It’s often said that art renders a unique message to each observer. We carry with us our own preoccupations. Art piques our brains, stimulates thought, offers a metaphor onto which we can map our ponderings and work through nebulous concepts in a tangible way. Fred Giampietro’s exhibit “New Geometry II” taught me about trust, coexisting realities and the gentle-hearted nature of my soul.

The New Geometry II exhibit is inspired by the introduction of a fresh and funky geometry textbook to Cheshire High School students in 1968. The content of this new textbook, Giampietro’s website states, was much the same as the old one but presented it in a hip, groovy technicolor way. The exhibit description states, “It soon became clear that although this new book was teaching the same lessons, it was presenting a fresh perspective. While the rigor was still present, there was a degree of levity that seemed to open a door.”

And as that textbook taught old lessons in new ways, so Giampietro’s exhibit taught me ancient truths anew.

I tossed the words of the exhibit’s description around in my mind with great anticipation on my journey down Science Hill to view the collection. The frigid weather had finally ebbed and my outfit matched the sky: baby pink and google-docs-blue color-blocked geometrically. I was living for this viewing. Twenty minutes later, gazing at a rose-colored canvas the same color as my shirt, my emotions swelled, and atop this tumultuous wave rocked a tiny sailboat of personal realization.

The painting I observed featured a vertical black strip slightly left of center with a red-and-gold striped rectangle protruding on the left and pure red paint protruding on the right. The black strip gave the impression of tying this mass of red to the pink canvas, like fresh salmon tied to a bed of rice with seaweed. The strip selflessly held it all together. I pondered: Was the red on the right-hand side of the black strip supposed to look like spilled ink? A poppy petal? A fish’s tail? There were so many possible interpretations! So I told myself I could apply this art to myself and use it, break it to be my personal spiritual guide, read it like tea leaves.

So I stood and reached with my eyes to the canvas, allowing myself to release into honesty, and the black strip ceased to be a tie holding the piece together as one. It became to me a divider, a heathen schism between the composed neat red rectangle and the erratic flourish of red. I looked closer and realized to my chagrin that what I initially saw as sashimi had become an image of conquest! The spilt ink, poppy petal, fish’s tail side seemed to be vanquishing the other more composed side. The former occupied a startling 70 percent of the canvas. I read once poppies fully bloom immediately before death. I shifted my gaze to a new painting, suppressing the thought.

Squinting into the depths of the gallery, I attempted futilely to refocus my eyes and shivered. The physical movement brought me back into consciousness and my mind tripped from bad thought, i.e. death, to worse, i.e. glaring character flaws, and a second sailboat of personal realization popped up beside the first in my surging wave of emotion.

I raised my head and was met with my own eyes reflected back off the glass of the gallery’s front window.

“This is who you are,” I told myself and checked my phone again for Google’s opinion on Giampietro’s open hours. Again I read 6 p.m. closing time, but that didn’t change the fact that I faced locked doors and suddenly the vertical black line became not a tie or a schism but a marker denoting where before becomes after. The neat red rectangle on the left became my sense of trust this morning, and the mauled decrepit puddle of red on the right, the state of my trust now. Sweating, panting, speed walking with the comfort of ETA and scheduled closure, how I thought I’d arrive in the knick of time and refortify with the nutritious sustenance of sitting surrounded by art. But O’ my soul, how like a poppy after bloom upon arriving here, jolted from virtual reality to physical truth that I was too late, too trusting. How you crumple, spill, permeate but thee I halt –– like the vertical black line –– and a smile steals that last 30 percent for her own as I realize how I’d been forced to interact with this piece as I wouldn’t have otherwise.

And so I come back to how I began: It’s often said that art renders a unique message to each observer. We carry with us our own preoccupations and art piques our brains, stimulates thought, offers a metaphor onto which we can map our ponderings and work through nebulous concepts in a tangible way. Fred Giampietro’s gallery gave me honest sense of self without even walking through the door; imagine what you’ll find within. The New Geometry II exhibit is up until March 10.

Julia Leatham julia.leatham@yale.edu