Skip to main content

Antonietta Grassi awarded prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship

The Concordia alumna is the only Canadian among the 2024 fine-arts recipients
June 3, 2024
By Samantha Rideout, GrDip 10

multicolored geometric paintings displayed in an art gallery Three works from Grassi’s recent Zip Stack Flow exhibition | Credit: Paul Litherland

At first glance, the brightly coloured geometric paintings of Antonietta Grassi, BFA 94, appear purely abstract. But a closer look reveals that they often evoke textiles, machines, architecture or coded information.

The recurring fine lines that resemble woven fabric are no coincidence: Grassi’s mother was a garment worker and Grassi started out in the clothing industry as well. She was working as a colour researcher, textile designer and fashion designer when she decided to enroll in art-history night classes at Concordia.

“I’ve always loved the arts, but back then, I didn’t know that becoming an artist was an actual career path,” she recalls. “I was just taking those courses for myself.”

Grassi enjoyed her studies so much that she negotiated with her employer to get a day off each week in exchange for less pay. This allowed her to start taking studio art classes, before committing to a new path, becoming a full-time student in Concordia’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program.

It’s a time that she remembers fondly. “My teachers were all amazing,” she says. “They were all very well-known as practicing artists, but they made themselves accessible to students.”

In particular, she got to know Yves Gaucher, one of Canada’s leading abstract painters of the 20th century. “After graduating, I stayed in touch with him,” she says. “And he became my mentor until he passed away in 2000. He would come to my studio and we would have great conversations about art. I was lucky to have that: it was like a continuation of my Concordia experience.”

Grassi says Gaucher influenced her process, an intuitive approach that tends to result in work that is orderly yet expressive. “He would always say, ‘It’s not what you want; it’s what the painting wants,’” she explains. “I might start off thinking I’m going do one type of painting, and then that painting evolves as I ‘listen’ to it. It’s a push and pull that might end up somewhere surprising.”

A woman with long brown hair wears a black top with a silver necklace and is standing in front of her artwork, which features horizontal lines in various various shades of red and pale yellow Now entering the third decade of her career, Grassi has a busy year ahead that will include a residency at the International Studio & Curatorial Program in Brooklyn, New York, and a solo show at the Musée des Beaux Arts de Sherbrooke in Quebec. | Credit: Ottawa Art Gallery at City Hall

Drawing connections

This year, Grassi joined eminent artists such as Miriam Schapiro and Jacob Lawrence by becoming a Guggenheim Fellow. These awards are offered to exceptional scholars and creators “under the freest possible conditions,” to honour their past accomplishments and encourage their future potential. This means the funds aren’t tied to any specific project.

Although Grassi can’t predict everything she will do in the months ahead with support from the fellowship, she is currently finalizing a public art piece — a colourful cascade on glass for Montreal’s revamped women’s YWCA — and bidding on another one. She’s also collaborating on a monograph of her work and preparing for several new exhibitions, including The Theory of Networks, an all-female, interdisciplinary group show examining the nature of connectivity.

Connections are a recurring theme in Grassi’s paintings, which often find ways to tie past technologies, spaces and women’s work to the present. One of the relationships that has inspired her is that between weaving and computer code: early computer programs were inspired by the Jacquard loom, a machine that used punched cards to produce woven designs.

Grassi’s work has also explored the links between the generations, and she’s cognizant of her own connection to previous generations of artists. “Historically, there have been a lot of strong abstract painters here in Montreal,” she says. “They include Guido Molinari, Yves Gaucher and Jean McEwen, who were among my teachers at Concordia.”

“My professors modelled a seriousness and a lifetime commitment to their art practice,” adds Grassi, who follows their example by making time for painting or sketching nearly every day, even though she also teaches. “Observing the kind of lives they lived was a huge influence, and one of the reasons why Concordia was quite defining for my development as an artist.”

Back to top

© Concordia University