Joanne Mattera

Installation of Riz paintings, 24 from a series of 40, 2020, oil stick, oil pastel, and Prismacolor on 300-lb. Fabriano hotpress, each 14.25 x 14.25 inches

Mattera: A Textile Sensibility

I am the oldest child of five, born when my mother was in her early 20s. Mom was overwhelmed with babies and housework, so she often left me in the care of her unmarried older sisters, my aunts Lena and Antonette Misci, who embraced me as the daughter they never had. They lived in the Misci family home with their mother, my grandmother, Annina.

Lena, born here, was a dressmaker who had been taught to sew by her father, Amedeo. Grandpa arrived here in the early 1900s. His skill as a tailor allowed his growing family to live frugally, but in their own small home, in a town just north of Boston. Lena worked out of a bedroom that was filled with fabric, notions, and clothing in all states of construction. She taught me to sew. Antonette, who grew up in Italy, taught me to embroider, knit, and crochet. She came to this country at 25 with a steamer trunk full of linens made by her grandmother, my bisnonna, Rafaella Ciammaichella, who wove on a homemade loom in her kitchen. My aunts used some of those cloths—muppine, we called them—in their own kitchen. I found their various twill and bird’s eye patterns endlessly fascinating. Grandma Annina was a knitter. You knew where in the house she was by the click of her metal knitting needles; usually it was in the living room, where she sat on a plastic-covered wing chair.

When Lena and Antonette were not working or keeping house or cooking, they were crocheting afghans, knitting sweaters, embroidering tablecloths, and tatting the lace trim on linen handkerchiefs. I joined them with my own little needlework projects, feeling cocooned by their affection and abilities.

Fast forward to art school in the late Sixties. Stain painting was the big thing. Without a gesso ground, the liquid acrylic sank into the weave of the canvas. I didn’t realize it initially, but the textile connection between what I did as a child and what I was doing as an art student was as straight as a dart. After graduation when I had no money for art supplies, I shredded all my stain paintings and wove them into new paintings. Now I make small color field paintings that reference silk fabric. Initially I denied the textile connection, but as I developed my own strength as an artist, I came to acknowledge and embrace the textile sensibility of my paintings. Textiles are in my DNA, and what I make springs from it.

Perhaps I should add that in 50 years of artmaking I have gone down a lot of avenues. Another major one is the modernist grid, which serves at the underpinning for a lot of my work, even the way I display it. But when you think about it, the grid, with its vertical and horizontal construction is not unlike the warp and weft of fabric. It seems that all roads lead to Rome. 

Riz 25

Installation view of my solo show, Joanne Mattera: Silk Road, at Arden Gallery, Boston, in December 2020; all paintings encaustic on panel, 18 x 18 inches

Joanne Mattera

Photo: Nancy Natale at ODETTA Gallery, New York City