We asked and you delivered: Reviewing a work of art

Describe, interpret, evaluate.

Those are the three steps Nancy Gebhart suggested in a  guest commentary article last month to help understand works of art. And on the eve of our first Clay & Milk event that’s aimed to connect the artistic and technological communities, we wanted to share the submissions we’ve received from artist Christopher Chiavetta’s painting Mineralization.

A professor, gallery director, startup guru and machinist all weighed in with reviews of various lengths but one thing was made clear: the ability to think critically and voice a point of view, lies within us all.

The invitation still stands to submit your review. We hope to see you Friday after work at Cocktails & Critiques

Mineralization by Christopher Chiavetta


Dale Sonney: Code Machinist and Shift Union Steward at GE Transportation.

“I am not much on abstract art, but this I love. It’s almost Seussical in appearance, a blend of unique shapes that I can see many possibilities in. The colors flow in a way that adds to the possibilities. The bold reds against the gentle yellows and pinks gives me a calm relaxed view, it lends to my wanting to seek out the mysteries hidden in every area of the canvas. Every time I view it I seek to see more — honestly one of the only abstract paintings I would own. The shading, the blend of colors, all lends to my perception of the wonders of this art and leaves me wanting more.”

Tej Dhawan: Startup advocate and member of the DSM startup community.

“Abstractions have a way of transporting you. 

The transporter took me at first glance to the island of St. Lucia where I had the luck of dining once on a hillside looking at the twin peaks of the Pitons. Though the experience is more than 20 years old, I vividly remember thinking of the beauty caused by the lava that must have once flowed on the emerald isle.

Mineralization is the memory realized. Memory of a lava flow forming the brown peaks in the background, the red and yellow fire of constructive destruction, the blackness of death hanging in the wake of the flow. The ocean peaking from behind is the forgiving reminder that the destruction will lead to stunning beauty for millennia hence.

Thanks for the trip.”


Benjamin Gardner: Artist, Associate Professor of Art and Design at Drake University.

“I heard a news story about the Great Barrier Reef and the reporter was surprised to find out from marine biologists studying the reef that the brightly colored reefs are actually in distress because of rising water temperatures and their bright colors are a sign that the coral is starving¹.

This story makes me consider Christopher Chiavetta’s painting Mineralization in its complexity of color and form as well its meaning. Chiavetta’s painting acts as a landscape and the size and scale of the painting make it spatially immersive. His color palette is subversive, containing bright pinks, yellows, and even gold in unison with heavy blacks and reds that appear like glaciers or geological formations. I find myself drawn towards the dark and neutral colors, as they serve as a shelter from the morphology of bright shapes. The subversiveness of bright pinks and yellows comes from the prominent feeling that Chiavetta is working to communicate a dystopian future – colors typically reserved for Spring make me contemplate current events like President Trump’s withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement and other dire news concerning the future of the environment.

Perhaps, too, I am informed by the art historical references that I bring to Chiavetta’s piece: I see a strong reference to Heironomous Bosch’s triptych Garden of Earthly Delights. Like the Bosch painting, Chiavetta is not representing the good, the bad, and the in-between but rather painting how these components form an existential wholeness. Even if we are experiencing “good” we are aware (if we choose to acknowledge it) that others are not as fortunate, and each moment holds the possibility of multiple states of feeling and being.

In this way Chiavetta’s painting is a testament to existential issues as well as his intentional use of the material of paint and brushes. It is clear that the process of making this painting involves development, questioning, editing, repainting, and active addition and negation of form and material.

Mineralization is a painting that relates the amalgamation of distinct parts of human experience, including environmental calamity, rest and shelter, sociopolitical foreboding, and fantastical space to the viewer.  Its constant push and pull provides a number of readings and changes, which is an amazing thing for a two-dimensional image to do.”

¹ Rob Schmitz, story for National Public Radio


Lesley Wright: Director, Faulconer Gallery at Grinnell College.

“There is a moment between sleep and awake when a dream almost make sense. The mind grasps at the images as they crumble, and the retelling of what happened is initially coherent. Christopher Chiavetta’s painting Mineralization lives in that space.

Chiavetta structures his canvas like a landscape. He provides an initial cinematic pull into the painting along a black road that dives into the lower middle of a jumbled pile of black, pink and red. Far above, as if on the top of a canyon wall, he offers hints of a white city, outlined in green sparkles, glinting in the sunlight. A different framing element anchors the right side of the canvas: a craggy mass, punctuated with glittering black. Like a landscape, the painting feels grounded at the bottom and lighter, more vaporous at the top.

But the center erupts into post-modern complexity. Fragments of images pull at our memory: is that a rabbit with a golden chest? A set of giant pink lips? A cartoonish eyeball? Is Chiavetta reveling in the act of pushing paint for its own sake? Or is he playing with an almost believable space, hiding what he started and leaving us guessing?

The colors, the allusions to cartoons, even the obscuring vapors all recall Chiavetta’s time spent in Japan: he calls up Manga or mannered clouds dividing an antique Japanese screen painting. But the push and pull of foreground and background, rendered with hot colors tempered by cooling blues or attacked with black slashes also harken back to the drama of Abstract Expressionism. Time, space and cultural references collapse upon themselves here.

Chiavetta’s tempting colors and dissolving forms tumble over one another in an unhealthy sort of manmade geology.  In his artist statement, he writes of end-of-the-world scenarios. Should our image-packed, plastic-coated culture collapse, we hope that nature will re-assert herself and hide our mess. Alas, Chiavetta suggests that instead, we will leave behind chaos coated in candy-colored goo. In Mineralization, he offers us a crazy beauty, the nightmare of our undoing.”