Issue #105

Luigia Gio Martelloni


Born in Rome and currently lives in Los Angeles. She has participated in a number of solo and group exhibitions in Europe and in USA including a solo show at the Museum of the University La Sapienza in Rome, and the “Quadriennale Nazionale d’Arte” at Palazzo Esposizioni. In the USA she has shown in several galleries and museums like the Santa Monica Museum of Art “Libro Oggetto: Italian Artists’ Book, 1960-Now”. Her work was also shown at the 54th Biennale di Venezia in Italy and at the Italian Cultural Institute in Los Angeles.

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What do you do in your life (work and fun)?

I’m a visual artist and a filmmaker, I’m a mother of two girls. I do try to take care of all aspects in my life, as a mother, so too as an artist. Through my art I try to bring messages to the world. I try to reveal the big truth to what we often don’t pay attention. I like to conceptualize ideas that tell stories: transforming and reinterpreting everyday reality – traces from geographic places, urban spaces, different cultures, working with multimedia installations, painting, found materials, photographs and videos. I’m lucky to have a lot of energy and I don’t sleep a lot, maybe 5/6 hours. My day starts early in the morning (with a coffee, without which I can’t exist) and finishes late. When I work on a project I must live with it. To me it is important to follow the idea – that is everything to me. I walk with the idea. I breathe with the idea. Whether I translate it into photographs, videos, installations or organic materials makes no difference to me: it is the process, the elements and the concept. Often my inspiration comes from an an emotional moment. In my work I pay particular attention to the natural world and its relation with humanity. I spend hours in my studio and in places to make the work happen.. I take care of my girls, in the morning I make breakfast and lunch for them (I really like cooking, it relaxes me). I walk with my dog mostly in the early morning by the beach, or hike with her in the canyons and sometimes at sunset.The outdoor is the greatest aspect of Los Angeles!! I go to art openings, cultural events around the city. If I’m on deadline for a show, I just work on it until it is done. I often work on more then one project at the same time. I see friends, going to see movies or out for dinner sometimes. If I’m not working on some project, then on the weekends I like to spend time with my family, sometimes going sailing in the marina, visiting friends in Malibu and other places in LA. I also like to go Downtown to see how this place is changing: the Music Center area, going to concerts at Disney Hall, visit the MoCA museum, Little Tokyo, new galleries and the LACMA museum. The city of LA has become the place for the Arts and I would like to have time to explore it all. When I can, I take a day off from the studio and I visit neighbors. Or even go outside Los Angeles, to the desert..and photograph trees.

What made you leave Italy and chose NYC/LA?

