IVANO LA MONTAGNA
"The universe I imbued my pieces of art with, is the universe I have explored during my journeys."
Ivano la Montagna was born in Acerra, Italy, a town with a long history and a strong agricultural tradition. Pulcinella, one of the most famous stock comic characters was born there as well, a
place that until some years ago was considered to be the garden for the noblemen from Naples.
Neapolis is the metropolis Ivano was adopted by and which brought him up. Just like a mother, it has instilled in him certain qualities, such as its anarchist character and its age-old culture. It is such a strong bond that it makes him feel prouder to be a citizen from Magna Graecia than an Italian citizen, especially if considering his contemporary Italian political situation.
Ivano intentionally uses the metaphor of the mother because he has grown up in a family in which female figures were endowed with a strong and positive temper, and living in a society which was dramatically male chauvinist, he has been lucky to widen his sensibility in a genuine matrilinear frame. To his mother, who is an art teacher, Ivano la Montagna owes his first exercises/experiments with the graphic languages. Childish amusements always shape future passions in adult life and his favorite one was and of course still is art.
Ivano la Montagna recieved his degree in architecture from Federico II University in Naples and later obtained his PhD in History of Architecture and of the City. A hard course of study that has completely given a new shape to his thinking and being. In particular, he has met teachers with great cultural depth and who have had a remarkable impact on his personality. Studying architecture has provided Ivano with a broad mental and intellectual framework. The four years spent carrying out research in the field of rational architecture, and in particular into Aldo Rossi’s works, which ended with the publication of his research on the topic, have radically changed him. He's been practicing his profession as an architect but the forge where the illustrator molded has never been put out!
Drawing has been the main means by which Ivano la Montagna has understood the world around him. Two things he is very fond of are drawing and studying and is always on the look out for opportunities to do both. They merge into one thing if he says “studying by drawing”. However, the background where he grew up was not all roses. If it were a painting, it would have colors vehemently contrasting in chromaticity and expressiveness. The lively domestic environment where he spent his youth was in deep contrast with an urban background (that of the Neapolitan area from the end of the 1970s to the beginning of the 1990s) and it was marked by what he calls the “mass sedation”. The heroin was flowing out by swallowing the last bursts of protest movements. At that time, the Italian State and the Camorra were outrageously interwoven and such an interweaving, he thinks, still continues today although in a different way. Those were the years in which his political conscience started molding. A patrimony which Ivano la Montagna jealously keeps.
Ivano la Montagna combines emotions, architecture and cinematic expressions into explosive creations. He brings past, present and possibly future situations together to initiate responses that will bring forth important thoughts and dialogues. Numbers are key in La Montagna’s pieces, as in time, distance and other everyday aspects of life. The mathematics in his works add an element of familiarity to each piece, as if the solutions to certain matters in our existence were only a calculation away. Ivano’s art is one of thought-provoking grandeur.
Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?
A. My success as an artist and my philosophy in matters of art are closely connected, they are like the East and the West, which lean against each other's backs, like a bride and a bridegroom. As Massimo Troisi (the great Neapolitan comic actor) said, "a man and a woman are the least suitable people to get married. They are too different from each other! You know, comic actors make you laugh but at the same time, they make you realize how true and disarming their statements are. I laughed again at his words although this was more of a bitter one.
Q. Do you remember the first piece of art you made? What was it and how old were you?
A. My first important piece of art, maybe the most important one, is the one thanks to which I won the second prize at an extemporaneous art contest organized in San Lupo, a small town near Benevento, a town which was the setting of the extraordinary anarchist revolt at the time of the Savoy invasion. I was 12. My mother had been invited to take part in the contest and I went with her. I learned that there were no age limits to enroll. I was a stubborn and very persuasive boy so I claimed to be enrolled. The Academy Professors who awarded the prizes allowed for me to have one of the best days ever. In an unbroken fit of the wildest artistic vein of mine, I sketched in sanguine an anonymous alley. The jury commented on it by saying that it was a gift to be improved. Those words made me walk on air! The drawing, as I later learned, is now kept at the town hall.
Q. Are you inspired by the works of your peers or anyone else in particular?
A. Since I was a little boy, I have benefitted from the privilege of closely observing, while working, one of the greatest contemporary representatives of surrealism. When I first met him, a deep friendship was born; a lively friendship that still goes “higher than the clouds” to quote Wenders-Antonioni; a bond that I have transported and consolidated in the vast, infinite field of dreamlike poetry. Little by little, I have succeeded in imbuing my pieces of art with this universe by deeply inspiring myself through the greatest teaching I have ever received: being humble and sacredly respectful of the quality of the technique used (drawing, in my own case).
When we talk about influences, I cannot but underline the importance of all those artists who have “used” and still use human figures as the highest and most refined means of communication. A crucial influence on my artistic output has been provided by my education in architecture. It has greatly contributed to broadening my world of influences by allowing me to become acquainted with the compositional techniques at the basis of the artistic, rational, geometrical and mathematical rigor. A great number of the works I am still elaborating belong to a broader plan which takes its roots in Malevich's suprematist works. I have been working on the assumption that Malevich's works are sort of "wormholes" and I am on the opposite side. All the things that have been swallowed up burst out in my own parallel, interior, and individual world. Mine is a universe where forces produce alchemic reactions between the real, material world and where the abstract and intellectual one coexist.
Other endless sources of powerful inspiration are philosophy, music, anthropology, cinema, life and nature. The dreaming processes - borrowed by E. Fromm's works - are the main means used to infer and reassemble all the material that, from time to time, journey by journey, the wormhole gives me/us back.
