It’s Valentine’s day! With Palazzo Rinaldi a pretty romantic destination in its own right, we thought it may be interesting to talk creative & personal experiences with one of our former Artists-in-Residence, Elizabeth D’Agostino (AIR 2010) a visual artist based in Toronto, Canada, who attended alongside her partner.
- Elizabeth, your surname is clearly of Italian origin. Can you tell us a little bit about where your family is from originally?
My family is from the Lazio region and come from a small town at the foot of the mountains where the Abbey of Montecassino is located. My parents grew up down the street from each other! Although my father immigrated to Canada first in 1956 and my mother shortly after I still have several aunts, uncles and cousins who still live in this area.
Liz at work on the terrace at Palazzo Rinaldi
- In what ways you feel your ‘Italian-ness’ influences your creative work?
I have always been fortunate to have come from a family who supported my creativity. My mother was a dress maker and I always used to spend hours watching her carefully craft things together and make patterns from her visual memory. My father loved to build things so he was pretty resourceful. I think this is where my visual training and ability to problem solve began: both of these characteristics are so important as a visual artist. My parents were also big gardeners and they grew all kinds of vegetables and flowers. They brought so much knowledge from Italy, and managed to grow various varieties of vegetables and flowers. Artistically I am interested in the human interaction and adaptation of an organism to environmental and physical change. The research of entomology and botany and elements such as birds, insects, and broken fragments of organic elements remind me of familial sites and surroundings both past and present. It embodies a sense of individual desire to recapture and restore memories and fragments of historical passages, which influence my daily life.
Works in progress by Liz from her stay
- What made you want to attend an artists’ residency in Italy, and why Palazzo Rinaldi in particular?
I was beginning to work in video and digital photography and I had been planning a trip to Italy for several years because I really wanted the opportunity to document where my family was from. I felt like things were starting to change, and the rural quality of the area starting to disappear: those traditions that I found myself longing for were no longer present. I felt like I was ready to start working on a project titled ‘Longing/Belonging’. I wanted to tie this project into a Residency, so I started searching and came across Palazzo Rinaldi. The more I looked into it the more I realized that this would be a great balance for planning this trip to my family’s home and also working on editing the video.
- Do you feel the village of Noepoli, residency and local area influenced your work, and in what way?
I loved the landscape and really enjoyed documenting various parts of the Pollino National Park. I’m so used to experiencing large national parks in North America so knowing that Noepoli was set within the Park really intrigued me. I was excited to go exploring for new things to draw and document. The area where my family is from is quite rural also, but as we travelled south we noticed that all of the villages were perched on top each mountain surrounded by walls and windy roads.
The village of Noepoli
- You attended in Residency alongside your husband, Abel (and have since gone on to have a gorgeous baby boy!) How was your experience of being in residency together?
Abel and I enjoy the experience of travelling to new places, experiencing the culture and meeting new people so we were excited to spend this time together in the Basilicata region. Although Abel is not an artist he is very involved in my practice and helps me out on so many levels. I wanted him come along because I was excited to work on this particular project together but also to share this experience at Palazzo Rinaldi: I knew that for him it would be of interest because of the rich history of the area. Rarely do we get to collaborate on my projects so it was great to have the time to go over the hours of video footage and discuss it both aesthetically and technically.
We rented a car and drove from Naples to Noepoli. Once we drove out of the city limits of Naples and through the mountains it was really a lovely drive with no traffic and beautiful vistas in every direction. We were quite fond of the rest stops along the highway where we could grab a quick slice of delicious pizza and espresso or two before heading on the road again.
Liz and Abel exploring Basilicata together
- Tell us the most memorable memory of your stay?
My favourite part of my stay at Palazzo Rinaldi was definitely the view from the balcony from the bedroom, waking up every morning to that magnificent view overlooking the rolling hills and mountains beyond the village of Noepoli. The nights were pretty spectacular too, after the sun sets and it gets dark: the lights from the various villages perched on each mountain in the distance…Believe or not I actually witnessed two falling stars during my stay: one from the balcony and the other one while walking home up the hill from the restaurant!