I really never left Italy, I mean I never made a decision to leave. The first time I went to N.Y. It was during my last year at the Art school (Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma) I was working on my thesis in Art History, and I heard there was an exhibition in NY that was related to my thesis. It was about the affinity and influence Primitive Art had on the historical Avant-guard. When I finally arrived in NYC the show had just closed, but I bought the catalogue and I started working on the translations. I was fascinated by the city, the multi-ethnic make-up of the people, its many possibilities and the rhythm of the street. It was the middle of the 80s and I was in my 20s.. and it was the best time in NY. I met artists like Basquiat, Schnabel, and important gallerists like Leo Castelli, Annina Nosei, Paula Cooper, and many more. All of the art scene that was happening at that time was in front of me. So after a month spent there taking pictures, meeting gallerists, artists, filmmakers, coupled with my exploration of east coast museums, I went back to Rome to discuss my thesis. I graduated magna cum laude. After that experience I couldn’t be away from the idea of going back to live in NY. So I did!! at the end of 1985 I went back to NYC. I went to live in an apartment in Soho, on Prince street and W. Broadway, an apartment with the tub in the kitchen, strange but so inspiring. I felt like an artist in 1920’s Paris. I started taking language classes because my English was poor. In the mean time, I was working on my art and going to visit galleries. Saturday evenings in Soho, all the galleries had openings, parties everywhere. I went from one to the other absorbing the energy but never quite inside. This was another world for me and as excited as I was, I was a bit intimidated by it all. I often visited Italian friends who had businesses in Soho and showed my work around. A few months later I got my first solo exhibition (April 1986) at The Vorpal Gallery on West Broadway. The opening was crowded mostly with people I didn’t know and my work was almost all sold. I was not really aware of what was going on at the time. it was like being outside of myself and watching myself. I didn’t feel it was happening to me!! I had a goal: I wanted to go and explore the America that I read in books and saw in films, museums and galleries. I wanted to have that empirical experience, I wanted to see where Max Ernst and the surrealists and dadaists had been inspired by Native American symbols. I wanted to know the relationship of Jung with myth, primitive symbolism and the unconscious. I wanted to see the America of Wim Wenders… I wanted to be on the highest peak of the Grand Canyon. So with the money from my paintings sold in the show, I bought a VW 1975 Volkswagen, a Nikon camera and lots of film and went to discover America. I wanted to experience the territory, the dirt, the ground, the symbols, the cultures. The real America! I traveled coast to coast from east to north to south to west and in to Mexico. I lived in the territory, embraced the clouds, went off road, met all kinds of people and especially I created. I created using media found on the way, dirt from Monument Valley or canyons in Utah, salt from the dry desert, blue in the natural pigment found on the Native American reservations in New Mexico, and photos, photos and photos. I photographed everything. I was able to see things in a macroscopic way, everything was a new discovery and it all enchanted me. It was an inspiring but hard journey to be on the road not knowing anyone. It was cold and it was very hot. It was a spiritual journey with myself – with no fear – with an open mind and eyes and a connection with nature to the vast territory, this immense universe before me. I knew that I needed to do this. It was an intuition. the Me was thrust into the world. I think it was the first time that I felt so connected, that my Art and I became One! I visited many American cities. I traveled across the States by road, not in airplanes. I traveled to Native American reservations, visited many university campuses, lakes, rivers, mountains, canyons, great plains and met so many people. What remained inside me mostly was the emotional feeling of the amazing nature, the sky, the infinite line of the horizon. At the end of the trip I went back to Rome, where this journey became a solo exhibition: “Fragments of a Journey” curated by my art history professor Lorenza Trucchi (the teacher that made me love art history). I started working in film, TV and in opera theatre as an art director. I was working on my art and showing in galleries and museums – but I missed America. So I went back and forth living between NY and Rome for a couple years. At the end of the 80s I started working with Francis Ford Coppola in Cinecittà where we were working on a project involving traditional media like drawing, painting, storyboarding and using innovative computer tools. Eventually we worked on Godfather III for several months. Back to New York, I had a second American exhibition in 1990 in a Tribeca gallery that was part of a protest by many artists against the allegations of pornography levied at Robert Maplethorpe. After that my journey took me on a different path… and brought me to Los Angeles. I had been invited to show my work in a group exhibition in a Beverly Hills gallery, it was my first art show in LA. Also I was working in a documentary, the project took a long time and made me stay in LA, longer than I thought. At the end of 1993 without really realizing it, I started to live in Los Angeles and then I met my husband. It seems that many different chapters in my life were leading me to live in the USA, even though I had intended to stay in Italy. I never thought I’d live here for 20 years. Los Angeles is the city of many opportunities, ideas abound writ large and with the possibilities of tomorrow. You never know, anything can change your life in a minute, the most unique quality in Los Angeles is the ethnic diversity, the many languages, the many unique neighborhoods, the strong landscape of the city, and of course the weather. The weather is what gives one the opportunity to explore the various aspects of the city, from ocean to canyons. So here I am with my two masterpieces created here: my daughters!! I live in Santa Monica on the edge of Pacific ocean and I continue to work here as an artist and documentary filmmaker.

Please share your best memory in the City.

