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After the crash: Artist Elaine Fraticelli lets in the light for Let It Enfold You

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On a recent Friday evening, a crowd gathered at the E3 Convergence Gallery on Main Street for an opening reception for Let It Enfold You. The exhibit's title is based on a poem in which Charles Bukowski writes, "I was living a hell in small rooms, I broke things, smashed things, walked through glass, cursed." It's a poem—conveyed with Bukowski's usual coarseness—about embracing the good in life, despite the bad. For Let It Enfold You, a juried exhibition, gallery owner Lillian Nelson had asked artists to create work dedicated to that concept.

Among the 19 contributors present that night was Elaine Fraticelli, an artist with striking pale-blue eyes, a brace on one leg and a missing bottom tooth. She is a virtual embodiment of optimism—warm, delighted, open, smiling—and she was especially excited to walk into the gallery and find that one of her pieces, "Beauty & Trauma," had won first place in the exhibition.

"I really didn't expect that," she says, laughing.

Fraticelli does not take such moments ("the tattered shards of happiness," in Bukowski's conception) for granted. In January, after graduating with a BFA in art from the University of Montana, she lost control of her car on an icy highway outside of Avon and crashed into an oncoming vehicle. She and three other people were sent to the hospital. Her partner, Nic Mora, died on the scene.

"It's been really difficult to deal with," Fraticelli says. "I am really grateful that I'm alive and that I exist and that I am here and relatively healthy now. But I also feel guilty for the way that things happened, both because I was the driver and because I survived and he didn't."

Four of Fraticelli's five pieces in the exhibit were made before the accident, including the prize-winning "Beauty & Trauma," which shows the aftermath of a person being hit by a vehicle on a residential street. Fraticelli's art has always dealt directly with tough emotions, but it's hard not to think of all of her work in relation to her car crash.

Elaine Fraticelli’s “Beauty & Trauma” won first place in Let It Enfold You, a new juried exhibit at E3 Convergence Gallery.
  • Elaine Fraticelli’s “Beauty & Trauma” won first place in Let It Enfold You, a new juried exhibit at E3 Convergence Gallery.

"'Beauty and Trauma' is about how depression can hit you like a truck or roll in like a fog," she says. "At the same time, there's beauty there." Fraticelli used layers of glaze to create the fog, but you can still see lush green trees and lawn underneath, a light orange glow in the sky and the images of people trying to comfort the injured person.

Fraticelli did not come out of the January accident unscathed. She suffered a stroke caused by bilateral skull fractures. The brace she wears is for foot drop, a gait abnormality caused by her still-healing brain. She's gone through hours of physical and grief therapy. Art—finding her way back to color and design—has been essential to her recovery.

"Gratitude and Guilt," also part of the exhibit, is the one piece Fraticelli created after the accident. It's an oil painting featuring a woman wrapped in a purple towel and covered in a swath of sunny yellow and orange. Disembodied arms appear to embrace the woman, leaving marks of negative space. And a row of car keys forms a stripe across her head.

"I love sunlight and I love showers," Fraticelli says. "So there's the towel and the stylized sunlight. That part's the gratitude. The car keys is the guilt part. The arms are my partner's arms that aren't there anymore."

Fraticelli says several friends have had a hard time with this piece, because they lost Mora as well, and the work reminds them of that. For her, it's part of her recovery, and a way to honor Mora.

"It's a really slow process," she says. "But I'm learning in art and life to be aware of the conflicting emotions. I know I'm really lucky. And I'm also determined to do something about it."

Let It Enfold You continues at E3 Convergence through the end of July.

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