To hell and back

Michelle Gagliano and Stuart Gunter’s collaborative reinterpretation of Dante’s Inferno is featured in a virtual artist talk and happy hour hosted by the Gallery at IX on December 3 at 5pm. Photo courtesy of the artist Michelle Gagliano and Stuart Gunter’s collaborative reinterpretation of Dante’s Inferno is featured in a virtual artist talk and happy hour hosted by the Gallery at IX on December 3 at 5pm. Photo courtesy of the artist

Years before the 2020 pandemic, artist Michelle Gagliano developed a fascination with Dante’s Inferno and set out to interpret each of the poem’s 34 cantos through one painting per week. She completed the project, and exhibited it in 2017. But as the virus and social and political unrest escalated this spring, the work called her back. She knew there was hope in Dante’s journey through hell, and she wanted to convey that to the modern world. Enlisting poet/musician Stuart Gunter to react to her work, Gagliano then combined Gunter’s prose with her paintings to create a book. Originally intended for her sons, the collection evolved into a playful, hopeful, reinterpretation of optimism, just like Dante’s quote: “I saw the beautiful things that the sky holds: and we issued out, from there, to see, again, the stars.” 

Michelle Gagliano: “My favorite during this period of a boiling political climate is Canto 12, ‘Violence Against Neighbors,’ or ‘Neighbors Against Neighbors.’ The image portrays two couples staring at each other, one sitting on a big lawn mower, their chins jutted out with angry faces and attitudes. Suburban anger. I painted the background with an image of a clogged artery, thinking how internally toxic we’ve become. Dante traveled inward to self-reflection, and part of that means confronting issues clogging us all.”

Stuart Gunter: “I think the whole idea is a testament to Michelle’s artistry—as far as we can determine, she is the first female artist to reinterpret Dante’s Inferno. Her whimsical but intense treatment of each canto really makes me think hell is all the more beautiful and all the more daunting. I think ‘An Everlasting Quarrel’ (Canto 30) is pertinent these days—it puts me in mind of a story I recently heard about a Nelson County octogenarian discussing the fact that if anyone stepped onto her property to install the pipeline that was recently defeated, she would simply shoot them.”

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