In New york I have so many memories, but the first one that comes to mind is when I arrived for the first time and went to stay with a friend for a few days in a tall building on Mercer street. I couldn’t sleep at night. Partly for the jet lag and partly because I was so enchanted by the city. The apartment was on the 40th floor and at night I was sitting by the large windows. I was so tall! It was the first time that I was sitting on top of a grattacielo (a skyscraper) and I could overlook the whole city feeling empowered by the immensity. I looked through the night lights of NYC and dreamt to one day be an artist in this city. I saw myself like Nastassja Kinski in Paris Texas, when she was waiting for her son to arrive. She looked outside the window but saw herself in it like a mirror..The other great memory was myself in the gallery showing my art during my first solo exhibition in NYC. In Los Angeles I didn’t have a big impression the first time, and I never thought I’d live here so long. I lived in different parts of the city: in the Hollywood Hills, the Miracle Mile and finally in Santa Monica where my home is now. It was not easy in the beginning. I missed my world in Italy and my social art circle, the interaction with friends and the feeling of being close to human beings. This feeling of isolation is partly due to the size of LA. It took a lot of effort to break this feeling, I went to see art shows. I took my first daughter, just born, to explore LA with me going everywhere. We went to different neighborhoods, did different activities, went to parks and traveled outside the city. That how I got to know Los Angeles! This is the city where one thing leads to another, a quality that allows you to move forward, but you have to move to make this happen. Now I feel very well connected, this is my home, this is my work place, my art life community. I have many Italian friends too. We get together as an extended family especially during the holidays. I have seen the city change a lot in the last 10 years. Neighborhoods that no one wanted to go to before like downtown LA are now leading a new renaissance. New construction and renovation of old buildings have created new spaces where newcomers and creative people want to live and work. Overall it is a better quality of life, a more international environment and with many interesting aspects to the city. The weather makes it easy. It is a pleasure to be in January in an outdoor cafe or to walk on the beach wearing only a t-shirt looking at the dolphins dancing from a distance in the ocean. I like the feeling of being a part of the entire world. Perhaps this is my own nature.

What made you choose this specific location and outfit?

When Alexo contacted me to take my picture for his project Italiany, I was in the middle of working on a couple of exhibitions so most of my time was spent in the studio finishing my work and dealing with the numerous details before the opening. My studio is located in a hangar, in the heart of Santa Monica Airport. It’s the place where I spend a lot of my time, thinking, creating, working – it’s my own habitat. It seemed like the best place to be photographed. I invited Alexo to meet me there…small airplanes all around, a metaphor for a sense of migration, going or coming into the city, a sense of movement, evolution, transformation, the sound of airplanes makes me feel that I can be in whatever space and time I wish. That I can leave at any moment and not feel trapped in one place. I thought that it is a perfect location for Alexo’s project, the metaphorical evidence of Italian people moving in america. My outfit is part of my multitasking days. I constantly move between work, events and other daily routines. I had my jeans and shirt on as my work clothes but I often bring with me a change of clothing if I have to go to events or meetings. So I decided to wear a blue and flowered kimono to throw over my jeans for the photoshoot.

Your thought about this project, ITALIANY.US

I think it’s a great idea to expose Italians living in America to the world and especially now that there is a new migration of young, professional Italians. Alexo Wandael is a talented photographer and a wonderful human being. His project will stamp: “Made in Italy”, in the window of the grattacieli of America.

How would you describe being an ambassador of the italian style/culture abroad?

I think we, Italian people, have a kind of mission in america. “A Mission of Life”: Creativity, craft and style, ideas, good food, unique sense of humor, human qualities that are the base of the “Made in Italy” brand that is welcome everywhere in the world. We grow up with a traditional culture of the arts, it is already in our DNA, it’s in our streets, our museums. Therefore we have a mission to bring these qualities to America.

  • Santa Monica, CA


  • Time

    120 mins

  • Shots


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A visual celebration of Italians working, living and loving in NY and in the US