Classmates Connect Through Art

Elizabeth Denny and Luke Diiorio’s partnership is a story of how Lawrenceville connections emerge sometimes years after graduation.

Both members of the Class of 2002, Diiorio’s paintings are currently on exhibition in Denny’s art gallery in New York City. The exhibition, titled “High Earth,” opened March 14 and runs through April 14. Diiorio’s first solo exhibition with the gallery features original paintings housed in an immersive installation.

Denny opened her contemporary art gallery in 2013, and welcomed partner Robert Dimin in 2015. Denny Dimin Gallery specializes in work by emerging and mid-career artists whose practices are engaged with contemporary issues, materials and technologies.

Denny had seen Diiorio’s work around the same time she was opening her space, when his exhibition “Very Similitude” was featured at Ana Cristea Gallery in nearby Chelsea.

“They were kind of minimalist paintings and there were some installation aspects – Luke folded the canvas up and had poetic verses written on them that were revealed and disguised. The work was beautiful and conceptual. I knew he was someone I would be very interested in working with,” Denny says.

She continued following his work and the two began talking about planning for a show at her own gallery.

“I have to believe in the artist in the present and the future with a little blind faith,” Denny says about her process of selecting artists to show in her gallery. “I knew what Luke had been making recently but I had to go with the flow. He completely blew us away with what he produced.”

“I knew I wanted to show paintings but I didn’t want to show against traditional white walls,” Diiorio says of his exhibition. “I built my own space within her space – custom to each painting I was presenting.”

Describing the oil on canvas pieces, Diiorio says he didn’t use traditional canvas, but rather smaller strips of canvas sown together to create a painting on something already constructed.

“This work is a progression of my painting practice – evolving from the monochrome,” he says, “a single color but separated in multiple parts. Starting with the history of American abstract painting and moving forward.”

Diiorio says the paintings and installation are about earthly themes in both a literal and metaphorical sense.

“Landscape is relevant, formally and conceptually,” he says. “The human condition as it resides on an ever changing planet is common ground for landscape and abstract painting. The horizon, heat and motion are elemental in expressing form and emotion."

Denny says the architectural elements Diiorio incorporated enhanced the installation.

“One section tilts upward and there are alcoves throughout for the paintings,” she says. “There are windows between the spaces, some preexisting spaces he erased and a column he boxed out. People go in and don’t know where they are – it worked really well…having a natural wood environment for these paintings instead of a white wall.”

While both Denny and Diiorio acknowledge the challenges of making it in the art world, they both encourage Lawrentians interested in the arts to follow their passions.

“If you work hard enough at it, it can really make for a very rich and full life,” Denny says. “I think the art market is a place to really consider a career right now. It’s one place, over the last few decades, that’s been very resilient. It’s important to find meaning in a digital world.”

Diiorio, who began drawing and painting during his Fifth Form year at Lawrenceville, says Lawrentians should take advantage of all the opportunities available on campus.

“Use the facilities and resources that you have,” he says. “Be in touch with New York and proximity of the City. If you’re serious about making work, don’t be afraid to fail. You have to make a lot of bad work for many years to make something of substance eventually.”

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