FRANCESCA DIMATTIO IN LONDON, OCTOBER 2015. PORTRAIT: ALEX FRANCO. STYLING: TEREZA ORTIZ. HAIR AND MAKEUP: ROSE ANGUS USING MAC COSMETICS AND BUMBLE AND BUMBLE.
Despite growing up in Chelsea, artist Francesa DiMattio didn’t encounter contemporary art until later in life. As a child, she did, however, frequent museums. “I would go home and made fake Jasper Johns’s when the Jasper Johns show happened, and I loved the Degas show at the Met,” she says over breakfast on a Sunday morning. “I just ate it all up, and whatever it was, I made versions of it.” Now, DiMattio creates ceramic sculptures that range from two to 10-feet tall and large-scale oil paintings, while dividing her time between the same Chelsea building in which she grew up, a studio space in Brooklyn, and a newly built home and studio in upstate New York.
Currently on view at Pippy Holdsworth gallery in London is “Confection,” the second show of works DiMattio made entirely in her new studio. The show expands upon the 34-year-old’s first sculpture-only show at Salon 94 in New York earlier this year through its presentation of whimsical and playful, yet hauntingly dark sculptures and paintings. One ceramic sculpture appears like a vibrant and elaborate cake with jarring juxtapositions of rough, guttural forms acting as icing. Similarly, Bloemenhouder II plays on the Dutch translation (“flower holder”) by directly referecning the forms of vases and their histories, while simultaneously carrying minature porcelain flowers and steel nails on its exterior surface.
“I look at so many different histories but was really inspired by the absurdity of Dutch tulip holders,” DiMattio says. “The pieces called Bloemenhouder normally have a double meaning, in that they can hold flowers and are inspired by vase shapes, but the structures also hold hundreds of flowers because of the way they’re encrusted.”
Her interest in Dutch vases and their transformation reflects the artist’s practice as a whole. As a Cooper Union (BFA) and Columbia (MFA) graduate, DiMattio largely deals with the intersection of femininity, craft, and materiality—what can be done to change perceptions of the commonplace? Like Bloemenhouder has a dual meaning, so does “Confection:” a dish made with sweet ingredients, and alternatively, the action of mixing or compounding. Through combining various clays, presenting sculpture in conversation with painting, and compounding materials, DiMattio reimagines the mundane and reconfigures historical movements, ranging from Ming Dynasty ceramic engravings to Rococo floral patterns.
Late last month, we met the artist in New York, not far from the building she lived with her parents (who both immigrated to the U.S. at age six), where she still lives with her husband and soon-to-be-born son.
EMILY MCDERMOTT: In previous interviews, you’ve talked about the instability expressed in your work. Now, you just built a new home and studio, and you’re about to have a baby. Have you seen your life and work become more stable?
FRANCESCA DIMATTIO: My work hasn’t become more stable yet. I think adding the upstate thing—having two studios, two houses—has actually kind of thrown up our routine a bit. But once our neuro pathways adjust to this new rhythm, I think we’ll find a new sense of stability. Upstate is wonderful and I love the ruggedness it’s brought to my life—I’m really different up there. I work on the land and grow vegetables; there’s a lot of dirt and there’s a lot of physical behavior, but there isn’t enough range, culturally. I would never be happy up there full-time.
MCDERMOTT: You were born and raised in New York. What keeps you here?
DIMATTIO: I grew up in Chelsea and I never really left; I live on the fourth floor and grew up in the basement [of the same building]. The range that you see everyday in terms of cleanliness and filth, high and low and cultures—I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Even London was too clean. I love taking the subway to go to the studio and seeing a huge mix. You look up and the ceiling is falling down with layers of dirt. There are parts that almost take the filth to a sculptural place. I’m really uncomfortable in places that don’t have [the range]. From growing up here, I get really uneasy when it’s not there.
MCDERMOTT: Were your parents artistic?
DIMATTIO: They were. If they had parents that made t