|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Interview with Agnese Udinotti (1994)|
Copyright by Jessie Benton Evans
Jessie Benton Evans: Since 1987, your work has featured three sequential series evolving out of each other.
Agnese Udinotti: Seven years ago, "Monument To My Father" began as a series to commemorate my father who was shot by the Communists when they took over Greece just after World War II. The "Shadow Images" developed in 1989, two years after my mother's death. "Shadow Images: The Renaissance" resulted two years ago when I realized that certain delicate brush strokes on two heads suggested subtle facial features.
Evans: Why did your father die?
Udinotti: "My father was executed when I was four. During the War, he worked for the Greek underground, and helped Jewish families escape. He was Italian, married to a Greek woman, with dual citizenship. After the War, when the Communists came, he was accused, because of dual citizenship, of working against the Greek government for the Italian government. He waited with many others in prison for his trial, which never came. One day, they took 2000 prisoners to a hill outside Athens and shot them. He was thirty-three.
Evans: How did this influence your life?
Udinotti: I remember that he didn't come home one day. My mother told my grandmother, "I went to see him in prison, and without thinking, I picked white flowers in the field, not knowing I'd find him dead and put the flowers on his body." He was handsome and positive, and represented enjoyment and the pleasure of life.
Evans: Is your father the dominant force in your life?
Udinotti: Definitely. I have made it that. At nine years old, I decided that no matter what I did in life, I would do it in his name and in place of him, because he couldn't do it. I would not let the Udinotti name go to waste, but would give it the image and weight I wanted it to have. I had to be careful with time, because in essence, I was working for two people. I would make my life worthy. The memory of my father has never been problematic to me. Rather, I want to honor his memory and the sensitive, vulnerable, positive feelings he gave me.
Evans: Do you remember the War?
Udinotti: I had incidences of panic, but I was not conscious of the War. A bullet missed me by two inches. We neighborhood children played in the street. Someone yelled, "Go hide, the Germans are coming." All of the children ran to a house, climbed a balcony to a window. My legs were too short. I couldn't climb. I pounded the door, screaming "help me, help me," in extreme panic, the panic of being left behind.
The War was a good time, too, because my father was there. I waited all day for him to come home and spend time with me. At bedtime, he'd play with my brother and me as we jumped up and down, throwing pillows. My mother was an elegant young woman. They were a handsome couple.
Evans: You have exhibited worldwide and represented Greece at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, but how did you have the nerve and courage as a girl to make your way alone in a new country?
Udinotti: I have will and determination (thank you and honor to my father for all of his energy). Or was it my energy? That way, I could thank him for bringing me into the world. I got a student visa to attend Arizona State University and earned my B.A. in two years, and my M.A. in one. Then I went to New York to contact galleries. It seemed that anything I asked to be done, happened. I met Peter Deutsch, who hired me in his gallery as a research assistant in Art Nouveau and introduced me to people. Peter Selz, Director of the Museum of Modern Art, invited me to his house. Deutsch gave me the idea for the gallery I have today.
Evans: Why did you leave New York?
Udinotti: Unethical games are played there. A major New York dealer was asked if imagery and talent are the most important parts of an artist's success. He replied, "Categorically, no. We promote good artists, but art is like an experience of life. It goes into the personality, the charm, the sex, what the person can offer you and you the person. Not just money, but social prestige. In New York, all of these things combine." I'm not puritanical, but I have ethics. Historians will evaluate my works, not whom I've slept with. I believe in the quiet purification quality of time. Substance and value will prevail over fashion.
Evans: You didn't really begin your "Monument To My Father" series until 1987.
