Carolanna Parlato

Waiting for Butterflies, 2018, poured acrylic on canvas, 42 x 66 inches

Parlato: Italian to Italian American


Italian American culture was its own thing. All Italy meant to me as a child was my maternal grandfather, Carlo. While the rest of my family somewhat denied our Italian heritage, mostly for protection from prejudice and out of disdain for the Italian stereotype, Carlo taught me the art of Italian cooking. As the story goes, Carlo stowed away on a boat from Ischia, an island off Naples, with dreams of a better life in America. While his dream of owning his own restaurant never came through, he made his mark as an amazing seafood chef.


I did get some of my art genes from my father, Pasquale, who drew fashion sketches. I kept secret from him that I had started to draw myself. One day, he came over when he saw me drawing and started to suggest ways to make it better. At the time I was resistant, but looking back I see this was one of the main ways I was able to connect with my father. Every week, right before my orthodontist appointment, he would take me to the Brooklyn Museum, and we would spend most of the time on the Egyptian floor. I could tell he secretly enjoyed being there and wanted to look at the art himself. At that time, I was also interested in advertising and illustration. However, my parents wanted me to become a teacher, so majoring in art education was my compromise.


Catholicism was a big part of my childhood; I attended Catholic schools through college. During my college years, I focused on photography and printmaking. My first photo series was of my parent’s bedroom. Portraits of the Virgin Mary and Jesus as a young man and a small wooden crucifix hung over their bed. One photo I took was symmetrical and also included the gentle curve of the top their bed. The portraits hung in oval wood frames and the one of Jesus also featured the sacred heart. I became obsessed with the way sunlight entered the room and illuminated the wall on which the portraits hung. I played around with painting on photo developer in the darkroom to get various tones and drip effects into the final print. Several of the final works were very painterly. We also had a large marble bust of the Blessed Mother in our living room. Many of my relatives and other Italian American homes had their own similar shrines.


In my 20s, I visited Italy and saw the Vatican, the Michelangelos and da Vinci’s; in short; the original artworks that inspired the kitsch portraits I grew up with. The version of Italy I knew as a kid developed out of a process of transformation from Italian to Italian American that my parents had gone through, not unlike the assimilation process other ethnic groups have experienced. That particular cultural experience. along with my heyday in the Sixties and Seventies. has influenced the artist I am today. 


Slider, 2020, poured acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18

Bloom II, poured acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 inches

Carolanna Parlato