John Monti

Black Frost, 2021

urethane resin, pigments, and glitter, 50 x 19 x 14 inches

Photo: Adam Reich

Monti: Italian Redux

It is interesting to think about my art in relation to my Italian heritage. On an essentialist level I was always proud of my identity as an Italian American, my cultural heritage, and strong familial connections both in the U.S. and Italy. But the consideration of how this impacts my art, in my 30-plus years of practice, is a relatively recent one.

My father’s family immigrated here in the early 1900’s. There were difficulties and life was hard for a large immigrant family. Soon after my father’s birth in 1917 my grandfather was willed farmland on the condition he return to Italy, so they all left and returned to their ancestral town in Reggio Emilia. Years later at age 17 my father, alone, re-immigrated after being nearly drafted into Mussolini’s army. Years later he proudly volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army. I have strong family ties in Italy on my father’s side; uncles, aunts, and many cousins, whom I have visited over the years.

My maternal grandparents immigrated from Turin, and my mother was born in the States. 

I won’t go into the psychological drama of all this except to say that growing up I was both proud and somewhat in denial of my heritage. I was proud of my parents’ story and the Italian culture which we were a part of, but that was really “their” story. I wondered: What was mine? I eventually found my story, through my art. I have always wanted to be an artist, but its relation to my heritage, in a deep way, has only recently circled back.

For the last 10-plus years I have been mining aspects of the Italian Baroque, both in art and architecture as well as religious iconography and symbolism. Those embellishments and ornamentations were all souped-up signifiers of wealth and power. They are in the churches, palaces, or anything that needed venerative treatment. Oh, did I mention I was raised a Roman Catholic? Italy and Catholicism go hand in hand, and although I am not practicing, I consider myself a cultural Catholic. I love the function of ornament, the embellishments, the reliquaries, the rituals, and the organized design principles. All were used to bestow authority and power on the populace, as much a political maneuver as it was a mystical one. This psychic positioning of power and desire functions universally in the realm of religion and capitalism through the fetishization of “things,” and besides it’s just all so gorgeous.

In my work the representations of twisting congested vines and flora imply aspirational growth yet their efforts are thwarted; each plays out its own psychodrama. I think of these aspects as reflections of how I was raised and how Italian culture and religion operate in the world. I like to see my works as being beautifully portentous, simultaneously seductive and a potential threat. I think we’ve seen that film, and it’s no doubt Italian.

Cluster Heart-Silver Black, 2019

urethane resin, pigments and glitter, 59 h x 22 w x 18 inches. Photo: Adam Reich

Above and below: Clusters & Ovals installation view, Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York City, 2021

Photo: Adam Reich

Cluster Heart-White, 2019

urethane resin, epoxy, 54 h x 27 w x 14 inches. Photo: Adam Reich

Big Vine, 2021

reclaimed foam, eco resin, urethane resin, kandy pigments, glitter, 38 x 29 x 3 inches. Photo: Adam Reich

John Monti

Photo: Carol Saft