We had the good fortune of connecting with Mariapia Malerba and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mariapia, as a parent, what have you done for you children that you feel has had the most significant impact?
I am, indeed, a mother to my wonderful son Giulio. The most important thing I’ve done as a mother stems from something my father did for me. You may have heard that many artists take inspiration from dreams. I am no exception. After my father died, he came to me in a vivid dream. I was walking fast, panting along an endless bridge, trying to catch up to my two friends far ahead of me moving off toward the horizon. No matter how hard I pushed I couldn’t reach them. Then an eagle swooped down and perched on the bannister next to me. Oddly, he was wearing a baseball cap emblazoned with the American flag. Then the eagle spoke, and my father’s voice said: “why do you put all this effort into walking when you can fly!?” No sooner had the words left his beak than I took flight like an eagle and gazed down on the earth from above in amazement. When the dream ended, the message was clear. I had to fly away. I had to leave Italy and move to the United States. At the time, I was looking for solutions to free myself from constraints that I could no longer tolerate. I guess it comes down to how much are you willing to sacrifice in your life in order to follow your beliefs. For me, freedom is everything. I can’t stand restrictions. It kills my creativity, suffocates my thoughts. The decision to leave Italy in search of greater freedom is one of the biggest risks I’ve taken in my life, and my 9 year-old-son bore witness to it all. Leaving Italy in 2009 was like jumping from an airplane in the dead of night during a thunderstorm without a parachute. I sold everything I owned to get my work visa. I left my job, my family, my friends, my culture, my language, my everyday habits and comforts. And when I finally arrived at my destination, sometimes it felt like I had died leaping from that airplane, and I had in a certain way. I needed to die in order to be reborn here in my new life. I went through hell, but I am grateful because now I know who I am and what I am capable of doing for myself and my family. This is the most important lesson I could ever teach my son.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a multidisciplinary artist. I express myself through fashion, painting, installation and theatrical set design. The mediums I use and methods I use to incorporate them are without a doubt unique, but what sets my style apart from other artists is more complex than that. Much of my work tends to illustrate my internal conflict with restrictions and rigidity. My most recent exhibit, Shodopia, is a featured spin on shodo, the Japanese art of calligraphy, and its origin story is a classic example of my battle against so-called rules. One day, I heard a piece of music on the radio that inspired me. I started dreaming, thinking about painting as I interpreted the music, moving with the rhythm, painting on a canvas. But I wanted to paint with something different, something clean but out-of-bounds at the same time. Then it hit me. I would work with a broom—something with soft brushstrokes that would create the illusion of an error, even sloppiness. Painting with a broom breaks the rules. It cuts against that rigid grain of the viewer’s expectation of a smooth, unfrayed stroke. That’s how Shodopia was born. And earlier this year, in one of my greatest professional achievements, the gallery walls at The Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center were lined with 208 linear feet of white panels painted with thick, black strokes from the soft bristles of a broom. My work on Shodopia also illustrates the difficult journey I took to get where I am today, a journey that most artists are on in some form or another. I didn’t have a professional studio when I got the idea for Shodopia, so I had to use my home. And this was not your average canvas and easel job. Each of the Shodopia panels are 9 feet by 12 feet, so every day I would move the furniture out of the way in my living room, prep the floor, work for hours, move the furniture back, then carefully clean up just so I could live in my own apartment again—every time (how long did it take overall? How many weeks/months?). You have to love this process. The planning, the organization, the painstaking care to put your living space back together once you’re finished being creative. This is how it had always been for me. But since the success of Shodopia, I finally have my own dream studio. When I look back on the entirety of my journey so far, it becomes clear that my environment as a child had a substantial impact on my art. During my upbringing in Puglia, my mother was obsessed with cleanliness and order. She did not like me experimenting with any type of art projects in the house. No drawing, no painting, no sewing. But whenever my mother left for an errand, I would rush to create. I would take out my colors, water, easel and canvas and paint obsessively, then clean up the evidence before my mother returned, putting everything away meticulously. I was a rulebreaker from the start. But those restrictions taught me invaluable lessons. Because I had so few opportunities to create, I couldn’t afford to wait for inspiration, so I learned to value simplicity, discipline and purpose. Most salient for my life as an artist, I developed a powerful resilience that I don’t think anyone can teach. Resilience is useful in any walk of life. But above all, resilience helps you find your calling in life in spite of what others want from you. It’s all a process, often a difficult and painful one, but one that is invaluable in the end.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I love living in SWFL for a host of reasons. But the biggest draw for me is the outdoors, especially in the winter when the temperature is perfect. After growing up in Puglia, Italy, I have always had a fondness for warm, coastal places. And as every Floridian is used to, my friends who live in cold weather locales can’t wait to come visit me. I always take my guests to the Fort Myers River District. Even if it’s not Art Walk or Music Walk, you can’t get much better than taking a long stroll under the sun along the harbor before stopping for lunch and a drink or popping into an art gallery where I often find my group of friends (most of them are artists, of course). I live along the Caloosahatchee River, and I love to take my guests on boat rides around the many islets. The scenery will never get old.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My family, my friends, new people that I met along the way but specially my son.
Photographer Justin Favero