The art of embroidery goes back thousands of years to ancient China and the Middle East, with recent discoveries of hand-stitched clothing from the Cro-Magnon era suggesting origins around 30,000 B.C. But if you’d like to have a look at what’s happening in the world of contemporary embroidery, drop in at Lux Art Institute to see what the current artists-in-residence, Chiachio & Giannone, a dynamic duo from Argentina, are doing with their brilliantly imaginative portraits in thread.
Daniel Giannone learned hand embroidery as a child in convent school and then moved on to painting. Leo Chiachio developed his interest in art school and learned what he could from embroidery books and magazines. Once the two got together, adopted a dog and created a family, the pieces they produced became more and more sophisticated. For 20 years now, they’ve been expanding the limits of embroidery, using different threads and stitches to achieve striking effects on vintage fabrics they collect from friends and flea markets and often hand-print themselves.
“We’re giving a second life to old materials,” Giannone said. “Each fabric has a story, and we recuperate it.” And Chiachio added: “We were painters, and we’re translating the idea of painting into embroidery.”
Their work is labor-intensive, but it’s a labor of love, and the process is fully shared, from the initial sketches and their transfer onto fabric to the painstaking stitchery, all of which can take months, sometimes years, of nine-hour days. They have some assistants, but everything they do is created by their own four hands. Many of the pieces are family portraits, depicting themselves in various guises, sometimes including one of their three miniature dachshunds and their late British cat.
“We are a couple in art and in life,” said Giannone, and Chiachio filled in the details: “We work in our house in Buenos Aires, our home is our studio, and we want to share our life and babies and friends and embroidery and cooking. We don’t want to separate life and art.”
During their two-month stay at Lux, they will be using the gallery as their studio, inviting visitors to share their process. They’ll be working on their “Pared Bordado” (Embroidered Wall), a collection of small pieces honoring women artists who were never really recognized in their time.
“We’re making a visible tribute to modern artists who were invisible because they were women,” said Chiachio. “And the installation is never-ending, we keep discovering new artists all the time. They’re gone, but we feel so close to them, it’s like a solidarity.”
Both artists love connecting with people, and they’ll be doing a lot of that at Lux: working with ceramics students, LGBTQ and Latinx groups, and welcoming gallery visitors three days a week. They’ll also welcome old fabrics you might want to donate—pillowcases, tablecloths, anything at all. Whatever you bring could wind up transformed on their Pared Bordado.
Chiachio & Giannone have shown around the world and had residencies in France, Shanghai and, most recently, the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, Calif. Now that they’re here, don’t miss meeting them, hearing the stories behind their embroideries and getting up close enough to admire their stitchery.
IF YOU GO: Chiachio & Giannone
In studio through March 21.
Visitor hours: Thurs/Fri, 1-5 pm; Sat 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Lux Art Institute, 1550 South El Camino Real, Encinitas
Art & Stories, with Storytellers of San Diego. Feb. 7, 6-9 p.m. Stories start at 7 p.m.
Art & Music, with Kontras Quartet. Ensemble-in-Residence at Art of Elan.
Feb. 13, 6-9 p.m. Meet the Artists reception, followed by hour-long concert at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $20-$50. Visit art-of-elan.ticketleap.com/lux/