Painter Christa Palazzolo Says Art Is A Huge Piece Of Political Change
This is the second profile in our Est. Summer Arts Series, featuring female creators hailing from Austin, Texas, who are using their work to explore gender, race, reproductive rights, and sexuality — in other words, to fight the good fight. Stay tuned for more multimedia profiles every Friday.
Much ink — digital and otherwise — has been spilled about the role of art in exacting social change. Can a painting, a song, a poem or a play actually shift a discourse? Can art serve as a catalyst, evoking enough rage to spurn people to action?
Can art change people’s minds? Can art change people’s lives?
I think when the smoke clears, art is both impotent and omnipotent. Its power is subjective, its potency dependent on the very same forces that could render it invisible, silent, or irrelevant. It’s a slippery, elusive, and confounding beast.
But amid all the noise and smoke and questions and undeniable cerebral masturbation over Art and its worth in society, is humanity’s undeniable compulsion to keep creating it.
Christa Palazzolo is one of these creators and a staunch believer that art can indeed force someone to scrutinize their own belief system. An “artist, painter, musician, and twin sister,” Palazzolo’s identity is intrinsically bound not only to the act of making, but examining, particularly in her figurative paintings.
Born in Florida, but (mostly) raised in Texas, Palazzolo says she spent much of life unaware of her own privilege, of the epic struggle that lay at her feet and allowed her all the space and agency she desired, vast as the surrounding Chihuahuan desert. She explains that growing up in a Catholic, conservative family — half Irish, half Italian — she wasn’t “aware of how important my rights were, how significant it was that I could get birth control whenever I wanted . . . we never discussed that kind of stuff.”
Despite having an ongoing political standoff with her parents following a progressive awakening at The University of Texas at Austin — she says they always encouraged her art from a young age.
“My parents threw crayons and colored pencils — whatever we wanted to sketch with — at us. My dad was in the Gulf War and my sister and I used drew on old fax machine paper with those crinkled holes in it. We’d fill a box full of drawings and would send it to him from several months. We would draw the weirdest stuff.”
She says the bug followed her to high school where she describes a “creative explosion both visually and through sound and songwriting,” marked by teenage hubris and incredible naïveté. “I thought, oh, I’ll just be an artist, this is great!”
But after college, she went to work in the gallery industry in New York City for a few years and became a deeply disenchanted. “My goals of being an artist became less triumphant — it was a little sobering to be around that environment to see how much money is attached to visual art. It took away the joy in it for me.” She turned away from painting for almost ten years, focusing exclusively on music and touring before returning to the canvas.
Palazzolo’s band Belaire was featured in the 2010 documentary, Echotone.
Boy Friend’s music was featured in Curfew, the 2012 Oscar-winning short film.
Palazzolo says she’s always had an affinity for portraits and the likeness of people; she found she related to work with “humans in it. It forces me to examine my views and opinions, and that’s a huge piece of political change and discussion.”
Her work is both chillingly realistic — the verisimilitude of her flesh tones and expressions is uncanny — but also cheekily perverse. Amid figurative renderings that give Chuck Close a run for his money are absurdist elements that make the viewer pause, smile, and stare a little closer.
Cavemen are squatting and painting in a well-worn and dimly-lit cave . . . but they’re painting the Kool-Aid Man. A young spectacled boy stares out from a black garbage bag; his t-shirt reads, “plastic makes it possible!”
I really love humorous art — art that makes you chuckle, art that makes you wonder what’s going on and dig deeper. I have so much to say and I can tend to be very opinionated, so in my work I love to play around with my views on politics or what’s going on around me.
You know, I’ve had people tell me, ‘no one wants to buy a painting of a guy with a trash bag on his head,’ and I’m like, ‘well OK that’s not why I painted it.’ It’s all about twisting the normal narrative of what you think this classical oil painting would be. I like to flip it on its head.
In 2015, Palazzolo was commissioned by Double Tree Hotel in Austin, TX to paint five works addressing Texas music. In order to showcase the kaleidoscopic aural offerings of Texas’s music history she chose Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin, Beyoncé, Selena and Willie Nelson, traversing genres and decades — Tejano, pop, country, folk, rock & roll and R&B.
“These musicians epitomize what it means to be from Texas,” she writes about the project. The hotel will celebrate the opening on August 11th.
While Palazzolo has an undeniable love affair with Austin — it is a bastion of liberal thought and a rich community of artists — she says living in a historically red state with reproductive rights encroachments growing ever more ominous, can be exhausting.
“Sometimes I say, ‘this is it! I’m moving! I can’t deal with it anymore!’ It’s really disheartening living in Texas and seeing what the elected officials do and the rights they strip away — having that disagreement with my parents is hard too. But, it’s also a really good vehicle to create work that talks about that, to get the word out nationally about why this is a issue.”