Each week, we bring you the backstory of work featured in our collection, written by a member of our curatorial team.


Joanie San Chirico, Surge 4, Acrylic and thread on canvas

by Sara Robertson, Curator

The artist Joanie Gagnon San Chirico does most of her work from her studio in Toms River, New Jersey, her hometown on the Jersey shore. Not far from her is the bustling downtown of New York City, but when San Chirico looks out her studio window, her view is quite a different spectacle. She can see the woods—a view of grass, trees, water, birds and even the occasional deer who leisurely roams her lawn. She is surrounded by nature as she works, and is constantly inspired by it.

Her abstract canvases are covered in large patches of eye-dazzling colors found in nature—ocean blues, golden yellows, earthy reds and browns—that San Chirico first applies with acrylic paint, then etches intricate details to the surface. Her final process is to sew fine patterns of thread into the canvas, adding another level of dimension and depth to an otherwise flat surface. One’s first impression of San Chirico’s artwork is that she has a fantastical eye for beauty and her inspiration found in nature is translated in such a soothing way. The impulse to relate to San Chirico’s work, first, on an aesthetic level is something she encourages; but her aim is to lead viewers to a deeper experience—to examine, read about, and fully comprehend her art. For, while San Chirico is inspired by nature, she is perhaps more importantly inspired to create on behalf of it, and this is imperative to understand in order to really grasp the essence of her work.


Joanie San Chirico, Surge 1, Acrylic and thread on canvas

To many, art has served a purpose, throughout human history, of preserving our culture. For San Chirico, instead of preserving our culture, she creates her art with intentions of preserving humankind and the world that we inhabit. In fact, when taking San Chirico’s artistic intentions literally—her brightly colored acrylic actually represents the different algaes that infest our waters and land; the etched details are organisms that float in our waterways; the delicate threads are spores that grow and fester; although they look alluring as they are painted on a canvas, they are, in reality, deadly forces brought on by climate change and human ignorance. San Chirico hopes that her work, with its appeal and more importantly, it’s representation of nature, will raise our awareness of what happens to the world when we do not care for it.


Joanie San Chirico, Spores 5.2, Acrylic and thread on canvas

Speaking with Joanie, I became aware that her involvement in bringing awareness to earth’s preservation doesn’t end with her artwork, but is implemented into her daily life as well. She has witnessed, first-hand, what human error can do to the water’s that she lives by. For instance, harmful algae and spores have grown within the bay area that she lives in, due to recent, and drastic changes in the Earth’s climate. Earlier in her life, she saw the effects that a chemical spill had on the waterway’s in her hometown. It is through her art, that Chirico found an outlet to express what she had spent her life becoming aware of and advocating for. When I asked if she would want to work on any other subject, San Chirico said that she will always incorporate the theme of preservation in her work: “If we don’t start taking care of what we have, soon there may be nothing left”—Joanie Gagnon San Chirico


Joanie San Chirico, Floodplain 3, Acrylic and thread on canvas