Sally Curcio’s body of work “Palimpsest” combines historical images with Op art. The title, “Palimpsest” refers to a manuscript on which an earlier text has been effaced and the vellum or parchment reused for another text. When paper was rare in medieval times, it was re-used in such a manner, but the former text often was still discernable.
Curcio takes this concept of inter-textuality and obscuration and plays with figure-ground relationships in a topsy-turvy manner. She appropriates historical figures and presents them as cultural icons in the manner of Andy Warhol. These images are then obscured with shapes and figures reminiscent of the work of John Baldessari and Damien Hirst.
As a palimpsest, the work melds the historical and contemporary. It serves to revive our memory and honors these important figures.
Susan Brownell Anthony (1820 – 1906) was an American social reformer and women's rights advocate who played a pivotal role in the women's suffrage movement. Born into a Quaker family committed to social equality, she collected anti-slavery petitions at the age of 17. In 1856, she became the New York state agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society.
In “Susan B. Anthony” Curcio depicts the reformer in tones of faint yellow like a dawning sun, her likeness the ground to a rain of voting ballot chads covering her image.
Marie Skłodowska Curie (1867 – 1934), born Maria Salomea Skłodowska, was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, the only person to win twice in multiple sciences, and was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris.
Charles Robert Darwin, (1809 – 1882) was an English naturalist and geologist, best known for his contributions to the science of evolution. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors, and in a joint publication with Alfred Russell Wallace introduced his scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection, in which the struggle for existence has a similar effect to the artificial selection involved in selective breeding.
John Arthur "Jack" Johnson (1878 – 1946), nicknamed the Galveston Giant was an American boxer, who—at the height of the Jim Crow era—became the first African American world heavyweight-boxing champion (1908–1915). Johnson was faced with much controversy when he was charged with violating the Mann Act in 1912, even though there was an obvious lack of evidence and the charge was largely racially based. In a documentary about his life, Ken Burns notes "for more than thirteen years, Jack Johnson was the most famous and the most notorious African-American on Earth".
In “Jack Johnson’s Fight” Curcio has the fighter dimly in the background while a grid of white superposes the image like a cage. The intersections of the grid dance with the optical illusion of the colors black and white, appearing and disappearing in the interstices suggesting the ephemeral existence of “color.”
Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) was an American politician and lawyer who served as the 16th President of the United States from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. Lincoln led the United States through its Civil War—its bloodiest war and its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis. In doing so, he preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the economy.
Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross; c. 1822 – 1913) was an American abolitionist, humanitarian, and an armed scout and spy for the United States Army during the American Civil War. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some thirteen missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved families and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She later helped abolitionist John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry, and in the post-war era was an active participant in the struggle for women's suffrage.
Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853 – 1890) was a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter who is among the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art. In just over a decade he created about 2100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of them in the last two years of his life. They include landscapes, still lifes, portraits and self-portraits, and are characterized by bold, symbolic colors, and dramatic, impulsive and highly expressive brushwork that contributed to the foundations of modern art. He sold only one painting during his lifetime and became famous after his suicide at age 37, which followed years of poverty and mental illness.