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Under Construction

Conceptual Painter Theresa Giammatei Explores the Quirkiness of Life Through Her Artwork

Theresa Giammatei headshot
Theresa Giammatei

The wrenches, pliers, and screwdrivers in Theresa Giammatei’s paintings almost leapt off the canvas at me. I was intrigued by how her art focused on building, construction, and repair, rather than presenting perfectly polished sensuous human forms, mythic creatures, or soaring natural scenes. These unusual subjects drew me in and inspired me to contact her for this TrooRa Magazine’s women’s issue. 

As I looked further into her portfolio, I saw that several of her artistic collections depicted tools, whether for the laboratory or the kitchen, home, or garden. She explains that some of these pieces reflect how following scientific research and cooking for her loved ones helped her stay sane during the pandemic. 

Mental Health and Neurodiversity

Giammatei also incorporates images of tools and building equipment into paintings of DNA and brain matter in her mental health collection, conveying that each of us, and our mental health, are “under construction.” 

Mental health and the brain are particular interests of Giammatei, as she crafts neurons and synapses as well as molecules such as caffeine that act on our brains. She has also proudly taken part in exhibitions that advocate neurodiversity, the acceptance of diverse brain types, and ways of thinking. 

Giammatei says we are all “born with differences, superpowers, ailments, and genetic issues. [We should] use whatever tools we need to adjust ourselves to whatever spectrums we are on.” 

This philosophy shows up in her felt illustrations of the substances delivered through mental health medications such as Ritalin, “Take Them If You Need Them,” and her DNA images, “Don’t Let Genetics Get You Down.” 

Comparing mental health care to other sorts of repair de-stigmatizes mental health issues. And, by mentioning “differences” and “superpowers” alongside “ailments,” Giammatei signals that her work acknowledges the perspectives of those who feel their brain differences are simply natural human variations as well as those who see themselves as suffering from illness. 

teresa giammatei biohazard
Theresa Giammatei- Biohazard

The language she uses highlights her belief that mental healthcare should be about individual people working with their bodies and brains to build lives that work for them rather than meeting a single standard of “functioning.” 

In keeping with the concept of personal choice and self-definition, she places a representation of an estrogen molecule at a table setting, showing that we should be able to show up and make sense of gender in whatever way works for us. 

Cultural and Biological Diversity

Theresa Giammatei- Synaptic Silk Moth
Theresa Giammatei- Synaptic Silk Moth

Respect for diversity is a thread that runs through much of Giammatei’s work, although occasionally subtle. 

Her inspiration for painting the large telescope at the Lick Observatory, besides a fascination with science, was to celebrate and illustrate how we all look at the world from different vantage points and perspectives. Another large acrylic—of the U.S.S. Midway aircraft carrier bridge—which she created for the Midway Museum is entitled “There’s Room to Help Steer,” and Giammatei interprets it as a call for people to work together. 

She has created acrylic paintings of ants, flies, beetles, and silk moths and botanically accurate cards with mushroom images, spotlighting unique and less commonly photogenic creatures to reflect her fascination with the variety of life on earth. 

Nature, Ecology, and Technology

Giammatei’s nature and ecology-inspired paintings also touch upon environmental themes, such as species extinction, and suggest that humans can become a biohazard when we do not treat nature with respect. Other “biohazard” themed works ask us to think about the risks we pose to our food supply through pesticides or other contamination. 

Other paintings look at our relationship to technology, exploring how we mediate our experience of the wilderness through social media or how artificial intelligence may eventually interpret and categorize human beings. There’s a winged sculpture hooked up to a fan echoing the Greek myth of Icarus, questioning whether our tech has empowered us to fly too close to the sun and thus fall to our destruction, and a metallic-colored “altered diary” with commentary suggesting that we lose some control of our personal narratives when they become completely digital. 

Theresa Giammatei- Ant
Theresa Giammatei- Ant

The tech-themed works include a version of children’s classic Goodnight Moon that is made to look digitized, reflecting on the changing nature of our early experiences. 

Other pieces touch on children’s literature, some with more whimsy than social critique. She crafted gilded binoculars that incorporate pages of E. Nesbit’s The Magic City and another piece inspired by the Edward Lear poem The Owl and the Pussy-Cat. 

At Home With Works Gallery

theresa giammatei startup art fair
Theresa Giammatei- Startup Art Fair

Giammatei is a proud member of many galleries and nonprofit art organizations around the San Francisco Bay Area and the world. One of these is Works Gallery in San Jose, CA, a nonprofit art and performance center that focuses on celebrating the process of art creation as much as the finished product and encourages its residents and visiting artists to take creative risks. 

Works accomplishes these goals by hosting professional development classes and networking events for artists creating with various media. It is in line with Giammatei’s aesthetic, which emphasizes how we, ourselves, as well as the rest of the natural world, are continually under construction. 


TROORA MAGAZINE | MAY 2023
WRITTEN BY CRISTINA DEPTULA
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THERESA GIAMMATEI

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