The Painter Behind the “Occipital” Figure Paintings Around Providence

Affordable studio space and demand keep a former Rhody expat back in RI


When Giana Sacco paints her stark, wispy human figures, she leaves behind her regular identity and becomes “Occipital.” Many curators and collectors know her only by this name, and they tie this moniker to her distinct style: elongated stick figures in motion, posing and stretching across black-and-white canvases. “The occipital is the visual processing center of your brain,” says Sacco. “I wanted a bold name that looked cool printed out. I felt this visual aesthetic needed its own artist’s name.”

Sacco grew up in Cranston in a household of creatives and engineers, a family she describes as “very hands-on.” She had an aptitude for drawing and was accepted into the highly competitive fashion program at Parsons School of Design in New York. “My college was very cutthroat,” she remembers. “Not only was it tough to get into art school, but once I was there, I went from big fish, little pond, to a teenie little fish. We had to present every other week, and we were really out on our own.”

She imagined working in fashion or interior design, and she eventually pursued a career in high-end shoewear. One day, a coworker stumbled upon her sketchbook, was impressed with her work, and asked Sacco for an original drawing. This led to other commissions as well. As the fashion industry proved unpredictable, she found a restaurant job and established a fine arts business in her Brooklyn apartment; three years later, she secured a studio.

The artist now known as Occipital specialized in these simple, expressive figures, similar to the sketches of Picasso or the three-dimensional statuettes of Giacometti. She started with gouache but has since made larger compositions with acrylic – and even collaborated on metal sculptures. “I don’t title them,” she asserts. “When I’m painting the work, I might be thinking about a personal experience. But when you look at the work, you might think about a personal experience of your own.”

The form found a wide range of admirers, often at art festivals. “They’re all different,” Sacco says of her patrons. “There probably are a lot of qualities that overlap, but they’re very different people [from each other].”

The arrival of COVID-19 made Brooklyn inhospitable, and Sacco finally decided to retreat to Rhode Island in August of 2020. She stayed with family, fully expecting to return to New York, but a generous studio space in Cranston prompted her to remain in her home state. She moved to Providence about a year ago, and business is booming. Commissions have included public murals, gallery shows, and a riff on the logo for bicycle company Brompton. Notably, her work appears in the lobby of Aloft, the posh Jewelry District hotel. One recent show required her to drive a car full of paintings all the way down to Florida.

When asked how it has worked out, being unexpectedly back in Rhode Island, Sacco exclaims, “Great!” Then she adds, “I do miss the subways.” Learn more visit



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