Between Promise and Devastation: Liminal Spaces by Ferdinanda Florence

Ferdinanda Florence

While I love art that is epic, complex, colourful, of mythic proportions and multi-layered, there’s a side of me that is very much into creative expressions that are stripped down and unassuming.

For some reason, I was really attracted to the work of Ferdinanda Florence, who has been a professor at Solano Community College, Fairfield, CA since 2002. Her paintings are unpeopled and show bare, empty locations. At first glance, they seem fairly undramatic. But then a tension is perceptible.

Some doors are closed, some open. Are new beginnings, new worlds at hand—could they be entered into with some effort? Under a twilight sky, structures have been left behind, allowed to fade away, unexplored. Are they missed opportunities, symbols of irrevocable loss?

“I’ve always been drawn to liminal spaces, which are slippery, unfixed, and locationally ambiguous—such as the threshold between inside and outside,” writes Ferdinanda, who considers her themes metaphors for life’s paradoxes. “My paintings include agents of liminal space, doorways that both invite and potentially decline access. In the past, my work has focused on exteriors, buildings viewed from across the street or through chain link fence. Slowly, I am making my way inside.”


Waterman no. 8 © Ferdinanda Florence


The artist explains more: “The places in my artwork are also socially liminal, somewhere between public and private, being exclusively commercial buildings—rather than residences—and mostly defunct. No one calls these places home, so I can claim them (temporarily) for myself. I describe the places I paint as ‘sites for personal reconnaissance’, as I try to situate myself in a slippery world, one teetering wildly between promise and devastation. Some of the skies in my paintings are colored by wildfire, which came a little close to home this summer, just enough to evacuate, enough to unnerve. All are colored, in one way or another, by a sense of loss—impending, occurring, or unresolved.

“The spaces I’m painting are (or were) as real as ever, but there is a surreal element that is slipping into the compositions. I’m stripping away more of the things that might offer a reliable sense of location, creating somewhat unmoored perspectives as I try to work my own, unreliable internal compass.”


Central no. 3 © Ferdinanda Florence


Born in Washington, DC, Ferdinanda earned a bachelor’s degree in art history and studio art from The American University in 1994. She completed a master’s in art history at the University of Maryland, College Park in 1998 and pursued a year of doctoral research before leaving the program to teach art at the high school level. Ferdinanda then earned an MFA in painting from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2010. In Fairfield, CA, she teaches a wide range of art history courses, as well as courses in introductory painting and mural painting. For her course in introductory art history, Ferdinanda wrote Approaches to Art, a textbook now in its 3rd edition. She is represented by Andrea Schwartz Gallery in San Francisco and the Elisa Contemporary Art Gallery in New York.

Links: Website (


Waterman no. 9 © Ferdinanda Florence


VELPCo large no. 2 © Ferdinanda Florence


Portable, large no. 1 © Ferdinanda Florence


Lemon, large no. 7 © Ferdinanda Florence


Central no. 2 © Ferdinanda Florence


Brittons no. 7 © Ferdinanda Florence