I purchased my first major artwork after seeing Gina Tuzzi’s solo exhibition, Pele and the Sensual World, at the Jen Tough Gallery last year. Much of Tuzzi’s work spoke to me, but in the end, I settled on the piece that I came back to time and time again: They Say That I Don’t Mourn Because They Don’t See Me Cry (La Luna Para La Llorona). La Llorona refers to a woman cursed to eternally wander and weep, looking for the children she murdered. I write more about the mythology of La Llorona and this painting and why it has haunted me in a personal essay that I'll publish next month.
I first encountered Tuzzi’s work in the gallery’s 2017 Guilty Pleasures group show and again later at New Lands, a pop up exhibit Tough held in the Dogpatch, San Francisco, which teased some pieces that would later appear in her solo show.
Tuzzi works in oil, acrylic, and mixed media to create vibrant, delicious deity pop art on paper and wood panels ranging in size from 26” x 36” to two 58”x 36” panel paintings of Tina Turner that, apropos of the diva, dominate the room.
Tuzzi’s mouth-watering, taffy-colored palette draws you to her work, a mystical pull toward the goddesses and women dominating each canvas. Coupled with album cover references, it’s a confectionary treat for the senses, evoking nostalgia without sentimentality. Part of what keeps Tuzzi’s work grounded is the elements she includes—birds of prey, archetypical goddesses, weeping women, divas—and the subject matter she paints. Tuzzi incorporates Christian folklore, spiritual, pop, and women’s culture to address how it feels to be a woman in today’s world. Her work is autobiographical and historical, highlighting an ancestral lineage of a communal female experience.
I considered the moments where bursts of emotionality were pacified, suppressed or tampered down gracefully as a sacrifice of emotional labor for someone else’s benefit. I imagined these collective feelings welling up inside, pressurizing and boiling deep within us, not unlike a dormant volcano. --Gina Tuzzi
An admitted audiophile, Tuzzi uses music as further inspiration, both visually and devotionally, by replicating album covers and placing them atop some of her paintings like altarpieces or prayer cards. Her paintings include text and lyrics that one could read as indulgences: repeat them for remission of the temporal punishment in purgatory that these “destructive” women inevitably suffer.
Tuzzi’s work allows for the reclamation of female power. It allows you to own the wholeness of womanhood without apology. From the declaration of “I regret my life won’t be long enough to make love to all the men I’d like to,” to Patty Smith’s “she is sublimation,” Tuzzi tells us to cheer up, sisters, and rise resurrected.