William Gannotta: Communion With Nature

Exhibition Info
Curated by
Robert Cozzolino, Curator of Modern Art
Honoring the work of the late PAFA alumnus and faculty member, William Gannotta.

I became a landscape painter, working outdoors and finishing my sketches in the studio…Although I am a realist, I wish to expand the limitations that are usually associated with traditional oil painting. My work - with its intense colors and very personal vision - is often thought of as surreal or hyper real. Part of what I love about painting is it gives me the opportunity to be outdoors and really observe the natural world. Painting allows me to enter a state in which I am simultaneously deeply involved with what I am seeing and at the same time an uninvolved witness of what I am depicting. I hope my work helps to spread the joy and bliss of this communion with nature.

—William Gannotta (2007)

This memorial exhibition honored Philadelphia artist, William (“Bill”) Gannotta, who died on May 16, 2009. Gannotta was born in Philadelphia in 1945 and trained at the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial and Philadelphia College of Art before attending PAFA in 1971 and 1975-78. In 1977, the year he received his PAFA Certificate, he was awarded PAFA’s prestigious Cresson Traveling Fellowship, enabling him to travel through Europe. At PAFA, Gannotta studied with Louis B. Sloan (1932-2008), an influential and much-loved faculty member who became an important mentor and friend. They shared a love and respect for nature, as well as an intensely spiritual reaction to the landscape. Sloan, Gannotta, and friends often made trips to the mountains to paint together, immersed in the wonders of the landscape.

Gannotta’s interpretation of living trees, rolling hills, cool skies, and reflective ponds immerse the viewer in sensual worlds. Regardless of the painter’s—and viewer’s—distance from the vista or subject depicted, there is a palpable sense of intimacy, and of immersion in the experience of looking. Beyond conjuring the pleasure and sensation of being in nature, Gannotta achieved a closer, visceral almost supernatural sense of embodiment in the pulsating world. His trees seethe with energy, sky and earth caress one another, and clouds mutate organically before dissolving again. In this, he shared affinities with earlier American artists inspired by the grandeur, power, and mystery of their environments such as Thomas Cole, George Inness, or Charles Burchfield. Yet close to home, it was a response familiar from the examples of Daniel Garber, Sloan, and Elizabeth Osborne. 

Gannotta exhibited widely throughout the East Coast and was included in several important group shows in New York and Pennsylvania museums and galleries that focused on contemporary landscape imagery. Beyond his work as an artist, Bill Gannotta made an immense difference in our community through his well-known sense of humor, kindness, and belief in the vibrancy of the Philadelphia art world. He literally enabled and made possible most of the installations Philadelphia audiences have enjoyed through his work safely packing, moving, and delivering art objects to and from private collections, museums, and corporate collections. Collectors, conservators, curators, registrars, and other artists trusted him, above all others, with their work. We are grateful for his role in our lives.