We had the good fortune of connecting with Luigia Gio Martelloni and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Luigia Gio, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk is part of the life of an artist, it is almost without choice, but this is what made my life journey. I was born and raised in Rome, Italy. The first time I went to N.Y. It was during my last year at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma. I was working on my thesis in Art History, and I heard there was an exhibition in NY that was related to my study. It was about the affinity and influence Primitive Art had on the historical Avant-guard. When I finally arrived in NYC the show had just closed, but I bought the catalogue and I started working on the translations. I was fascinated by the city, the multi-ethnic make-up of the people, its many possibilities and the rhythm of the street. It was the middle of the 80s and I was in my 20s.. and it was the best time to be in NY. I met artists like Basquiat, Schnabel, and important gallerists like Leo Castelli, Annina Nosei, Paula Cooper, and many more. All of the art scene that was happening at that time was in front of me. So after a month spent there to researcher, taking pictures, visits galleries and the east coast museums, I went back to Rome to discuss my thesis. I graduated summa cum laude. At the time I was also working in the film industry in Cinecitta` But after that New York experience I couldn’t be away from the idea of going back to live in NY. So I did!! I went to live in Soho, on Prince street and W. Broadway, I was working on my art and taking photos, I took my camera everywhere, it was my companion. Saturday evenings in Soho, all the galleries had openings, I went from one to the other absorbing the energy but feeling a bit like an outsider. This was another world for me, new and exciting. A few months later I got my first solo exhibition (April 1986) at The Vorpal Gallery on West Broadway. The opening was crowded mostly with people I didn’t know and my work was almost all sold out. It was like being outside of myself and watching myself. Maybe I was young and unaware, but I had a goal: I wanted to go and explore the America that I read in books and saw in films, museums and galleries. I wanted to have that empirical experience, I wanted to see where Max Ernst and the surrealists and dadaists had been inspired by Native American symbols. I wanted to know the relationship of Jung with myth, primitive symbolism and the unconscious. I wanted to see the America of Wim Wenders… I wanted to be on the highest peak of the Grand Canyon. So with the money from my paintings sold in the show, I bought a 1975 Volkswagen camper, a Nikon camera and lots of film and went to discover and document America. I wanted to experience the territory, the ground, the symbols, the cultures. The real America! I traveled coast to coast from east to north to south to west and even to Mexico. I lived in connection with the earth, embraced the clouds, went off road, I created using media found on the way, dirt from Monument Valley or canyons in Utah, salt from the dry desert, blue in the natural pigment found on the Native American reservations in New Mexico, and I filmed and photographed everything. I was able to see things in a macroscopic way, everything was a new discovery and it all enchanted me. It was an inspiring but hard journey. It was cold and it was very hot. It was a spiritual journey with myself – with no fear – with an open mind and a connection with nature, the vast territory, and this immense universe before me. I knew that I needed to do this. It was an intuition. The me was thrust into the world. I think it was the first time that I felt so connected, that my Art and I became one! I visited many American cities. I traveled across the States by road, not by airplane. I traveled to Native American reservations, visited many university campuses, lakes, rivers, mountains, canyons, great plains and met many people. What remained inside me mostly was the feeling of the amazing nature, the blue sky, the infinite line of the horizon. At the end of the trip I went back to Rome, where this experience became a solo exhibition: “Fragments of a Journey” curated by my art history professor Lorenza Trucchi. I started, again, working in film, TV and in opera as an art director. I was working on my art and showing in galleries and museums – but I missed America. So I went back and forth living between NY and Rome for a couple years. At the end of the 80’s I started working with Francis Ford Coppola in Cinecittà where we were working on a project involving traditional media like drawing, painting, storyboarding and using innovative computer tools. Eventually we worked on Godfather III for several months. Back to New York, I had a second American exhibition in 1990 in Tribeca at Bennet and Siegel Gallery that was part of a protest by many artists against the allegations of pornography levied at Robert Maplethorpe. For sometime my life was between Rome and New York, working on some film production or opera and showing my work in galleries in both cities. After that my journey took me on a different path… and brought me to Los Angeles. I had been invited to show my work in a group exhibition in Beverly Hills at the Salander O’Reilly Gallery, which is now the Gagosian Gallery. It was my first art show in LA. I was working in a documentary, the project took a long time and made me stay in LA, longer than I thought. At the end of 1993 without really realizing it, I started to live in Los Angeles and then I met my husband. It seems that many different chapters in my life were leading me to live in the USA, even though I had intended to stay in Italy. I never thought I’d live here for more than 20 years. Los Angeles is a city of opportunities. You never know, anything can change your life in a minute. The most unique quality in Los Angeles is the ethnic diversity, the many languages, the many unique neighborhoods, the strong landscape of the city, and of course the weather. The weather is what gives one the opportunity to explore the various aspects of the city, from the ocean to the canyons. So here I am with my two masterpieces created here: my daughters!! I live in Santa Monica on the edge of the Pacific ocean and I continue to work here as an artist, curator and documentary filmmaker.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Through my art, I try to bring messages to the world, I like to conceptualize ideas that tell stories, My concepts and multidimensional expressions, explore possibilities and uncover layers of truth. An aspect of my work addresses the politics of geography, history, identity, migration, race and the human refugee global crisis. I pay attention to the natural world and its relation to humanity, transforming and reinterpreting everyday reality, working with multimedia installations, painting, found materials, bark and branches, photographs and videos. Often my artwork is inspired by the nature around me. A reflection of our time, the narrative memories and the elements that leave us with fragments of nature. It is also a reflection on the imprints that we inevitably leave in our journey. The traces that define our coexistence, an itinerary of existence in connection with our environment, our planet and humanity. In my work with trees, I often remove them from their habitat in order to magnify their grace, their beauty, the spread of their branches out in the air, to reveal their unique truth and memorize the moment of the encounter.
