Michela Martello: On Symbolism, Sincerity and Sisterhood

Michela Martello possesses unparalleled fluidity in her creative practice. Ceramic sculptures, paper murals and large-scale painted murals are among the wide variety of outlets where she communicates an unabashedly feminine (and feminist) dimensional realism. Martello’s work crosses cultural boundaries and uses symbolism to convey a message from the future not only as that which is good, but as “goddess”.

Michela Martello
Colorful Supremacy (Asbury Park Convention Hall Mural), 2018
Acrylic, markers on wood panel
8′ x 16′
Courtesy of the artist

Her work is laden with strong messages about the empowerment of women not just now, but throughout history. Stylistically, her technique has been refined through her long experience illustrating over 30 children’s books. There is a kind of a Renaissance mystique to her work, with bright colors and themes of royalty, the occult, and supernatural beings. Selected by the American Association of University Women in their “Emerging Women Artists Juried Exhibition”, Martello inspires other artists, as well as her general audience, with her evocative work. Frontrunner spoke to Martello about her professional and personal evolution.

What inspires you?
It always depends on my inner state. If I relax, anything can trigger inspiration. On the contrary, if I am tense and my mind cannot stop worrying, I may miss my best possible creation.

How has your work evolved over the years?
Fluidity, and being more prolific in my work, have made me aware that I am continuing to evolve as an artist. As I become less stuck, and let my creations flow more easily, I realize how much I have evolved as an artist. When I nurture more discipline and adopt a more positive approach, it helps me to understand who I am, allowing me to forgive myself when I make mistakes.

Michela Martello
Silvana (Installation view at Pen & Brush) , 2018
Ceramic glaze, underglaze, gold leaf, wood
10″ x 13″
Courtesy of the artist

How did you get started?
I have been making art since I was three years old, and since then, I knew I was destined to be the artist I am today. I envisioned myself as a successful artist and through hard work and discipline, I turned that dream into a reality.

What are some significant themes you use in your work and how do you think they are relevant to your identity as an artist?
I find that symbols, regardless of background (country, culture, or religion) are relevant in my work, and I am often inspired by mythology and paganism. I am still discovering myself and my identity as an artist…it unfolds magically in my creations. I am always surprising myself in what I produce, as if it is instinctive. I try to be inclusive of anything that inspires me.

How did you conceive your ceramic pieces? Do you feel like their various identities connect directly to you?
Ceramics fall into its own category and is a world of its own. When I began to realize this, that was the moment when my creations came naturally and organically. I didn’t try to control the outcome anymore and the clay was easily moulded into my ceramic doll series. Each doll has their own personality; I feel connected to each one of them in my own special way. My goal was to make a universal series in which anyone can connect to and identify with them, acknowledging that we as humans are complex and contain multitudes of dimensions.

Michela Martello
Sister (2018)
Acrylic, Sumi ink, plastic, fabric collage, embroidery, linen, gold leaf
77″ x 82″
Courtesy of the artist

As an artist, how can other female artists have a voice in the art world and what is your definition of feminism?
Support, support, support! It is integral for us to to support each other by nurturing female camaraderie and enhancing the spiritual sides of feminine energy. While we must focus on our own work, we need to be cognisant of other female artists and support them.

I have the privilege of working with Pen & Brush, a New York-based gallery that has supported female artists in the visual and literary arts for 124 years. Since working with them, I understood the importance of having a community that believes in your vision. However, if female artists don’t do our work supporting each other and cultivating positive results, that cannot be possible. We must help each other build confidence by not only being constructive, but also by having faith in each other, getting rid of the history of preconceived thought, of a male-dominated industry. Instead of a revolution, we must continue to evolve artistically; or as I say, evolution instead of revolution.

How do you promote your work?
I don’t have any strategy for promoting my work. I still think I’ve made many mistakes. It’s really not easy out there. The more I live my life, the more I believe in cultivating clarity. [It is] the kind of clarity that suggests the importance of staying home to paint, which boosts artistic self-value, which will translate when you put yourself out there. The more you value your work, the more other people will. I say, just put yourself out there and the universe will respond, (this is based on how much work I put into my creations). It’s the same clarity that makes me continue to paint. Life is a lot clearer when you live with sincerity. It is the same sincerity I put into my work that the universe continuously responds to.

What message do you want to convey through your work?
My work is very organic. I am never thinking about the overall message when I’m creating. Most of my work is connected to the idea of intimacy, [so] that is probably the message I want to express; being able to bring to the surface hidden and profound intimacies. In doing so, the process becomes very important. Although the message is never clear, rather hidden in each of my works, it’s up to the viewer to decipher what the work means to them, and [to] find their own message. Being able to bring a finished product, with its hidden messages, to the surface explains and justifies the struggle of being an artist.

Michela Martello
She Who Can Fly (2018)
Acrylic, gesso, fabric collage, gold leaf on vintage US Army standard tent
108″ x 55″
Courtesy of the artist

What would your ideal day consist of?
That’s my favorite question. I always want to discover how people start their days. For me, it is a crucial component to making your day important, and ultimately your life, fulfilled. My ideal day would be meditating the moment I wake up, having a delicious breakfast, and opening my mind up to the possibilities of what could happen in a positive light. Unfortunately, I often get distracted by social media. I find myself spending a lot of time on Instagram, which sidetracks me from my meditation rituals and keeps me from focusing on how good my breakfast is. So I guess a successful day would be one where I forget about my phone and follow my inner bliss.

Regarding your mural in Asbury Park, New Jersey, where you asked viewers to respond to the question “what does it mean for you to live in America today”, what were some of the responses, and what is your idea of what it means to live in America today?
The mural in Asbury Park had been organized by woodenwallsproject & Parlor Gallery for TED. I was inspired by my own passion, depicting the American Flag in black and white, with a portrait of Vivien Leigh from Gone With the Wind. After the piece was finished, I invited viewers to respond to “What does it mean to you to live in America today? The mural evoked such a variety of emotional responses. From love to hate, opportunity, shame, freedom, arrogance, peace, ambition, controversy, awe, historical ignorance, racial disparities, equality, faith, and dignity. For me personally, living in America today is a blessing, full of endless potential to evolve with possibilities to emerge.

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