Italian-born and Brooklyn-based artist, Michela Martello, dipped her paintbrush in Farrow & Ball paint to create life-sized murals at New York’s Pen + Brush Gallery – an organisation that promotes gender equality by supporting emerging female artists. In Future is Goddess, Martello’s blend of strength and softness, of domesticity and demolition, took a stand against the anxieties of 2017 and affirmed women’s power in response to current political and social uncertainty. The exhibit featured three distinct goddesses representing a mixture of cultural backgrounds, and guests were invited to sign their own name on the mural when viewing the works.
Farrow & Ball’s Rectory Red, Charlotte’s Locks and Nancy’s Blushes brought the works to life, while Peony BP 2301 and Shouchikubai BP 4502 wallpaper added more interest to the display. Last month we caught up with the artist and the gallery owners to learn more about the exhibit.
A Chat with NYC Gallery, Pen + Brush
The Chromologist: What was it about Michela Martello’s body of work that made the curators at Pen + Brush reach out to Michela for this exhibition?
Pen + Brush: Michela Martello’s work is uniquely captivating, due to her use of symbols as a universal language. This, along with her painterly stroke and willingness to experiment with technique and materials, is what drew Pen + Brush to give Martello this solo show. We felt her work was immediately relatable and genuine. One does not need to know the meanings of each symbol used or the origin of each fabric to extract emotion from her work. What’s more, Martello’s work has a humanitarian component. Her generous use of symbols encourages cultural and generational dialogues that are increasingly important.
TC: How did Pen + Brush come up with the idea to partner with Farrow & Ball for the Future Is Goddess exhibit?
PB: The partnership between Farrow & Ball and Pen + Brush was incredibly organic. Farrow & Ball’s location in the Flatiron District of New York City is located just across the street from Pen + Brush’s gallery space. Showroom Manager, Erica Silberman came into our gallery in 2015 to introduce herself and Farrow & Ball. Erica was familiar with our work and our mission, as she had attended exhibitions and events in our previous location. She brought over some samples and invited us for a tour of their store. We loved the artisan quality and craftsmanship of Farrow & Ball’s paints and wallpaper, so our partnership grew from there. We are grateful for their generous support of our work, and consider ourselves lucky to have Erica’s vision at our disposal when we are selecting colours and installation ideas for our exhibitions.
TC: How did your relationship with Michela evolve from your initial encounter with her work, to studio visit, and then to the realisation of the Future Is Goddess exhibition?
PB: Pen + Brush first encountered Michela’s work in 2014 when she submitted a portfolio for curatorial review while our new gallery in the Flatiron District was still under construction. We were immediately excited about her work, as was Rick Kinsel (Executive Director, The Vilcek Foundation), who selected Martello’s work and curated our inaugural exhibit “Domesticity Revisited,” which was a group show featuring four international contemporary artists. As part of our programming, once an artist has been chosen for exhibition, they are added to a roster from which additional exhibits can be created throughout the year. Michela is incredibly prolific, she is a skilled artist who is deeply immersed in both history and contemporary times, which results in works that are significant, meaningful, and beautiful.
A Chat with Artist, Michela Martello
The Chromologist: How do you feel your background as an illustrator has influenced your painting style?
Michela Martello: Being an illustrator for children’s books for over 10 years helped me greatly in the process of building up a narrative and understanding how details can be paramount in a larger size painting. On the other hand, my work as an artist and painter has a lot to do with allowing a freedom within my working process. Being an illustrator for such a long time can sometimes lead me to a structured point of view. When that happens, I have to be able to recognise it and transform it and integrate it onto my canvas.
TC: What was the thought process behind the Farrow & Ball paints and wallpapers you chose for this exhibit?
MM: I definitely followed my gut! I felt an immediate attraction to Rectory Red, so that was the starting point. Around that colour I chose the others, allowing more colours that felt complementary to the subject and to the chromatic palette. Regarding wallpaper, this is the first time that I integrated another material onto one of my murals. I do it all the time on my canvases, so I wanted to try a mixed media mural. The pattern is very evocative, and the texture of the wallpaper makes it almost 3D with a thickness that enriched the artwork.
TC: What was the inspiration for the interactive element of the Graffiti Goddess mural?
MM: When you create street art it is very important to learn that everything is impermanent! Pen + Brush is the perfect space for creating an interactive mural. Last year Pen +Brush had a show where people were invited to interact with literature by writing on the wall, and ever since then I have been intrigued by the process. Graffiti is a great form of freedom art—to be able to add your words onto a mural suggests a strong message of female power that I think is perfect.
TC: Each of the three goddesses depicted in the mural represents a mixing of cultures and backgrounds. How did those cultural influences shape how you chose which Farrow & Ball paints and wallpapers to use?
MM: I did not want to create a division or border between the three goddesses. Although they come from different backgrounds, it is important to show them as a perfectly well-integrated culture mix. That’s why I chose to use all the colours mixed between them. I only added more of the wallpaper for the girl on the left, using this amazing pattern as a collage for her trousers. I wanted to have a strong decorative element that shook up the overall work a little.
CM: Which Farrow & Ball paints or wallpapers are your favourite for everyday use in the home?
MM: I love everything that I used. I especially loved the texture and thickness of the Farrow & Ball wallpaper. The fine quality of the paints and wallpapers allowed me to work seamlessly with the materials. I will definitely keep using Farrow & Ball!