I’ve been in several shows nationally and internationally, they are all important to me, but my big accomplishment was to be invited to show my work in the Italian Pavilion at the International Exhibition Venice Biennale. That took my breath away!
To me it is important to follow the idea – that is everything to me. I walk with the idea. I breathe the idea and I can’t stop until everything is done well. Whether I translate it into photographs, film/videos, installations or organic materials, it is the process, the elements and the concept.When I work on a project I must live with it. If I’m on deadline for a show, I just work on it until it is done.
I also like to curate exhibitions, when I come up with ideas that involve artists whose work I like and want to show to the world. Curating is enormous responsibility, I have to make sure that the artwork is protected, the artists come first, while also having to work on the logistics, concept and visuality of the entire exhibition.
Recently, I curated an outdoor exhibition in LA: De-Fence Art (Art in the time of Isolation) as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, it morphed into De-Fence Black Lives in solidarity with George Floyd and the BLM. It involved more then 35 artists, hanging their work on the fences at the Santa Monica Airport.
Two years ago I invited more then 60 international artists to participate in a project called: “Between Two Seas”. It comprised of 3 exhibitions between Italy and Los Angeles. The exhibitions created a connection of cultures through the artistic project with the theme of immigration/emigration. We are all immigrants or emigrants, globally we are connected, each of us. Art connects humanity, the artists end up becoming a bridge between two seas, metaphorically – it is a risk, it is a resilience – the strength to survive…
Professionally what gets me until now, is my curiosity, determination and persistence. Art is not a work where you go to an office or factory and then return home. Art is a Mission of Life that walks with me, it is myself so I don t have a choice. I need to nurture my brain, look for inspiration and ideas.. I think I was born like this, I was pre-destined to be one. My parents had a fashion design atelier in Rome, they were tailors and designers that is how I grew up living among illustrations of clothing, pencils, scissors, paper, fabrics, measurement. People were coming to and from the atelier to have the perfect suit made by my parents…So while my father was sketching the clothing and listening to opera with lyrics from Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi and Rossini, I was watching him and copying the designs.. Also at the very young age,I had a recurring dream seeing myself unloading a car full of paintings, grabbing them and walking toward a studio..When we visited churches I ran toward the side of the altar to see the art that decorated the church, I was so impressed by the paintings of the Renaissance artists like Raffaello, Michelangelo, but my main attraction has always been for Caravaggio and the sculptures of Bernini. I was eager to go back home and try to draw the figures that I observed in the church. I was amazed and enchanted by the masterful paintings and I had always the same questions: How did they do that? How is this possible?
Living in Rome you can’t escape absorbing the art that is all around. It is in our DNA, even the reddish/ochre color of the walls in the streets, are so inspiring. They talk to us about the past and who was there so we don’t have a choice. It was a destiny and an intuition, even so I tried to get away sometime, but Art always won over other things that I was curious about. Even when I started working in film and tv (that was my income) my other passion, Art took priority. Every time I was at a distance from it because I was working on some production, I would get a call for an exhibition. So I worked in both fields but it has not been easy, especially being a young woman artist. I went through obstacles, disappointments and discrimination. I was so serious with my work and fought to keep it. I got into several national well established exhibitions in Italy, thus my determination and passion for my work payed off… In New York in the 80’s I got in an exhibition just a few months after arriving and I felt welcomed.
