For months I’ve noticed the illustrations published in La Voce di New York, very striking and skillfully executed. I had a closer look at them and decided to explore them in depth. I wrote to the Editor and he kindly put me in touch with the author of the illustrations, Antonella Martino.
After a quick introductory chat in a Zoom interview, I heard a familiar accent – she’s from Puglia, like me, from Mola di Bari, a few years older than me, and has a fascinating, far from simple, story to tell.
Antonella lives in Rome and is involved in designing, implementing and enhancing educational materials and adapting them for online degree courses organized by the “Guglielmo Marconi” University. She is very well-versed in the internet and digital world, specializing as a web master and visual designer. She told me she has taken paths that have greatly diverged from her personality, so introspective and sensitive.
We go back in time and I discover that her mother, Caterina, wrote poetry and her father, Vittorio, used to do oil paintings when she, still a young girl, attempted to imitate him. And it is these moments that stand out in Antonella’s memory. Meanwhile, Antonella grew up and followed a more pragmatic and technical path than might be expected for a budding artist. I say “artist” because she doesn’t create illustrations, but full-fledged works of art. Little stories told within images sketched with refined artistry, the line of which is distinguished initially by being very precisely traced, but which then, invoking a more instinctive style, turns into a rougher, more incisive line that is proud to emerge in all its truthfulness. Colors adorn the lines, of both the drawings, deliberately sketched as if in a passionate dance, and those executed in a more streamlined, controlled way. They approach each other elegantly and move in a delicate harmony – with the skill of someone who has very clear ideas.
Antonella, how did you arrive at this “synthesis”, if we might call it thus?
To be honest, it’s the result of a very long and arduous process. My illustrations come to life after I study the article: initially, I look for that unique something which distinguishes it and on which the whole piece hinges. It’s not a question of the sense it has so much as the path, the journey. Once the leitmotif has been identified, I begin drawing, and it is here that all the ghosts that haunt me come into play: rudimentary notions, academic conditioning, stylistic rules and superficial factual knowledge are reawakened and pursue me relentlessly, giving me no way of escape. The problem is to break away from these “limits” and seek freedom. To abandon oneself to the most remote instinct and the purest intuition. The search for freedom is the most exhausting, but also the most courageous moment, because there are dangers. In the end, I trace a line that breaks away from the rules; as I draw it, I am increasingly aware that it is wrong, but I feel that it’s right like this, so I keep on drawing it. More often than not, this path – and its outcome – are not understood. In fact, they’re often mistaken for superficiality or, worse, ineptitude”.
Wonderful! You’ve just explained what I maintain in my column about the creation of a work of art. I also wrote it on my business cards: “I seek the intuition of the artistic act… … evoke traces… … etc, etc. (I show her my card). You’ve explained what only true artists manage to do, that is, reject rational activity to abandon oneself to the intuitive and irrational gesture. In your “Penthesilea” – created during the lockdown and inspired by the myth of the Queen of the Amazons and Italo Calvino’s “invisible Cities” – numerous stylistic, chromatic and symbolic elements are revealed. The contrasts stand out: perfect and imperfect lines are in constant harmony. I find that there is profound care and attention. Dedication. The wish to break boundaries and give full rein to one’s feeling, energy and passion.
“Yes. Very true. In that work, I tried to guide the public to a deeper understanding of visible and invisible experiences, to probe the essence of the human condition. That the web instrument silently cuts out”.
Research, humanity and sensitivity, then. Anyway, the two figures are very clear and comprehensible: one represents the part that is rational and follows conventions – the dog actually recalls a pageboy, and the woman – the Amazon – reveals her more savage, authentic nature. They are illustrations that in a way I consider transgressive. I could call it rock, poetics and rock, highly musical: the interweaving, the movement, the subjects together… make music! Some images make you think about sequences, about film stills. Is it possible that in some images, albeit in a veiled manner, a love for the cinema emerges? I see from your CV that you’ve worked as a screenwriter and written plays. Even for Maurizio Costanzo, one of whose plays you adapted (you were even Winner of the Special Prize Culturart Commission for a short film at the Corto d’Autore Festival 2012 – a movie adaptation: “Il fascino discreto della parola” [Discreet Charms of the Word] by Maurizio Costanzo.
“Yes, these were things I did. The cinema has been and is my greatest passion. I’ve seen everything. My favorite film, “In the Mood for Love” enabled me to win a scholarship in an oral exam”.
I find your depiction of the New York New Year, “New Year – A New Mood of Life in Times Square” (2019) quite brilliant and joyful. Was it selected for some competition? I read that the last one you took part in, AD ART SHOW 2020, enabled you to sell twelve of your illustrations on Artsy.net. What are your latest works?
“Yes, MvVo Art sponsors selected artists. I really love working with diptychs – the latest one, “Desire and Jealousy” is devoted to the milonga and the tango”.
“The Angel and The Killer – What if one day you meet an angel?” (2020) is also extremely interesting. Tell me about it!
“Yes, it’s a “revisited” Single Line technique, my favorite: the theory envisages the drawing of a single line for the whole illustration, without lifting the pen off the page. I, however, draw multiple “single lines”.
I illustrate the visible part with black ink and the invisible with orange and light blue.
This diptych isn’t part of the AD ART SHOW, I created it for Pride Month of June 2020 in a moment of reflection and realization of how widespread diffidence is among human beings, especially when it comes to diversity, ‘because I seek the beautiful in everything, and I don’t give up just because they tell me it doesn’t exist’, a statement that my mother dedicated to me, which has become my manifesto as an artist”.
With which illustrations did you win the selection for AD ART SHOW 2020?
““Metropolitan Dog”, “New Year – A New Mood of Life in Times Square” illustrated for La Voce di New York, “Passion”, devoted to the tango, and “Get Out of my Head”, a poster created for Luca de Benedetti’s short film, “The Truth Is That I Don’t Really Care What You Think””.
However, I must confess that some of your works, the overlapping of shades, the colors you use, reminded me of another artist, a photographer of great sophistication, whom I will shortly be interviewing, Joseph Desler Costa of Pittsburgh, who has lived in New York for years. I was to have been in NY in March 2020 to see his exhibition, but it was postponed due to Covid. You should organize an exhibition in New York too, don’t you think?
“I’d love to. I’ll try, as soon as I can. You could give me a hand! You’re a curator too, if I’m not mistaken”.
Yes, indeed! I’d be honored. A final question: Your siblings live in New York. Do you think you’ll move there too, sooner or later?
“Deep down I’d like to. New York attracts me and I like it; and in any case I feel a strong desire to return to live with part of my family that has not been in Italy for a long time. My siblings left about fifteen years ago. My grandmother moved there in 1971. Now she’s no longer with us. For the moment, I’m concentrating my skills and energies on an activity that we might define as “new”, so my connections abroad are limited”.
The interview ended. I felt pleased to have met her. Discovering the backstage of people’s lives always rewards me with something magical and profound. Discovering what we don’t see, how people live and what they conceal behind their everyday appearance, their success, failure or mutation makes me feel richer: it lets me touch with my hand the value of life, even that of those who make choices that might seem unusual or bizarre. Understanding the human soul through a dialogue helps me to understand myself, or rather, sides of myself that were lost to me…
Antonella Martino has outstanding skill and sensibility. I don’t think it will be long before we see her again involved in projects of international scope and importance.