visual arts

Renaissance woman: Visual Arts student sings, acts, writes

You heard it here first: Francesca Fiore will never be a starving artist.

Fiore, a double major in Visual Arts and English, is hungry: hungry to travel, to create and communicate, via her installations, playwriting and poetry, and in occasional performances with the Livingston Theatre Company. Last semester, Fiore starred as Queenie the 1920s show girl in LTC’s production of Andrew Lippa’s bawdy musical The Wild Party.Francesca Fiore

“Everything that’s creative is something I want to do,” says Fiore, 20, who is spending the spring semester in Rome. “. . . I’m so restless. I want to be in galleries now. I’m trying to calm myself and not rush too much . . . but I really want to pursue it fully.”

Though The Wild Party’s run is over, Fiore continues to sport her Queenie-like bottle-blond bob. She wears a vintage suit, a slash of dark lipstick and a fur-collared coat that engulfs her small frame.

The daughter of a graphic designer and an Italian professor claims that “I’ve always been an artist in my mind.” She says she began painting at age 12—she and her parents fibbed about her age to gain admittance to an art class—and proceeded to “make horrible paintings for many years.”

And Rutgers? Rutgers was not on Fiore’s agenda. Her maternal grandfather, Joseph Laggini, was a Rutgers Italian professor as well as an associate dean in the School of Arts and Sciences. Her mother, father and several other relatives are Rutgers grads.

“I looked at Rutgers grudgingly,” Fiore says. “I took a tour because my mom’s a professor and makes me do these things.

“I loved it,” she says. “I loved the feeling I got when I came here…I felt at home with the idea of my grandfather [having been] here.” Fiore says she was set on attending a large university that could accommodate her wide-ranging interests. She chose a creative-writing concentration in English and a painting concentration in Visual Arts.

The importance of being earnest

Fiore says studying painting at Mason Gross nudged her to “break out of the picture frame” and move toward “building a space” with her installations. She’s been painting on storm doors, mirrors and shower doors, installing life-sized painted figures in contextual spaces, on beds and in rooms she assembles like stage sets.

“These are my characters,” says Fiore, who has been writing plays as well. She says she is toying with marrying her playwriting and visual art by staging plays in galleries. She is also contemplating an installation in a cemetery.

“I’m a hard worker, and when I say I want to do something, I’ll do it,” Fiore says.

Richard Baker, Fiore’s painting professor sophomore year, describes her as “remarkably driven. She was something of an octopus, not just taking on one challenge…She brought in everything and the kitchen sink. She challenged the idea of what a painting could be, and I think that challenged other [students] about the limits of painting…She had the ability to make something look good, and she wasn’t just resting on that. She wanted to take it somewhere else.”

Singing and acting onstage have become passions as well.

“I decided I had to do theater once a year because it makes me happy,” says Fiore, a former member of the University Choir who also had a role in last year’s LTC production of Sweeney Todd. “…It’s so exciting to be someone else for a while.”  

When asked about her artistic influences, Fiore readily points to conceptual artist Jenny Holzer’s provocative mix of text and imagery and Louise Bourgeois’ voyeuristic, large-scale installations. But Fiore’s maternal grandmother, suffering from late-stage Alzheimer’s, clearly informs much of her work.

Fiore points to a series of drawings of her grandmother mounted on Plexiglas.

“Glass is a tangible presence, but because it’s transparent, at the same time it represents an absence,” she explains. As for her grandmother: “She is a person who is present, in that she exists, but also absent because she has no memory or personality.”

Fiore says she takes notes when she visits her grandmother in a nearby assisted-living facility; sometimes she records video of her grandmother for art projects. She writes plays about her grandmother and has created installations featuring her grandmother’s image.

“If you don’t make art about it, you’re going to cry about it,” Fiore reasons. “Instead of thinking of her as your grandmother, you think of her as a potential piece of art...Because she has such a debilitating disease, it’s so hard to watch it happen.”

But Fiore’s grief has only fueled her devotion to making a creative life for herself.

“From what she makes with her hands to her ideas to her haircut, she’s definitely being creative in every aspect,” says Baker, her former painting professor.

Fiore says all this cross-pollination feels right.

 “As an artist you have to be able to stretch yourself out over different forms,” Fiore insists. “Art can exist in a cemetery. Plays can exist in a gallery.

“There’s no limit to what is possible,” she continues. “…I’m trying to keep the doors open now while I’m allowed to.”

Photos: Top, Fiore as Queenie in Livingston Theatre Company's 2010 production of The Wild Party; above, Untitled, 2010, oil on Plexiglas and bed, by F. Fiore.