Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Featured Painter: Joanne Mattera - Part I


First of all, would you please introduce yourself to our readers that might not be familiar with you? Tell us your name, where you are originally from, where you are based currently? From where did you receive your art training, on what did you focus your studies, when did you graduate?

Joanne Mattera with Quadrate 3, acrylic on canvas, 2007
Photo by Claudia Saimbert

I'm Joanne Mattera. I've been an artist for over 30 years. I grew up in Revere, Mass., lived in Boston during my four years of art school—I went to Mass Art and received a B.F.A. in Painting—and then moved to rural Washington County in upstate New York to live sort of communally in an old mill with a group of artists from New York and Boston.

That back-to-the-land thing was fun but short lived. I now divide my time between Manhattan, where I have lived for 25 years, and Salem, Mass., where I recently bought a building, a former auto-repair shop, which houses my studio.

Mattera studio, 2006
Image courtesy of Joanne Mattera

How did you get interested in making art?

As a child I spent most of my time with two unmarried aunts, Lena and Antonina Misci, who taught me everything they knew, which was considerable, about knitting, crochet, embroidery, sewing and making things by hand.

My friend, the sculptor Nancy Azara, helped me understand that in childhood an unconscious association was forged between unconditional love and artmaking. Isn’t that lovely?

What kind of job(s) did you do in the past?

In college I worked first as a clerk typist for a stockbroker and then as a go-go dancer in Boston's Combat Zone. I made better money as a dancer and worked fewer hours, which gave me more time to be an art student. Yes, it was sometimes scary—but only in retrospect do I realize how scary it actually was.

While living in the country, I worked as a dump truck driver, vegetable picker, sign painter, artist model, glazemaker, janitor, and freelance writer on textile topics.

I worked as an Editor in chief for Fiberarts in the early Eighties, as a result of my freelance work. Then, in the Eighties and Nineties, editor at several fashion and lifestyle publications in New York City. They’re odd choices for a painter, but because publishing was just a job, not a career, I went where the opportunities and salary were.

What kind of job(s) do you do besides creating art?

In 1998 when my magazine job ended, I decided to take a leap of faith and support myself fully from the sale of my painting.

I had a New York dealer, so the transition had a certain organic progression to it. I am now represented by a network of galleries around the country and earn a living through the sale of my painting.

Do you teach, write, curate shows, and/or manage a gallery? If so, give us some details?

I teach one course a semester at Massachusetts College of Art (Senior Seminar, which helps prepare students to make the leap into the art world).

Occasionally I am invited to be a visiting artist, a gig that may last from one day to a week depending on the invitation.

I also do consultations with mid-career artists to help them navigate an art world that has changed considerably since they were in art school.

I try to curate a show every couple of years. This year, I was one of four curators for Blogpix at the Platform Project Space in Manhattan. We were charged with selecting artists whose practice has some connection to cyberspace or the blogosphere.

In 2007 I curated a 14-artist show about beauty for the Marcia Wood Gallery in Atlanta. The title was Luxe, Calme et Volupte: A Meditation on Visual Pleasure.

Can you talk a bit about your book “The Art of Encaustic Painting"? Where can interested readers purchase a copy of your book? Please give us some details.

Bookcover: The Art of Encaustic Painting by Joanna Mattera
Image courtesy of Joanne Mattera

I wrote The Art of Encaustic Painting in 2000 because I had questions about the medium and there was no book on the topic.

I figured that if I had questions, other painters had them too. My background in journalism allowed me to research, write and visualize a volume that would be reader friendly in terms of the information, and inspirational to look at.

The most interesting part for me was to make studio visits with artists, and then to compile what was in essence a curated "exhibition" of painting and sculpture which not only showed the range of possiblities with the medium but which had cohesiveness as a group of images. It was published in 2001 by Watson-Guptill Publications and is in its fifth or sixth printing. The best place to buy the book is from Amazon; you can click on to the link above and follow the links right to the page.

What do you do for fun besides making art?

I like to make studio visits, go to galleries and visit museums. I travel frequently, and wherever I am I check out the art scene.

Art aside, I like to cycle, either along the Hudson in Manhattan (there's a wonderful bike path that runs from Battery Park to the GW Bridge) or along the coast in Salem.

What’s your least favorite thing to do?

My least favorite activity, without a doubt, is the administrative work it takes to track inventory, photograph work and archive images, and maintain financial records.

Please tell us a bit about your work in general. What media do you work in? How would you describe your work to first time viewers?

Mattera studio with work in progess.
Image courtesy of Joanne Mattera

I describe my work as "lush minimalism." My aesthetic is reductive but my surface is rich and sensuous. I paint in encaustic, which is pigmented beeswax wax.

Please explain a bit about your creative process. How does it all start, what techniques and materials do you use?

Two concerns engage me: color and geometric order.
The grid is the underpinning of these concerns. Within its rigor I organize repeated elements—usually a stripe or square—painting them with a succulent brush that is at odds with the reductivism of the composition.

Ciel Rouge, 48" x 67", encaustic on four panels, 2006
Image courtesy of Joanne Mattera

The saturated color I use is influenced by Sienese paintings and Indian miniatures, but a 21st-century palette embodies its own intensities, transparencies and chromatic relationships. The encaustic paint I use for much of my work brings a differently refractive quality to the color than other mediums.

I work in series, often on a small scale, because my chromatic concerns—subtle shifts in hue, texture and depth—require intimate viewing.

Mattera installation. Adler Gallery in San Francisco. 2009
Image courtesy of Joanne Mattera

I often install these small works in wall-size grids—color and geometry asserting themselves on a larger scale while maintaining the essential intimacy.

Stack, 48" x 67", encaustic on four panels, 2006-2008
Image courtesy of Joanne Mattera

While my primary medium is encaustic, I may use acrylic for larger work. The important thing is that I be able to achieve transparency, translucency and richness of color.

As for the actual creative process, I can’t explain it. I go into the studio and my neurons fire in a different way. There's a direct link from my brain to the brush to the paint to the painting.

Please talk about the Vicolo series. What does “vicolo” mean? Could you give us some insight into this body of work, how did you come up with the theme?

Vicolo 20, 12" x 12", carved encaustic on panel, 2005
Image courtesy of Joanne Mattera

Vicolo is Italian for alley. I named the series after I'd been working on it for a while. As I mentioned, typically there is but one recurring element that informs each painting. In Vicolo that element is a carved channel—the alley or vicolo of the title.

Vicolo 42, 12" x 12", carved encaustic on panel, 2008
Image courtesy of Joanne Mattera

Each painting, built up of dozens of layers of specifically chosen colors, consists of many parallel channels that have been exposed as I drag a metal tool across the wax. I work freehand so that while the result is a formal linear arrangement, it’s anything but rigid.

Vicolo 35, 18" x 18", carved encaustic on panel, 2008
Image courtesy of Joanne Mattera

Slight differences in the pressure of the tool and its relationship to the material engage the surface differently, skimming across it or digging into deeper layers. The painting reveals itself as I work.

Vicolo 52, 36" x 36", carved encaustic on panel, 2008
Image courtesy of Joanne Mattera

Vicolo is about as close to sculpture as my painting can be. At the same time, it’s very much like drawing.

When did you start working on Uttar series? What is the message you want to convey to viewers?

The Uttar series is finished now, so I'd prefer to skip this question so that we can focus on Silk Road and Vicolo, which are still very much in progress.

To be continued in Part II...