Udinotti: I had finished a series of amorphous figures, "Man in Search of Identity." My children gave me a styrofoam head with a face of childlike innocence. This became my prominent image for the "Monument To My Father" series, my first three-dimensional work, which I began seriously in 1987. The face could be me as a child in relation to my father. I cast this image repeatedly, often in multiples, in bronze and in plaster glued onto a canvas or board surface. All are painted with oils, and some are mounted on stelae on which I have written my poetry. Plaster absorbs much pigment very quickly. I diluted the paint in such a way, almost like watercolors, that I could apply very thin layers to show fragility and sensitivity on the images' surface. My intent was to give the pigment the feeling of translucency, to connect with sensitive and vulnerable feelings associated with my father's memory. In 1991, in Athens, for my "Monument To My Father," I made a life-size sarcophagus.
Evans: Then you began the "Shadow Images."
Udinotti: The subject matter was initiated by my mother's death. She and my brother had stayed in Greece. When she came to this country in 1985, my brother called and said, "They found shadows on her lungs." After she died, I later wanted to do a single painting to commemorate her death, and my brother's words kept coming back"shadows on her lungs." So I began by taking one and two-foot masonite squares and blocking off a rectangular segment of the boards with graphite, and then creating the image by erasing the graphite away, to create the lights and shadows. The whole series had human forms in shadow. You could see them or you could not see them or parts of the body that were eaten away by just the process of erasing something from the human form. This technique allowed me to work in the negative, taking away to create the image, rather than adding.
I started these as shadow images from another world, a door covered with graphite with a person passing through that door, or shadowy bodies, treated loosely, in a shadow-like form, trying to create a mass no longer in existence, form solidification to a non-solid state.
Evans: You came to "Shadow Images: The Renaissance" accidentally?
Udinotti: In 1991, I had a shadow image on canvas, two small torsos and heads, and on the heads I scratched very elegant and sensitive lines, creating two profiles, without being aware. Afterwards, looking at these profiles, I thought that what they were telling me was worth investigating. On enlarged figures, I painted heads and profiles or faces, with that treatment of sensitivity. Some are more realistically portrayed than others, giving a feeling of coming from the past, or another world, or life, or memory, or another recognition of some kind of reality that is already gone. So this is the theme I am exploring now, this duality, this head within a head within a head.
Evans: Is the "Renaissance" your return to life after dealing with death?
Udinotti: They started as white images on black. Red is now creeping into the human form, which people identify with wounds, but I feel it is the blood of life. Historically, I may be tapping into my father's Italian ancestry. I was astounded by a Renaissance portrait by Pisanello that had the same translucent skin tones and the same profile I was painting. Renaissance paintings have an incredible tonality. My paintings are very delicate, showing the fragility and vulnerability of the spirit portrayed in the fragility of linear form. They show that although the human form does not survive, and Time conquers, energy is left behind. This is what creativity is. We put on canvas what is already there. We are sensitive enough to pick it up and express it through our art.
Evans: Like a Jungian universal consciousness; going into the pool of consciousness?
Udinotti: I think the soul and universal consciousness are the same thing. Release is an identification with, and tapping into, that whole. It's as if you're reading a novel and the release is what the next page has to give you.
Evans: Do you ever wonder about the last page?
Udinotti: Spiritual people say the moment of enlightenment comes just before dying. That is the last page.
Evans: Don't you feel lucky to tap into this source?
Udinotti: Extremely fortunate. I get up in the morning and I don't know who I say it to, but I say "thank you." The experience of life is so intense, I say thanks for another day.
Evans: Do you think that creative accidents, like the delicate brushstrokes which implied the profiles that led to your "Shadow Images: The Renaissance" series, happen because you tap into this source of universal experience?
Udinotti: I remember hearing cellist Pablo Casals say " What I've experienced is not a talent or creativity, but the sensitivity to tap into what was already out there, and put it into music." I take a canvas and discover what is already here. That's why it's so deadly to analyze in advance. When I realized these sensitive brushstrokes had related subtle features and a whole new series, I felt elation.
When I go days without painting, I begin to feel heavy. When I paint even one painting, I feel lighter, elated. Yesterday, Pavarotti was singing and I was dancing and singing at the top of my lungs. I started one painting, then another and another, almost as if I had to release them.
Jessie Benton Evans is an artist and writer, who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.
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