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The News Press, Ft. Myers, FL; 2002

Artist's Dreams Come Alive

Irene Gennaro's inspirations come to her in the middle of the night

By Miriam Pereira

If only the rest of us could conjure the images that New York artist Irene Gennaro dreams.

Exotic, if not surrealistic, birds, trees, eyes. arms, skulls and other objects that are common yet have diverse meanings for each of us.

Oh, and the colors that come forth — cobalt blues, fiery reds, pale pinks, emerald greens, aluminum leaf shiny as quicksilver.

The shapes and hues all come to life on pieces of rough or knobby oak, poplar, ash, cherry and other woods in Gennaro's engrossing figures, 41 of which are on exhibit at Edison Community College's Gallery of Fine Art in the show "Dream Streams and Ex Votivés".

The exhibition which continues through Sunday, Dec. 8, spans the last 15 years of Gennaro's career, including pieces from her series "Spirit Messenger," "Dream Works," "Ex Votive" ind "Dream Catch."

"The ideas come from my dreams and visions. They are very personal, and they come out of my subconscious," says Gennaro, who's been carving for 30 years.

The method like a well leading her somehow to produce archetypal images that resonate with people no matter their cultural backgrounds.

One viewer may see links to Latin American folk art, while another may interpret Indian imagery.

"These things, they span the globe," she says. "They're part of the human condition."

Gennaro tried painting, drawing, working with papier-mache.

But nothing clicked.

Then, carving came to her the way her images do.

"In the early '70s, I was doing sonic reading on Tibetan Buddhism. I had an awareness that came over me, that I should be carving, I don't know exactly where it came from." she says.

Maybe her father?

Corrado Gennaro was a Sicilian stone carver. He brought his trade with him to New York in 1934 but couldn't find work in the midst of the Great Depression so he made a living as a master plasterer.

"He could do anything," Gennaro says.

When Gennaro was 16, her father died, leaving a void that was filled with "dreams and visions," she describes in the catalog for the exhibition "Irene Gennaro: The Responsibility of Dreams."

Working from sketches that she doesn't always follow, Gennaro carves the wood into long twists, rough knobs and wispy edges.

"You have to think ahead all the time. It's a reductive process," she explains. "You have this object and you have to imagine what it will be. You can't put the wood back. It's very much problem solving."

Gennaro's figures range from about 10 inches tall to looming ones that are 9 to 10 feet high. Many, though, are about 6 feet.

She carves the larger ones — such as "Sanctuary," an intricate work that touches on life, death and redemption against an electric blue setting of tropical vegetation — in separate panels and pieces.

The work jolts to life with paints.

"This is just an eye she has," says Ron Bishop, gallery curator. "And they don't feel painted, not at all. Where'd she find blue wood?

"You're engrossed by the piece, and then you start to take in how she made the piece," Bishop says.