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Bridging Art and Politics in Times of Crisis: a Conversation with Nic Galloro.

With his visual language, Nic Galloro channels ongoing concerns into a realm where creativity is both a mirror and a conduit. The interview uncovers the threads that intertwine art, activism, and personal experience, revealing the profound impact of artistic expression on raising awareness, fostering change, and inviting viewers to engage with the urgent matters that define our world.

2023-08-14

Joana Alarcão

In the complex and intricate tapestry we like to call contemporary art, certain artists employing non-traditional methods of creation use their creativity to create a discourse around current global pressing issues. In today's interview, we delve into the work of Nic Galloro, an artist who has harnessed his artistic language to tackle two pivotal concerns currently shaping our world: climate change and the pandemic.

 

Amidst the challenges of a global pandemic, Galloro's creative exploration took an introspective turn. At the onset, despondency gripped his creativity, rendering him unable to create. However, with the introduction of vaccines, Galloro took it as a glimmer of hope and revival, creating a series of works that were both an embodiment of the artist's emotions and also a critical discourse around societal atmospheres.

 

Galloro's artistic practice is a poignant testament to the power of art as a means of navigating and transcending challenging times. Serving both as a conduit between individual identity and collective forces.


Can you share more about how your artistic practice has evolved over time and the key influences that have shaped your work? 

The passage of time has played a part in what I choose to make. My very first artworks, as a child, were depictions of the world around me. I think that is a starting point for everyone; trying to understand things as they are seen. Into adulthood, my art making was based on formalism, which are very academically-oriented works that utilized the Elements of Design and other devices to construct a unified composition. In retrospect, it seemed the message took a second seat to the construction. Incidentally, water and organic forms that move through it were frequent vehicles of expression; I found them eloquent.


As I age, the idea of legacy has become relevant. I ask myself, what did I leave behind and what did I say? I realized that art can be a platform. The adage “A picture is worth a thousand words,” applies here. Then I had to ask myself, what are my biggest concerns. The environment is the answer and the politics that surround it.


Climate change and the pandemic are two urgent issues that drive your visual statements. Can you elaborate on how these themes are reflected in your artwork and the messages you aim to convey?

The environment is, to me, the most important issue facing human existence – if the air, water, and soil are spoiled – there is no other place to go. Pieces of plastic and other human-generated debris are used to make visual statements. When viewed in an art space or virtually, they describe nature and hint at the volume of the material discarded. They demand that we take notice of the volume and how it has become an integral, detrimental part of the environment.


The other issue was the Pandemic. I was angry and wanted to express those feelings. A series of Covid 19 cells were mockingly constructed while not forgetting the millions of lives lost to this menace. One of the cells was an effigy of the 45th American President who, in my opinion, grossly mishandled the mitigation of the disease. His very words are used in the title “ I’ll Go Away in a Week.”


Covid Multiverse Plastic Haywire by Nic Galloro. Image courtesy of Nic Galloro.

What inspired you to address plastic pollution, and how do you utilize your art to raise awareness and provoke meaningful discussions? 

As a youth, I believed in recycling. There was money to be made by finding empty soda bottles. I participated in the very first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. I was drawn to informational platforms concerning the subject of pollution. Because I live by the shores of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay, State of Maryland, USA, I physically see the plastics in the waters. The most startling vision was seeing floating wood and plastic debris behind the trapped waters of the Conowingo Dam a few miles away. When the floodgates were opened to release the excess water, a parade of plastic floated by. I think it was that vision that inspired me to create art that reflected that experience. My aim is to hear viewers remark on the appearance of excessive plastics and raise awareness.


The pandemic had a profound impact on all of us. Could you share how it initially affected your creativity and how you found solace and inspiration in exploring this theme through your artwork?  

The Covid 19 Pandemic had a monumental influence on me not only in my physical well-being but also in a metaphysical sense. During the Lockdown and before the advent of the vaccines, my creative spirit was crushed; I was unable to make art. With the arrival of this medicine, I felt saved and that there was hope for our collective survival. Reclaimed materials were used in the construction that were otherwise headed to a landfill. The actual disease was addressed visually by using medical syringes. The needles were replaced by carpentry finishing nails to avoid injury. They were symbols of the life-saving, in my opinion, vaccines. In my artworks, they fly through space to shatter the Covid 19 cell.

 


In Case of Pandemic by Nic Galloro. Image courtesy of Nic Galloro.

Your art serves as a powerful visual language to express ongoing concerns. Can you explain your approach to incorporating visual elements and symbolism to communicate complex ideas and engage viewers in meaningful conversations? 

