See this! Colorful tapestries that celebrate diversity and challenge concepts of gender

Leo Chiachio and Daniel Giannone pose with “Selva Blanca,” (White Forest), a triptych that took them three years to complete. In the upper corners are portraits of the artists as costumed monkeys. In the golden chair is their No. 1 dog, Piolin, now 15 years old.
Leo Chiachio and Daniel Giannone pose with “Selva Blanca,” (White Forest), a triptych that took them three years to complete. In the upper corners are portraits of the artists as costumed monkeys. In the golden chair is their No. 1 dog, Piolin, now 15 years old.
(Courtesy of Maurice Hewitt)

Argentina-based artists Chiachio & Giannone are in residence at Lux Art Institute through March 21


Leo Chiachio and Daniel Giannone use the quiet art of embroidery to make some noise. Their work spotlights family, societal norms, under-appreciated artists and the LGBTQ community.

The two Argentine artists live and work together, collaborating on every piece for the past 18 years. As artists, they are one, simply known as Chiachio & Giannone.

“Two people have become one person. Ourselves is myself,” Giannone said. “We are one artist with two heads and four hands.”

Their tapestries are all done by hand, created with small, precise stitches in a profusion of colors and often take years to complete. Mostly, they are self-portraits that include one of the family dogs. They have three miniature dachshunds ranging in age from 3 to 15. The imaginative, often humorous scenes are also filled with foliage and flowers and a menagerie of wildlife.

The pieces are their way of celebrating the non-traditional family and diversity and challenging society’s concepts of gender.

“The embroidered tapestries talk about family norms and breaking those traditional norms,” said Andrew Ütt, executive director of the Lux Art Institute in Encinitas.

Chiachio & Giannone’s work is currently on display at Lux. The two partners are also in residency there, creating smaller pieces at the gallery until March 21.

They will be concentrating on domestic items such as pillowcases and table runners, calling attention to the fact that most cultures consider embroidery and quilting women’s work. Their pieces also incorporate images from artists that have been underrepresented.

One of them is Sonia Delaunay, a textile artist and fashion designer from the first half of the 20th century whose work has been overshadowed by her husband, painter Robert Delaunay.

“I fell in love with her work in school,” said Chiachio, who studied at Argentina’s National Fine Arts School and Superior School of Fine Art. “When I saw the real thing, I really fell in love.”

Delaunay, Chiachio said, is part of their artistic family: “She did wallpaper, but she was also a very good drawer and painter. She’s like our grandmother.”

The avant-garde artist’s geometric patterns have also been incorporated in a massive, 9-foot-by-15-foot, three-panel piece titled “Selva Blanca” that was inspired by chinoiserie textiles, which first appeared in Europe in the 17th century. At the center is a dachshund on a rattan peacock chair. Chiachio and Giannone are in the upper corners, part human, part monkey.

“Humor for us is very important. We like to laugh at ourselves,” Giannone said.

The two met at an artist friend’s party in Buenos Aires. They were both painters at the time but decided to find something they could do together. Embroidery could be translated from painting, and it was also a bit out of the ordinary, especially for two men. It was political, they said, representing a new model for society.

“When we met almost 20 years ago, we wanted to discover a media that belongs to us,” Chiachio said.

“It’s like a painting, our embroidery, but it’s more exciting for us,” Giannone said. “We changed the brush for needle, thread and hoop. The concept is the same.”

All their work is completely collaborative, starting with the concept. If the piece is big enough, they work on it simultaneously. If it’s a smaller piece, one will pick up where the other left off, since they have multiple items in production at once. That process, they said, allows ideas to change and shift into a better result.

The pace of embroidery allows time for conversation. Lux visitors can come and share stories while the couple is working at the gallery. They are also welcome to bring in material that can be incorporated into the art.

“We have the opportunity to work together — like a performance,” Giannone said. “But people will see that it’s real work.” The exhibition also includes preliminary drawings that help illustrate the long process to a completed tapestry.

“It’s important to recognize that the creative process is not just about making,” Ütt said.

It involves time, concept studies, exhibition and preservation.

While the two artists are at Lux, they will hold a ceramics workshop for youths (another discipline they have adopted) and take part in a community outreach project called Latinx Construction, creating a flag combining the LGBTQ rainbow and the Chicano banners. It will be made from donated cloth.

Last year, during a residency at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, they helped construct a 120-foot-long rainbow flag for the Long Beach Pride parade. Museum visitors were invited to write messages on the hundreds of individual pieces.

“We were touched very deeply when making the flag. We talked to hundreds of people for input,” Chiachio said. “In this moment, we knew we were representing the voice of many people.”

Their voice as LGBTQ artists has been heard around the world. Their work has been displayed in museums and galleries around the globe, including China, France, Italy and the Philippines. They recently won the prestigious National Salon of Visual Arts First Prize in Argentina.

“I’m really excited by the fact that the artists are recognized by their community and are part of their community,” Ütt said. “They feel empowered to grow and create more. I feel like they have engaged their community all over the world.”

They’ve done it one stitch at a time, never losing their sense of humor.

“Otherwise, life would be too hard,” Chiachio said.

Chiachio & Giannone

When: In residence and on exhibit through March 21

Where: Lux Art Institute, 1550 S. El Camino Real, Encinitas

Tickets: Pay as you wish

Phone: (760) 436-6611


Schimitschek is a freelance writer.