The view from the Palazzo Rinaldi terrace
After breakfast each day I would spend morning until about 1pm drawing while on the balcony. It would remain cool and shady until about noon, so working in the natural light was ideal. Sitting on the balcony in the morning under the umbrella was my solitude: no noise, just the warm wind and sun as I worked in my sketchbook collecting my ideas for the work I was producing.
Liz at work at Palazzo Rinaldi
I found the mornings very busy in the village. Everyone running their errands, people happily chatting, cars and mopeds zipping by and the produce trucks would make their stop to the circle by the parking lot: ‘the peppers have arrived!’ I loved seeing the various shades of peppers which were harvested from the region, all lined up and gathered in the baskets.
In the afternoon I would head down to one of the cellar studios and continue working (and cool off) on another set of drawings. The studio was on the lower level of the building and I would often prop open the window which faced street level. After 1 pm the village was quiet and everyone disappeared. Everyday at about 4 pm the village would be begin to awaken again and I would start to hear the people talking, doors opening and the fresh smell of homemade tomato sauce…yes, seriously! It was like the smell of my mother’s kitchen as she prepared the large pot of tomato sauce which simmered on the stove for hours until dinner time.
Bedroom at Palazzo Rinaldi and Liz at work in one of the studios
- What would you advise artists interested in undertaking a residency alongside a partner or family, who may be anxious to get a lot of work done too? Any tips on organising your time or working space?
I wasn’t worried that I wouldn’t find the time to get any work done during this Residency. It definitely is a balance between focusing on the work and travelling together enjoying the various villages, meeting the locals and other residents is so much part of the process of attending a residency. Experiencing the region and the landscape informs the work and is part of the process so it’s important that one finds time to do this. One of the other residents was from Iceland so she joined Abel and I on a couple of excursions and we had a lovely time learning exchanging and learning about Iceland and Canada. We would try and take two days off during the week to see things, and focus on working the other days. Near the end, when we felt that we had really accomplished a lot, we took a well deserved and relaxing trip to the beaches and town of Maratea.
Liz and Abel exploring the cave dwellings in Matera and the seaside at Maratea
- Has motherhood changed your own working patterns much?
Being a mother has changed my working patterns quite a bit. When my son was first born I took about 3 months off, then returned to my studio practice. After a year I returned to work, where I now manage an art school. Working full time, trying to have an art practice and being a mother certainly keeps my life full. I do try to get into the studio once a week or in the evenings after my son goes to bed.
My son is almost 3 years old and we love going to the Natural History Museums, we especially like the biodiversity exhibitions and dinosaurs. I love loping at and documenting the insects and animals and he loves all of the interactive displays. He’s also quite fond of the dinosaurs and fossils.
- What project are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a new series of prints and print-based objects based on invented categories belonging to the natural world gathered from the research and history of scientific illustrations and historical animal drawings.
- Any plans to visit Italy again soon?
We were planning on taking a trip this summer, but we since had a change of plans as I have been selected as an Artist-in-Residence at Anchor Graphics, Columbia College in Chicago. I will be spending 3 weeks in May working on a new print-based project and interacting with the students at the college. Looks like Italy will have to wait for the fall or next summer for visiting- and I would like to try and bring the family too!
Elizabeth D’Agostino received her BFA from the University of Windsor and her MFA from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, IL. She has exhibited in Canada and internationally including Iziko: Museum of Cape Town, South Africa, Manhattan Graphics Center, New York, and The Print Center, Philidelphia. Elizabeth lives and works in Toronto and is a member of Open Studio in Toronto where she does most of her printing. Currently, Elizabeth teaches printmaking at the Ontario College of Art and Design and is the Curriculum Coordinator at the Toronto School of Art. Upcoming exhibition: