruent architecture. In her painting of Fifth Avenue, the expensive thoroughfare appears in all its sleek grandeur like a burnished corridor, glamorous and full of promise, disappearing into the horizon. Using reds and pinks, she alludes to the graceful architectural detail of Soho’s handsome buildings where art and commerce collide. And her depiction of historic, vibrant Little Italy, home to descendants of some of the city’s original immigrants, could be the setting for a rousing opera. In fact, each painting has a distinctive theatricality, like a stage set for innumerable human dramas.

Fanucci’s imposing Wall Street looks gothic in pale yellows and grays, more European than American. In her gold and gray painting of the venerable Stock Exchange, where money connects strangers around the world, she gives the structure a brooding quality beneath the American flag unfurled on its facade. Underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, with its slender graceful supports, she paints boats at rest, watched over by the benevolent icon, the sky fiery at sunset. Amazingly, in only 11 paintings, she is able to impart the true wonder of New York.

As inspiration for the series, she used photos from her travels to the city and postcards from friends, never sketching first but jumping right into the process, trusting her instincts, and painting layer upon layer to create an almost sculptural effect on her canvases. Dense, deeply felt, intriguing and masterfully painted, her cityscapes draw us in because of the passion with which they were created. “I hope people will be touched by my works and gain some peace from looking at them,” she says.

In addition, her luminous paintings of London, Paris and Florence will be shown in this exhibition.

—Valerie Gladstone
Valerie Gladstone writes about the arts for numerous publications, including The New York Times, ARTnews, Art and Auction and Art and Antiques.

This work represents a selection of paintings by California-based artist Layla Fanucci, depicting cityscapes based on postcards or photos sent her from far-off places by friends and family. Each painting, whether it represents San Francisco today, New York in the 1920s, or a small town in Italy, are icons of urban wonder seen through the lens of the “wish-I-was-there” desire of a painter in her studio. All of Fanucci’s cityscapes are edited in a manner which best captures the iconic element that identifies the site’s energy and “magic” as a place. In order to achieve this, Fanucci first lays down a base of color, then takes up black paint and spins out a web of interlocking lines and voids which compose a unique urban space, whether old or new world. The result in each canvas is a breathtaking tour de force in which the frantic energy of a wish remains fixed in the tactile speed of the painting itself.

Fanucci sets the tone for each essay in lines with a base of color, applied in oil paint, with expressive brushwork and even drips and other effects creating the desired moody setting. As a result, Paris can be muted and chilly in white, or warm and romantic in red, New York, as lifted from a postcard from the 1920s, warm and sepia, or cold and impersonal in blue or grey.

The great mystery of Fanucci’s work lies in the execution of the urban scene, most often in a single, several-hour long session. Once the color is set, Fanucci takes photo in one hand and brush in another, and sets off with lightning speed making endless difficult decisions at a moment’s notice throughout the non-stop process of creating her web of lines.

Also, while in reproduction Fanucci’s linearity looks light of touch, and almost printed, perhaps reminding one of Dufy or Roualt, seen up close and in person one can see that the mesh is constantly shaken by expressive outbursts, changes of pace or tone, and the instantaneous exercise of a keen intuition as to what is lasting or fleeting in a scene.

“Fanucci’s paintings are paradoxes in the best sense, strong visual presences, yet somehow immaterial, even dream-like. These paintings exist as evocations of places we inhabit.” In her own words, “these paintings embody my complex feelings about cities. I like their energy, accessibility, people, history, and architecture. I also find cities claustrophobic, with the sensory overload of too many people and too much going on. My paintings have the whole range of these feelings, all at the same time—my impression of that place.” Born in San Francisco in 1957, Layla Fanucci’s artistic talent was first expressed in music. Fanucci, along with her brother and sister, was encouraged by her parents to study multiple instruments, learning to play the piano, clarinet, and guitar. She went on to teach the guitar, putting herself through San Francisco State University by giving lessons. She pursued a degree in sociology, and graduated in 1980. Fanucci had married her husband Robert the previous year and in 1981 they moved with their infant daughter to New York City, where he attended law school, and where they had a second daughter. Four years later they also had a son. They returned to California after two years in New York, and eventually the family settled in St. Helena, in the Napa Valley, where Robert practices tax law and produces wine, and Layla has her painting studio.

video

The Fanuccis, their vineyard, and Layla’s art were featured in November, 2010 on CNN. A .

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