When I arrived in LA in the 90’s I was already in the middle of my career, with several exhibitions in Italy and in New York. and was being recognized for my multimedia and conceptual work by critics and curators. With this confidence, I tried to show my work to some galleries, but didn’t find an open invited environment, but this didn’t stop me from working. I felt out of the loop, far away from any connection in my field. I missed my art circle.
In LA I was raising my girls, working on my art, teaching art workshop and working as a freelance photographer. When the girls were young I had my studio in my loft at home, it was more practical. If I had an exhibition I would work at night while my girls were asleep, so I could concentrate on my art. Maybe because I was isolated I grasped even more of what put me more in contact with my art. This feeling of isolation is partly due to the size of LA. It took a lot of effort to break this feeling. I brought my daughter, to explore LA with me going everywhere. We went to different neighborhoods, did different activities and traveled outside the city. That’s how I got to know Los Angeles! This is the city where one thing leads to another, a quality that allows you to move forward, but you have to move to make it happen.
I went to art openings, art talks at museums, movies and connected with the art world, meeting people in the art and film business.I managed to keep some of the connections with my curators, galleries and museums in Italy. so i was able to show my work there while living my busy life in LA at the same time.
My curiosity brought me to know this city and its people. Los Angeles is also a city of the big picture, events, universities with some great minds. I have been invited to film premieres, parties, presentations and art talks. I saw international exhibitions in museums here, that inspired me and kept me going. I also admired the work of some well know west coast artists like Ed Ruscha, Lita Albuquerque, John Baldessari, Peter Alexander, Ed Moses and more.
Over the years I got into several shows and having a studio at Santa Monica Art Studios, now 18th Street Art Center at the SM airport, helped me establish myself and continued my work.
Right now I’m working on a couple exhibitions, a curatorial international project and also I intend to finish a documentary, that I will start to edit very soon.
I’m a pure artist and I believe in the importance of the work and the ideas behind it. I believe that art can help the way we think, to reflect, to connect, transform and build empathy. My mantra is to keep working, take action, be faithful to my intuition and ideas, and to keep an open mind with endless curiosity.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Los Angeles has so much to offer that sometimes it gets difficult to choose between places.. I like when I have visitors in town, so I can drive to places that I like too. It also depends what time of the year. If it’s Oscars season I will take my friend to some movie premiere and after-party. If it’s an Art fair in town I will take them there.. I live in Santa Monica and my studio is also in Santa Monica, so I will start from there:
Day 1) I will take my visitor for a walk by the beach and after a long walk, to have brunch at my favorite spot along the coast: Back on the Beach Cafe in Santa Monica. After I will drive to Malibu visit my friends in their beautiful villa overlooking the ocean, get a coffee and drive up the pacific coast highway stopping at the Getty Villa and if we have time maybe a drink at Paradise Cove. I also like to go to Cholada for dinner.
Day 2) I will drive to downtown to the Music center, to the Broad Museum, visit the MoCA Grand just across the street. You can’t miss a visit to the Disney Hall and if possible go up to the outside space and get into an early concert. Go down to First Street to the Geffen and the Art district, to one of the best gallery’s in Los Angeles: the Hauser & Wirth then have dinner in Little Tokyo at “Sushi Gem”.
Day3) I will take a break from the museums and I will go to Marina Del Rey grab a seal boat to ride on and look at the Marina from the sea. After a half day of sailing, I will take a walk along Abbott Kinney Blvd. in Venice, take a coffee break at Zinque, check the Louver gallery and later dinner at James Beach, just across the street. I like the vibe in this restaurant and the art collections on the wall of the Venice artists.
Day 4) I will go to the famous old Farmer’s Market on 3rd street and Fairfax and grab something inside the market. I will take a walk around the Grove and visit the LACMA museum, I will stop by Cecconi for an aperitivo and then a late dinner on the patio of Gracias Madre on Melrose Ave.
Day 5) i will take a trip to the Getty Center and spend a day there viewing the amazing art and taking lunch at the restaurant with a spectacular view of the city. Drive down from there I will show my friend Beverly Hills and maybe stop for late dinner at Via Alloro restaurant or Pasquale Trattoria. I usually don’t eat in Italian restaurants since I like to cook and I think I make delicious Italian recipes, but if I’m in BH this is a great places to have dinner.
Day 6) Griffith Park and the Observatory and the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino.
Day 7) I will go up to Mandeville/Westridge Canyon to hike, The outdoor is the greatest aspect of Los Angeles!! I will stop by to the Hammer museum, I will drive all over the city to show my friend the various neighborhoods in Los Angeles, the diversity of cultures and languages which is the essence of the city. On the way back home I will stop to the Venice Canal and for the last sunset in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park along Ocean Avenue..
