Studio Inside: Artist Giuseppe Albi sees his studio as a place of joy

By Janice Ryan, Edmonton Journal April 5, 2013

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Abstract artist Giuseppe Albi in his studio on March 13, 2013 in Edmonton Photograph by: Greg Southam, Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON – For artist Giuseppe Albi, having a studio is a way of life. In fact, Albi has had a place to explore and experiment, to contemplate and reflect, for 44 of his 66 years.

Born in Grimaldi, Italy, Albi came to Edmonton as a young boy. He loved to draw and went on to study at the Alberta College of Art in Calgary (1966-68) and Quebec’s L’Ecole des Beaux Arts (1968-69).

Albi secured his first studio — it doubled as his living space — in a commercial building in Montreal in 1969. The following year he moved to London, England, where a wee bed-sit served as a studio and his oil paintings were tucked beneath the bed.

Six months later Albi relocated to Amsterdam. This time his studio, tucked inside a gable-roofed building, was separate from his living space down the hall.

The cramped reality of a four-by-five-foot studio didn’t daunt his artistic process or output. He landed his first solo exhibition that year.

A year-and-a-half later, Albi moved back to London and celebrated a second solo show in Edinburgh, Scotland.

In 1974, he returned to Edmonton and rented a studio on Rice Howard Way. There were no windows — not ideal for an artist — but it was a place to make art.

He eventually moved to a commercial building on the south side, the drawback here being low ceilings. Albi remembers breaking light bulbs as he turned his eight-foot paintings so the freshly applied paint could drip and run around the canvas.

Then, there was the west-end warehouse. The studio flooded during the devastating Black Friday tornado in 1987.

Moving a studio is disruptive, labour-intensive, time-consuming and expensive but an inevitable reality for artists as buildings are sold, repurposed or demolished.

In 2007, Albi found the perfect studio on 109th Street and 107th Avenue, a space he describes as his most “sophisticated,” referring to the glorious afternoon light that pours in through a bank of windows along a 40-foot wall.

The space is truly an artist’s dream come true: spacious enough to allow for large-scale work; oodles of natural light; quiet; and centrally located. Oh, and high ceilings.

Though economic struggles can be an artist’s reality, Albi made having a studio a priority.

“I’d budget and make it work,” says Albi. “There were times when basically, I would just barely make it, but I would make sure I covered all of my studio expenses.”

Boundless drive and passion intrigue me. What keeps that ember burning?

“Very early on I felt that making art was my life’s work, so it had to be done,” Albi says.

“And I very much believe that you are only going to be here once, certainly in this consciousness, and I really wanted to take advantage of that opportunity and to make art. I mean, if I didn’t make it, it would be a missed day, so it’s important that I worked and that I worked regularly. I believe that the only non-renewable resource in life is time, and once it is spent, it is spent.”

Alongside his studio practice, Albi had a successful career as a consultant, producer and project developer for organizations such as Events Edmonton, Taste of Edmonton and The Works Art and Design Festival. Throughout the years, his commitment to scheduled studio time was staunch — weekdays 7 to 9 a.m. and weekends. No nights?

“I find that you need to get away from your work, you can’t be around it all the time,” he says. “I don’t even have many paintings at home because you have to empty yourself of it.

“Part of the process of making abstract art is that every time you finish a painting, you almost have to forget how to paint. To me, there has to be a sense of discovery in the new work.”

Albi’s roots are in action painting or abstract expressionism, rich in colour and mark making.

Since retiring last August, he’s in the studio six mornings a week, working on up to seven paintings.

“This studio is full of joy for me. When I come in and close the door, I completely separate myself from the world,” he says. “I don’t paint to music. My studio is very much a place of quiet and meditation and prayer for me.”

The 1,100-square-foot area is divided into three rooms: a gallery at the entrance; an office and clean area for stretching canvas; and a great room filled with work tables, a long bench stacked with brushes, palette knives, trowels and a rainbow of paints and gels; and storage racks for pre-stretched canvases. A separate 300-square-foot storage room holds the finished work.

Albi describes his studio as an “extension” of himself. A carpenter’s son, he handmade everything to be ergonomic, functional and space efficient. Tables for example, are on wheels.

Paintings hang on a chain system suspended from the T-bars in the ceiling. Heights can be adjusted and the walls are hole-free. Best of all, the work space serves as a gallery for both finished and in-progress work.

The unique mechanical table was custom-made by an industrial designer. It moves up, down and sideways and tilts in all directions.

This studio is very much customized to meet his needs, right down to his one-of-a-kind paints created by Golden.

Albi’s abstracts were part of the 2002 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art in Calgary and Edmonton and most recently, the Art Gallery of Alberta’s “7 Years in the City, Art From the AGA Collection.”

His paintings, found in public and private collections worldwide, can be viewed locally at Peter Robertson Gallery.

Albi is quick to share, “I feel really blessed to be doing what I want to do. I am living a dream.”

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Abstract artist Giuseppe Albi works in his studio on March 13, 2013 in Edmonton. Photograph by: Greg Southam, Edmonton Journal