Have you ever had an artwork command your attention and keep you transfixed? This is what happened to me the other day when I saw Anita Iacovella’s work hanging in Metropolis Gallery as part of the Contemporary + Collectable Australian Printmakers exhibition.
Anita Iacovella’s monotype prints are intriguing – and powerful. They have a visceral quality as though urgently expressed by some kind of psychic entity or energy channelled from the unconscious. In these semi-abstract prints, dynamic shapes emerge and fade before our eyes – do those gestural marks reveal alpine peaks, dancing figures or electrified currents? Perhaps all three? And above these energetic streaks and strokes, soft celestial mists waft and billow. Whatever we choose to see, there is a palpable feeling of elemental forces at work, both gentle and violent as if the raw energy of nature’s monumental power has been harnessed in ink. Iacovella says she feels the spirit of a place come through her work and last year her solo exhibition Numinosity explored the ‘numen’, the deity or spirit presiding over a thing or place.
Anita Iacovella, Numen-shift I, 2012. Monotype on BFK Rives paper. 29 x 39.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist.
An interest in Eastern philosophy and spirituality has influenced Iacovella’s artistic practice. She trained in martial arts for 12 years and she applies meditative aspects of this to her work – both require discipline, practice, attentiveness and focussed thought. With a monotype print, the artist has only one chance at it – so the the work must be approached with confidence and awareness. As Iacovella prepares her press, paper and tools, she enters a contemplative state and images from the unconscious form in her mind.
The Japanese philosophy and aesthetic, Wabi-sabi, has also informed Iacovella’s work. Anna Briers, writer and curator, explains: “Within her life and artistic practice, Iacovella is a proponent of the Japanese aesthetic and philosophical systems of Wabi-sabi, a movement whose fundamental tenets function in opposition to western classical notions of beauty and values such as symmetry, completion and monumentalism. By contrast, Wabi-sabi embraces asymmetry and imperfection, ephemerality and the constant flux, the regenerative processes of the natural world as well as its propensity towards entropy or decay. In Wabi-sabi ‘things are either devolving towards, or evolving from nothingness.’ Nothingness is conceived in Eastern terms, where the void is pregnant with primordial potential.” (The full article by Briers will be published in the forthcoming Winter issue of Imprint magazine)
Anita Iacovella, Anima I, 2012. Monotype on BFK Rives paper. 50 x 69 cm. Image courtesy Metropolis Gallery.
Anita Iacovella, Anima II, 2012. Monotype on BFK Rives paper, 50 x 69 cm. Image courtesy Metropolis Gallery.
Iacovella combines traditional and contemporary approaches to printmaking, working with copper plates to create monotype prints. She employs a subtractive technique, removing the ink from the plate by scaping and drawing with card, or rubbing with cloth, to reveal luminous, ambiguous forms and marks. The plate is then pressed onto damp paper to yield a unique print.
Iacovella’s art studies began at The Gordon and continued at the University of Ballarat where she attained a Bachelor of Arts (Visual Arts) with a major in Printmaking in 1993. She was a founding member of Volartile Contemporary Gallery and Studios, a dynamic artist run initiative in Geelong in the nineties, and she is still active in various community art projects today.
Juggling her artistic practice with teaching and family commitments, Iacovella is a busy woman. She works two days a week at The Gordon teaching Printmaking and Art Theory, and spends at least one day a week in her studio at home, although to complete her prints, she travels up the highway to the Australian Print Workshop in Melbourne. Somehow she also manages to squeeze in various group exhibitions, and has held 8 solo shows including last year’s show Numinosity at Tacit Contemporary Art. Her work also winged its way to Canada where she was one of the selected artists in the 11th International Miniature Art Biennial 2012, Quebec. To top it all off, one of her works was acquired by the National Gallery of Australia and she won the Mini Print International – Asia Pacific Award 2012.
This year the busy pace continues with Iacovella already contributing to three exhibitions. With more shows to come later in the year, she might not be able to emerge from the studio for quite a while! She will be exhibiting in IM]PRESS[IVE at Metropolis Gallery in July and is one of the finalists in the forthcoming Borough of Queenscliffe 150th Anniversary Art Awards and Exhibition.
Given all this activity, I am especially grateful to Anita for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about her artistic practice. Thanks Anita!
Can you tell us what led you to become a printmaker? Why did you choose this particular medium?
Printmaking has always been of interest to me since secondary school (year 11 and 12), where I was given great exposure to it by a wonderful artist /teacher Bill Rogers who showed me the ropes: from line etching, soft ground, sugar lift and screen-printing. So it’s not surprising that I still have an enthusiastic interest in printmaking today.
I generally use the monotype medium as it is more immediate and a very expressive medium to work with. It also is far more economical and uses no chemicals (these days I have to limit the use of etching chemicals as they have an adverse affects on my health). I reuse the copper plate again and again, so I also feel, ecologically, I’m not being wasteful of resources.
Anita Iacovella, Songo, 2013. Monotype on BFK Rives paper, 29 x 39.5 cm. Image courtesy Metropolis Gallery.
What processes are involved in the creation of your work – are they monoprints or monotypes? Can you take us through the process of developing one of the works in the exhibition?
Most of my prints are monotypes. Firstly I need to define the Monotype and Monoprint.
Monotype – uses a plate or matrix that is smooth and free of any incised marks.
Monoprint – uses a plate or matrix with incised or existing marks on the surface
The monotype print is created on a large copper plate one that reflects light, before rolling layers of ink onto this polished surface. The plate surface (ink) is then removed or subtracted with a soft cloth and various drawing tools like card or tarlatan, as a painterly/drawing method of constructing the image; thus revealing expressive mark making and the white and mid tones of the paper when printed. The plate is placed on an etching press with damp rag paper under immense pressure, ultimately revealing a rich and luminous print.
Your work is very atmospheric and otherworldly, and sometimes it appears to resonate with psychic energy. Can you tell us about some of the themes you explore in your work and why these are important to you?
I guess I’d have to say life’s influences are really imbedded in the works whether I realize it or not. I feel sensitively attuned to the natural world and the impact it makes on me at an internal and spiritual level.
Within the process of making the work the images come from the unconscious mind. The images are informed by memory which brings forth aspects the sublime, atmosphere, light and history through various representations of landscape, space and nature.
The surface of the work expresses an urgency of recording marks as a visual language one uses as an unconscious dialogue of psycho-activity.
The gestural approach captures the unique essence of the human hand and mind at one moment drawing on past and present influences.
Within these prints my aim is to expand or re-visualise ways of seeing nature and the inner connections that are felt and experienced in life, by placing them within a contemporary visual context.
Where do you find inspiration?
I love the work of the Abstract Expressionists. I never get tired of looking at those paintings. I also look at drawing books for inspiration. Another book I return to time and again is a book called Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. It discusses Japanese aesthetics of intransience and impermanence.
Have you ever been to an exhibition that has stayed with you long after the exhibition is over? If yes can you tell us about that?
I would have to say one of the most emotional and dramatic exhibitions I’d ever seen was by Kathe Kollwitz, a German Expressionist artist, and a series of wood cuts and lithographs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. They were so powerful and detailed, I spent an hour just looking at them in amazement. (It also pointed out to me that photographic reproduction just don’t do justice to the real work and the experience of the viewer first hand.)
What artwork would you love to have in your own collection and why?
Any work by Helen Frankenthaler the America Abstract expressionist painter. Such beautiful colour field works and a lifelong passion to continually create in new ways right up until she passed away. I can’t choose just one work – too many artists and works to choose from.