Of course there are other great spots that I would like to show my friend, as option: the Lake Shrine Temple and meditation retreat, The Last Bookstore in Downtown, Sunset blvd. Montana Avenue. the Hollywood Hills. The old historical theaters in DTLA and stop to the roof top for an happy hour at the Ace hotel.
I also would take my friend for a day trip to the deserts of Palm Springs and Joshua Tree.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My shoutout goes to my father, for his liberal and revolutionary mind, his cultural knowledge, his ideas for equality and universal freedom. And to my creative, wise, loving mother. Her profound sense of humanity and generosity. Always encouraged me to look at life’s possibilities and to explore myself.
My professor Lorenza Trucchi that gave me the tools to explore my passion, and taught me art history in the most intriguing and curious way. She also curated my first solo exhibition in Rome. Also I’m grateful to professor Cagnetta, who introduced me to cultural anthropology, which became the inspiration for my studies and my thesis in art history and introduced me to semiotics..
To my children the most joyful gift of love in my life, that taught me to have infinite patience and an endurance that amazed me in how far I can go for them. I constantly juggled my life between my girls and work. That included volunteering at their schools, taking them to activities, play time, homework, cooking, driving them all over mass transit challenged LA and beyond. It is because of my children that I know Los Angeles so well.
The many writers, artists, filmmakers, philosophers, companions of my life that helped me grow up and unfold myself, to think, to play, to be curious and the thirst for knowledge. Here are some of them: Jung, Nietzsche, Balzac, Castaneda, Wittgenstein, Wim Wenders, Rossellini, De Sica, Umberto Eco, John Berger, Borges, Charles Baudelaire, Apollinaire, Dostoyevsky, Rainer Maria Rilke, Schopenhauer, Isabel Allende, Gandhi, Paulo Coelho, Walter Benjamin, Oscar Wilde, Joseph Campbell, Huston Smith, Herman Hesse, Rimbaud, Marguerite Duras, Artemisia Gentileschi, Marisa Merz, Marina Abramovic, Carla Lonzi, Eva Hesse, Georgia O’Keeffe, Agnes Varda, Agnes Martin, Tina Modotti, Michail Bulgakov, Bunuel, Germano Celant, Gillo Dorfles, Walt Whitman, Giotto, Caravaggio, Manet, Cezanne, Bacon, Dubuffet, Piero della Francesca, il Mantegna, Bernini, Canova, Rodin, De Chirico, Duchamp, Anselm Kiefer, Pascali, Pennone, Kounellis, Richard Long, Joseph Beuys, Burri, Arte Povera, Breton and Soupalt (Les Champs Magnetiques) Automatism psychic and the literary surrealist movement, The conceptualism. Antoine de Saint-Exupery (The Little Prince), Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Crosby Still Nash and Young, The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen… The Desert, New York, The walls of Rome, The infinite Line of Horizon…
Facebook: Luigia Gio Martelloni
Other: Luigia Gio Martelloni is an Italian visual artist, curator, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles, California. Martelloni has exhibited nationally and internationally in venues such as the 54th (Italian Pavilion/Arsenale) International Art Exhibition VENICE BIENNALE (2011) and the 58th International Art Exhibition VENICE BIENNALE, collateral event,Venice (2019), Denk Gallery (2019), Arena 1 Gallery, Santa Monica, Santa Monica Museum of Art (2010), RAW Rome Art Week (2018-2019) MAAAC Museum, Italy (2018), Gallery 825, Los Angeles (2016), Torrance Art Museum, California (2016), Building Bridge Art Exchange Santa Monica (2012),Pacific Standard Time (2011), IIC Italian Cultural Institute, Los Angeles (2001-2011), Mopla Month of Photography in Los Angeles (2012), The Loft at Liz’s Gallery, Cal Poly Pomona Art Colony, California (2003), American Academy of Rome , Quadriennale Nazionale d”Arte di Roma and Museo Laboratorio d’Arte Contemporanea Universita` La Sapienza, Rome (1996), Vorpal Gallery New York (1986) In 2018-2019 Martelloni curated an international project between Italy and California, with 3 exhibitions called “Between Two Seas” involved more than 60 artists from all over the world. Recently she curated De-Fence Art (Art in the Time of Isolation), and De-Fence Black Lives, an outdoor exhibition, as result of the Covid-19 lockdown and as way to stand in solidarity for peace and justice with the Black Live Matter movement and against systemic racism and inequality, honor the life of George Floyd, in response to this many artists have contributed new artwork to the exhibition Her artistic repertoire includes various productions projects in Film, TV, theatre and documentary. Martelloni received her MFA from the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma, and studied at UCLA extension, Entertainment studies/ Directing and at Santa Monica College with a focus on Photography. www.luigiamartelloni.com
Eric Minh Swenson (EMS), Gene Ogami
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