John Giorno on show at Thomas Brambilla Gallery in Bergamo
Thomas Brambilla Gallery is thrilled to present a solo exhibition featuring the renowned American artist and poet, John Giorno (1936-2019), titled “Floral Reveries,” set to open its doors on December 15, 2023.
Crafted in the late 2000s, Giorno’s series, aptly named “Floral Reveries,” finds its roots in his 2004 poem “Embracing the Blossoms” and a corresponding collection of prints. Transcending traditional boundaries, Giorno translated poetic verses such as “butter-baptized daffodils,” “poppies brimming with narcotic delights,” and “razor blade cherry blossoms” into visually stunning poetic paintings.
These Floral Reverie paintings not only uphold the classical Western tradition of the “Still Life” but also draw inspiration from the Chinese artistic genre of “Flowers & Birds” paintings and Japanese haikus. Rejecting figuration, Giorno allocates the entire canvas to a handful of carefully chosen words, their meanings weaving an allusive tapestry. The artist elevates his written expressions through luminous, gleaming, and radiant colored surfaces. These succinct flower poems transcend mere literal interpretation, encouraging contemplation of life’s cycles and impermanence—birth, death, and reincarnation.
Giorno’s works not only underscore the potency of language but also evoke the distinction between the written and spoken word. A lifelong performer, Giorno used the nuances of his voice to imbue his words with layers of depth and complexity, and these painted words resonate with the visual cadences and tones of a spoken voice.
The Floral Reverie paintings also echo Giorno’s fascination with Buddhist spirituality. In the Buddhist context, flowers often serve as offerings to those who have achieved enlightenment, symbolizing the beauty, purity, and harmony of the path to enlightenment. However, Giorno’s artistic interpretation fuses this Buddhist “purity” with an American pop/punk sensibility, characterized by vibrant and daring colors and words that reflect his contemporary context.
In this manner, John Giorno’s works metamorphose into a celebration of the dualities of human existence, where language and form meld into a vibrant kaleidoscope of colors and meanings. They beckon viewers to ponder the fleeting nature of life, providing a distinctive viewpoint on the intersections of spirituality, pop culture, and the essence of art.
John Giorno (1936-2019) was a poet, performer, visual artist, and a devoted practitioner of Buddhism in the Tibetan Nyingma lineage. He was also the founder of the non-profit organization Giorno Poetry Systems, which remains active today. By 1963, he had firmly established himself in New York’s art scene, gaining recognition for his starring role in Andy Warhol’s five-hour film “Sleep.” This was followed by collaborations with luminaries such as Brion Gysin, Robert Rauschenberg, and Bob Moog, showcasing Giorno’s multidimensional artistic prowess.
Giorno’s impact extended beyond the realm of art into the sociopolitical sphere. His project Dial-A-Poem, initiated in 1968, garnered both acclaim and controversy for its selection of readings and speeches by poets and activists. Giorno’s unapologetic use of politically-charged and sexually explicit content aimed to draw attention to issues such as gay rights, police violence, and the Vietnam War.
His engagement with Buddhism deepened after a visit to India and Nepal in 1971, and in the 1980s, Giorno’s lofts at 222 Bowery became centers for Nyingma Buddhism practice. Throughout his career, Giorno actively promoted the work of others through Giorno Poetry Systems Records, which released numerous LPs, cassettes, videopaks, and CDs featuring a diverse range of artists. Additionally, the organization established the AIDS Treatment Project in 1984, providing crucial support for artists affected by the epidemic.
Even in his final years, Giorno continued to collaborate across various media with artists like Pierre Huyghe, Michael Stipe, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Ugo Rondinone. His extensive retrospective, “I ♥ John Giorno,” curated by Rondinone in 2015, and its reimagining in New York City in 2017 showcased the profound impact of Giorno’s work.
Giorno may have retired from performing in 2017, but his iconic poem prints, paintings, prints, and drawings continue to grace museums and galleries worldwide. His legacy lives on through the revival of Giorno Poetry Systems in 2023, under new leadership, with a renewed commitment to supporting LGBTQ+ artists, poets, and musicians through grants and curated events at 222 Bowery. John Giorno’s artistic journey remains an enduring testament to the power of words, the fusion of diverse influences, and a compassionate commitment to the artistic community.