I am fond of Lautrec, I envy Gaugin, but some years ago, I met Hugo Pratt by chance and it was the first time I actually felt dizzy. What struck me was the lines and the brushstrokes which were absolutely and wonderfully essential. It was love at first sight. When I was a little child, I would read Topolino comic trips but it was only when I got in touch with Hugo Pratt that I finally realized what a comic strip was. In his hands, drawing and writing were at their highest level. I had just found a path to walk and a guide to follow. Then, it was the time of Moebius, Manara. Anyway, at this rate, the list is endless!
Q. What does your work aim to express?
A. My relationship with my viewers is very controversial because the relationship I have with myself is controversial too. On the one hand, I realize that the cultural magma my works take life from is a chaotic system where I cannot go forward by walking/traveling along a simple and straightforward path. In this sea of knowledge, my little ship looks like Ulysses's ship: it is unable to sail by following a direct and linear route because of the recurring storms it has to cope with. My fussiness in the geometrical composition (I love thinking that I "build" my paintings) and my meticulous care in drawing are the means by which I desperately try to provide my viewers with a hold from where I am observing my last shipwreck. I try to exhort my viewers to follow me by providing them with what I think to be the direction of the right road to walk in order to find salvation. I am trying to say that I consider the viewer as a probable traveling companion of mine. I want to tell him to get on the one boat or tree trunk left as to feel the thrill of the dangerous journey - and why not - of the shipwreck. Dangerous but beautiful!
In general, I spend lots of time talking with those viewers who stop and ask me questions. I listen to them with pleasure when they try to interpret my pieces of art. Sometimes, they make me see and discover things in the new world that I have not even seen. If I had to weigh how important my relationship with this would-be-traveling fellow is, I find a perfect line from Battiato's song Il Mantello e la Spiga, "I/you leave a footprint so that you can follow and find yourself. If I/you are given the possibility to live another life, I could need that invitation to get in touch with knowledge and change.” Some lines further, that song ends with "leave everything behind and follow yourself" I am myself, the viewer and this could not be different!
Q. Tell us about some of the highlights of your artistic career?
A. As far as my career as an illustrator concerns, I must confess that I have started producing figurative art very recently. Since 2008, after the publication of my degree thesis and my collaboration to other researches about contemporary architecture, I have been trying to shape my crowded interior world thanks to the τέχνη ( techne) I had: drawing and digital design in reverse order. My former art exhibitions were mainly marked by digitally created works of art, which were the reproduction of detailed drawings I had formerly realized by means of pencils, pens or charcoal. This period was very short. Hands soon replaced mouse and monitor to come back to the original way of producing art: paper and charcoal. I still use the computer to produce my works of art but I use it only to obsessively and accurately "assemble" all the parts composing them. I use patterns and scales to place in the right proportions, all of the elements which vividly appear in my dream.
I perfectly remember all the exhibitions I have taken part in so far. However, the most exciting events were the following ones: the Artecostiera contest which took place in Maiori, in 2016, in which I was awarded the first prize; the second selection of the Arte Salerno International Prize when the art critic Vittorio Sgarbi included me among his favorite artists. A former selection had occurred the previous year in Palermo at the Panorama di Italia exhibition. The following year, on the second edition of the same international event, the artist Paola De Gregorio awarded me the "Prize to Culture" because of "the refined semantic research and the cultural depth of the themes I had treated" This is what I am the proudest of! 2018 saw me laboriously involved in the very rich and exciting film experience as a set and graphic designer, for an indie movie by the young Neapolitan set designer and director Corrado Ardone. It will be presented as a national premiere at Venezia Film Festival. However, prizes and awards take a back seat if I take into consideration all the best I can enjoy at art exhibitions. When I talk about "the best I can enjoy" I mean all the people I meet at art exhibitions. In some cases, they are only part of a
fruitful cultural web for its own sake; in other cases, they become part of long-lasting friendships. Anyway, every art exhibition becomes a journey, both real and metaphysical, where I visit new places and I experience new adventures and atmospheres, and this is for me the only path man can walk to enjoy wealth in life.
Q. What advice would you give to the next generation?
A. At school, as well as in the field of art and of knowledge in general, I invite my students to make comparisons with the great personalities of the past and I ask them to "choose" their own ideal family. This invitation of mine is rooted in Bernardo de Chartres's aphorism "nos ease quasi nanos gigantium humeris insidentes". We are as dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants: a medieval philosopher who reminds us of the importance of the giants of the past. At the same time, nearly paradoxically, I underline the necessity not to excessively revere the past, and on the contrary, to avoid being obsequious. I invite to mix love with humbleness and even wild criticism. In a way, no worshipping! The last but not the least, Leonard's and Caravaggio's teachings: Nature is the only true guide man has, for better or worse. Some years ago, I was able to attend one of Professor Ernesto Tatafiore's lessons, held at the University in a seminar about architecture and painting. I remember that he was deeply sorry that the youngsters in general, and those attending the university in particular, used to rarely attend museums and art galleries. I took the chance to ask him if it were excessive to ask oneself the reverse question. I used to be a boy almost obsessional by the grandeur of the men of the past. I didn't mean to ask him a question, but advice on how a man should find the right equilibrium between admiration, respect and study, how to reach the right ability to walk on his own legs along his own path without being stuck and clashed by the fear of comparison. His answer was dazzling. As I have already said, it is ages since I have met Professor Tatafiore, but I will try to report his words hoping not to change their
original meaning. They sound like this: a lot of people think art to be a basic need, just like eating. Now, people metabolize food at different rates and each person, little by little, learns what food they metabolize faster, what food is indigestible and what food can be dangerous for their health, regardless of whether they like it. It is in this way that (on that occasion, his audience was mostly composed of Neapolitan people; so the metaphor was very suitable) a tasteful dish of spaghetti can become even dangerous if you exaggerate in quantity or if you cannot eat them at all because of health problems. You need to learn and know yourself! One of my worst failings is greed. I must confess!