One reason this column is named “Creative Hands of Mexico” is because I regularly run into creative work that spans outside of the traditional notion of “handcrafts” into design, art and other disciplines. The work crosses lines because it either has a “popular” aspect (as in popular culture) and/or objects of a utilitarian nature. I also run into foreigners who have made important contributions to Mexico’s creative culture.
Laura (or Lao) Gabrielli was born in Buenos Aires in 1971. She is absolutely a visual artist rather than an artisan, but some of her life and works share aspects with fine handcrafts and their makers.
She did not initially train as an artist, rather studying architecture, design and urbanism at the University of Buenos Aires. As a creative endeavor, architecture has both aesthetic and practical considerations, much like a good craftsman does. Later, she studied painting and painting restoration in her home country, then participated in art seminars in Argentina and New York.
Gabrielli came to Mexico in 2009 with her family. It was decided that Mexico could provide better economic opportunities for the family, in part because her husband already had a brother with a business here. Since negotiated compromise to come, the move left her disconnected and unsure of what path she should take. She knew absolutely no one here. She had some background working in fashion design, especially traditional Argentinian clothing, and furniture restoration, but all that stopped when she moved to Mexico. It was an abrupt change, and she found herself with little to do, as 9-to-5 jobs held no interest.
Her story began to change when Gabrielli decided to study Italian, meeting Italian-Mexican artist Luciano Spano and museographer Mercedes Auteri. With them and others, she began to connect with Mexico’s fine artists community… a move that allowed her to find her niche here in this country.
Although Gabrielli had some traditional artistic training, she began to question her work, she decided that she needed to draw upon all of her previous experience, being drawn to design, functionality and structure of the Bauhaus tradition. She experiments with both two and three dimensional works and with various kinds of materials, from the traditional canvas to those not ordinarily associated with artwork such as acrylic and mirrors. Today, her work is heavily abstract and geometric.
Much of the artist’s work is heavily dominated by the placement of lines, with the idea that the movement of the onlooker creates changes in the piece and completes the experience. Gabrielli wants her work to draw in the spectator… to participate in it. Vivid colors are an essential part of her work, an aspect she credits to Mexican influence. This influence can be traced back to one of her first exhibitions, featuring canvases inspired the designs of traditional Mexican textiles, especially weaving on backstrap looms. She has also been fascinated by Mexico’s seeming obsession with skulls in both fine and popular art.
Gabrielli finds Mexico to be an extremely creative country, although the art scene can be very competitive. Although her Mexico stay started off rough, she now has no plans to return to Argentina as she has a career and is comfortable here. She has had three individual exhibitions: two in 2017 in Miami, Florida and the Alianza Francesa in Mexico City and an upcoming exhibition in 2019 at the Argentine embassy of Mexico.
Gabrielli’s canvas works are most definitely abstract art in the classic sense of the word. But it is the mirror and acrylic light works that are more interesting from a handcraft fan’s point-of-view. These works really show her penchant for design. They also seem far better suited to home or office space rather than to a museum. Like fine handcrafts, one must spend more time understanding the piece to fully appreciate it. Both require that the onlooker check the craftsmanship of how the work is put together. Both require that the onlooker spend significant time checking it out from various perspectives.. not just once the way most museum visitors are limited to, but in multiple occasions. These pieces are best appreciated taking short looks at them passing by on different days on the way to do different things, as one would do in a home or home office.
All photos courtesy of the artist, featured image of skull for the Mexicraneo project 2017