I am intrigued by the idea of using reclaimed materials to make statements and the subsequent questions that follow. First of all, what is the definition of waste? Is any material truly finished with being useful after one application? I find within that labeled refuse, design qualities intended for a practical function, but, taken in our context, they become sculptural elements. A narrative dialogue emerges from these juxtapositions. As the viewer gazes at the assemblages, I would like them to consider what happens to objects that leave their hands. Can these objects be successfully recycled or relegated to an additional use? One of the devices that I use is multiple numbers in the amount of a particular item in one work. Several times during an exhibition featuring one of these works, I have overheard exclamations of surprise for them to see what discarded items can appear en masse. When that happens, I feel successful.


Can you tell us about one of your submitted works called Overflow? What was the motivation behind it and the final visual composition?   

Overflow is a visual exaggeration of plastics in the environment. It depicts an American Shad trying to navigate through a massive ocean of floating man-made debris. There is a secondary message here that refers to the aforementioned dam on the Susquehanna River in Maryland and Pennsylvania. That very dam, which holds back the floating plastic, also prevents Shad, and a few other types of fish, from completing their spawning cycles. They are unable to deposit eggs and milt upstream to perpetuate the following generations. This has led to a catastrophic decline in the species numbers. There is even a repercussion that affects self-centered human commerce: fisheries collapsed that previously supplied livelihoods to many.


Overflow by Nic Galloro. Image courtesy of Nic Galloro.

Managing an extensive fine art collection for a Florida bank corporation must have been a unique experience. How did that role impact your understanding of art, and did it have any influence on your own artistic creations? 

I was hired right out of graduate school to manage a corporate art collection for an aesthetically forward-thinking bank in Miami, Florida. There was an immediate transition from the academically oriented perspective of what art was to the application of art as a complement to workspaces. It is one thing to look at pictures of art in a book but quite another to hold the actual pieces in your hands. I felt like I was able to personally know works ranging from Warhol prints to Ikat tapestries.

My perspective of the art definition had changed. Also, this art had to exist in spaces where people may or may not have been familiar with the many forms of the corporate collection. One incident comes to mind: it involves Larry Rivers Boston Massacre print suite. I remembered learning about this work in my first year of study. I remembered thinking why was that work revered? Fast forward a few years into the corporate job. The bank acquired a suite of that work. An employee had pointed out that one of the prints in the series depicted a British Redcoat aiming a rifle at the viewer. It was positioned, absent-mindedly, by me at the exit of a copy room.

The employee expressed alarm upon leaving the room adding a question, was this really art? At that moment, I realized the change in my own perception. At that point, it was a valid work of art without question. From that experience, I learned to make my own work honestly.


How did your experience as a teacher inform your approach to creating and expressing yourself through art?  

Teaching seemed to be a natural solution to staying in the art world, especially if I wanted my own vision to be true, that is, I was not going to make work to please others for sale purposes. Though I thought my teaching role was to inspire students and offer technical solutions for them to complete their expression, I soon discovered that I learned as much from them as I thought I was teaching them. It was inspiring for me to witness what comes from the well-spring of wonder. I wanted to remember that feeling as I delved into my own work. 


Covid Tease by Nic Galloro. Image courtesy of Nic Galloro.

In your opinion, what is the role of artists and art in this movement forward for climate and social justice?

Artists, in my opinion, have always described the world around them. Images can be more powerful than words. Consider Picasso’s Guernica as an example of artistic, political activism. Now, the climate crisis is an existential threat to the world. The voice of the artist is needed more than ever. A visceral reaction to an image can be stronger than any other platform.


Lastly, are there any platforms, books, or artists that you would recommend to our readers? 

Two of the books that have made a significant impression on me, and consequently, my art-making are Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Thomas L. Friedman’s Hot, Flat and Crowded. Carson’s book discusses the powerful and often negative effects humans have on the natural world. Friedman’s book embraces the idea of Geo-Greenism to address the destabilizing effect of global warming. Coca-Cola and Plastic Waste/ DW Documentaries.  This is the definitive exposé on the global emergence of plastic containers and the pollution that ensued. The artist Christo Javacheff made a profound impression on me as a young man while working on his Surrounded Islands project in 1983. With his wife Jeanne-Claude, their art relied on developing high contrast between the engineered, man-made elements and the sites’ organic characteristics.


Cover image:

Cut the Flow by Nic Galloro.Image courtesy of Nic Galloro

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As an artist, my body of artwork ranges from still life drawings lovingly saved by my mother, made when I was five years old, to my recent sculptures exhibited stateside and internationally. After earning a BFA from the University of Florida I went on to receive my MFA at the University of Miami, both with a focus on ceramics and sculpture. Upon graduation, I managed a fine art collection of over 4500 pieces for a Florida bank corporation. I then moved to the Washington D.C metropolitan area, where I taught a variety of art courses at all levels, from elementary through community college for 20 years. Although these were full time jobs, it was always important for me to continue creating and expressing myself through art. While I am still a member of The Washington Sculptor Group, I have since retired from teaching and moved to Havre de Grace, Maryland, where I share a studio with my wife. Urgent concern for pollution and climate change issues now drive my work.

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