Review: Homesick for Daniel Chiaccio’s world

The Hollow Earth, Daniel Chiaccio. Photo: Gina Beavers

“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul — and sings the tunes without the words — and never stops at all,” wrote Emily Dickinson, the grande dame of poetry.

And down a bit from the hustle and bustle, Hope and Feathers Custom Framing and Art Gallery sits quietly in close proximity to Emily Dickinson’s stately homestead on Amherst’s Main Street.

The glass frontage leaves little mystery as to what’s inside: A cozy little business offering custom framing, fine art, and archival printing.  Small and intimate, the retail space is artfully divided between the art gallery, the business of framing, and a small selection of prints to purchase.  

The bulk of the action, however, is in back where the framing and printing happen. Hope and Feathers, therefore, is a perfect blend of art and craft.

Printmaking, too, is the perfect blend of art and craft, and Daniel Chiaccio’s upcoming exhibit Homesick for the Unknown: Memories of places you’ve never been, perfectly compliments Hope and Feathers’ melange of beauty and diligence.

“I love how the process is just as important as the product. When you are a printmaker you find yourself immersed in many roles,” Chiaccio says. “One can be an artist, craftsman, and scientist simultaneously.”

As a matter of fact, the fascinating thing about printmaking is that the final print seems a mere byproduct of the actual art. The steps involved in creating the plates that are transferred onto paper is the most laborious step in the process.

Chiaccio, who earned his BFA at the New Hampshire Institute of Art, produces copper intaglio (an incised or engraved design) prints; copper is easier to work with and allows for greater detail and texture. Notwithstanding, there is nothing easy about the process. The copper plates are first coated in wax, or ground, then lines of the image are incised into a metal plate with a sharp tool to create the image.  A coat of ink is applied and forced into the incised grooves.

Once fully covered, the remaining ink is wiped away, leaving only the inked grooves. The plate and paper are then hand rolled through a press, forcing the transfer of the plate’s inked image onto the paper. It’s art for the patient, but the product is worth the wait.

Monochromatic printmaking has an innately apocalyptic feel; there’s a severity that is difficult to soften even with subject matter, and Chiaccio’s worlds are scrappy, dark, and hardscrabble. There are no soft edges.  His subjects — tattered windmills, bikes, dilapidated buildings — are heavy and dense.

But Chiaccio wants viewers to immerse themselves into his images, and given the title of his show, he wants them to feel at home in the unknown. He admits, however, that the worlds he creates are “in a way that looks amateurish and rough.”

“Normally,” he says, “this would make the viewer approach the setting as uneasy or dangerous but the way I capture the wonder and creativity of the setting makes it appear as pleasant and fascinating.”

Indeed, Chiaccio’s worlds are fascinating. They are largely airborne, and there is a building up of structures and elements that defies gravity and the weight of the ink.

Mainstay, by Daniel Chiaccio. Photo: Gina Beavers

In his pieces Where I want to Live and Mainstay, Chiaccio dreams of a floating home; reminiscent of Passion Studio’s animated video for the Gorillaz’s Feel Good Inc.  His illustrations are quiet and dark, atmospheric and magical.  

There are no people, plants, or animals in Chiaccio’s prints, for “people, animals, or any clear indication that the settings in my prints are occupied are absent for a reason,” he says. “I want the viewer to immerse themselves into the work and spend time studying the print.”

Chiaccio’s prints have a vitality and a multi-dimensional quality not captured in photographs. Up close and in person, the viewer is necessarily drawn into the images; the examination of varying weights of the ink and the whole gestalt are riveting. He is a highly skilled illustrator whose attention to detail is impressive.

Variations in crosshatch patterns give the engravings intricacy and depth, and one cannot help but wonder what the copper plates themselves look like. They are, without a doubt, works of art in their own rights.

Fortunately, Chicaccio will lay bear the entire process at his show; the plates will also be on display at Hope and Feathers.

“This just might be my first proper solo show,” Chiaccio tells followers on his Instagram account. Homesick for the Unknown promises to be outstanding.

Chiaccio’s opening reception will be Thursday, June 7, 5-8 p. m., during Amherst Arts Night. His artist reception will be on Saturday, June 9,  4:30-6:30 p.m.

Author: Gina Beavers

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