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Art Europe Featured Area Interviews Italy

Painting Matera | An Interview with Linda Martinello

June 7, 2018

I’ve never been to Matera, but the first time I saw Linda Martinello‘s paintings of the Italian city, I felt like I had. I felt the chaos and the fragments of the city, the weaving of lanes and caves and surrounding valleys. Matera, a UNSESCO World Heritage city has often been described as the ‘Shame of Italy’, due to its history as a place full of poverty, malaria, and where people lived in caves without sewage or running water. But times have changed, and in 1993 the city was awarded a World Heritage status and this year, it is one of two cities in Europe to be granted the 2019 European Capital of Culture Status.

Martinello visited in 2016, drawn to the city by its extraordinary architecture and turbulent history. Her paintings from her time in the city form an exhibition at the Nicholas Metivier Gallery in Ontario, Canada from June 7th-29th. I chatted with Linda about her experience in Matera, how she managed to capture the city through her work, and where she would like to travel to next.

LINDA MARTINELLO – Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto.
Grottoes in Limestone Layers, 2018 / oil and graphite on drafting film / 42 x 84 in.

What attracted you to Matera? Did you go with the intention of creating artwork from the city, or did something inspire you when you arrived to create the work you did?

Around this time in 2015, I was researching ancient archaeological sites on the Southern Italy UNESCO World Heritage List and one of the initial sites that I considered was Matera, the ancient city of stone located in the remote southern Italian region of Basilicata. I was preparing for the following year when I would be living and working in Italy for six months in 2016. Because travel is integral to my research and practice, I was looking for places that would become the focus of a new body of work. Upon arrival in Matera and at first sight, I was immediately taken back by the city’s extraordinary haunting beauty. This was it for me, there was no need to travel any further. An ancient stone sprawl filled with grottoes carved out of limestone revealing cave-dwelling districts that weave through endless layers of passageways, stairs, and exterior corridors. I knew then that there would be so much for me to investigate towards creating artwork based on this city and its history. Quite simply, Matera illustrates significant stages in human history, both in its past and present.

For someone who has never visited Matera, what do you hope they will see in your work?

For me, it does not matter if someone has visited the site location of my work or not. The landscapes I create are composites of my recollections and observations of geographic and geological details encountered in my travels. These details are an attempt to create centres of attraction; focal points to evoke a sense of familiarity in the viewer. As cues, they serve to pull the viewer into recognizable and tempting shapes reminding them of stairways, caves, or valleys that they themselves might have seen somewhere in their own experiences. My intention is to activate a particular quality of perception and feeling in the viewer and it is my hope that the work encourages the viewer to engage in effective perception and cognition in the immediate moment. It is the potential to influence interpretation which becomes the paramount force that drives the work.

LINDA MARTINELLO – Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto
Corridors, 2018 / oil and graphite on drafting film / 16 x 20 in.

Outside of creating your artwork, what was your experience of being in Matera like? How is the city for a traveller?

Matera is one of the most unique and spectacular places I’ve visited in Italy or anywhere in the world. For a traveller, it’s not the easiest place to reach which is likely why it has managed to remain relatively unknown, especially to foreign tourists. However now that Matera has been recently awarded European Capital of Culture for 2019, I imagine visitor numbers will greatly increase. Residents appear united in wanting to avoid mass tourism and exploitation. So rather than a place where culture is consumed, they are working to improve life with more local community necessities. The city is truly extraordinary in many ways yet it remains quiet, warm and very welcoming.

How do you think your Italian heritage helps you connect with a place like Matera. Do you still feel like an outsider or does it help with connecting to a place on a deeper level?

Travel makes us more aware and understanding of other nations cultures and I believe travel is one of the greatest sources of education. I would say that a place like Matera helps me connect with my Italian heritage. I understand the language which helps in feeling less like an outsider but it is the fragmented history of the place that I feel many of us as humans can connect with. In visiting Matera, I witnessed landscapes and dwellings that took thousands of years to create. As I walk the land the material world for me becomes invaded by imagination. Senses are heightened and the ‘real’ and the ‘illusionary’ run in sync within the same stream of thought – rendering my perception of the immediate environment and reality fragmented. I believe this city creates this unique experience for many of its visitors.

LINDA MARTINELLO – Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto
Altopiano, 2018 / oil and graphite on drafting film / 42 x 62 in.

What’s next for you? What other cities or projects would you like to work on around the world?

There are so many places around the world that I hope to visit for my practice. I have however promised my husband that our next extensive travels will be to Montserrat, a mountainous volcanic Caribbean island in the West Indies. Montserrat is nicknamed “The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean” both for its resemblance to coastal Ireland and for the Irish ancestry of many of its inhabitants. Our 2.5-year-old son ‘Austin’ is named after my husband’s grandfather who is Montserrian. It has been a longtime dream of my husbands to visit the land of his paternal ancestors. I can’t say for sure I will create a series of work from this family trip, but you never know until you arrive…

“Senses are heightened and the ‘real’ and the ‘illusionary’ run in sync within the same stream of thought – rendering my perception of the immediate environment and reality fragmented. I believe this city creates this unique experience for many of its visitors.” Linda Martinello

LINDA MARTINELLO – 
Flight, 2018 / oil and graphite on drafting film / 16 x 20 in.


Linda Martinello’s ‘Matera’ will be exhibited at Ontario’s Nicholas Metivier Gallery from 7th-29th June 2018. You can see more information about the show here. To see more of Linda’s work head to her website here. To learn more about Matera and plan your visit during 2019, head to the Visit Basilicata website

Details of Cover Image: LINDA MARTINELLO / Sasso Caveoso, 2018 / oil and graphite on drafting film / 60 x 96 in. Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto.

Photograph of Matera by Carlo Armanni / Pixabay.

Annapurna Mellor is a travel photographer, writer and co-founder of Roam Magazine. She fell in love with Asia shortly after graduating and has since spent extensive periods travelling and photographing in India, Nepal, Myanmar and many more. She shoots regularly for brands and publications and her work can be found in National Geographic Traveller Magazine, Lonely Planet, Suitcase and The Guardian. When not on the road, she is based in Manchester, UK.

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