Artist Spotlight: Isabella Conticello

Isabella Conticello is a graphic designer and illustrator whose work I have encountered on Behance. I will specifically look at her series A GEO A DAY where she created a colossal body of different minimalistic geometric designs, which she published as a series in its entirety in 2015.

One of the things I find most remarkable about this project is Isabella’s dedication to such a massive solo project. On first glance the inclination is to assume she must have grown bored of the same type of design day after day, but the interesting thing is that the challenge would have only increased over time to design new and unique pieces and generate new ideas. Isabella did this by assigning colours to different areas of her life and representing those areas in her art (Osso Magazine, 2015).

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The designs are reminiscent of modern minimalist art which rose to prominence in the 1960s, even down to her modest colour palettes. Minimalist art utilises geometric shapes and patterns in place of natural or organic forms (Smigel, 2012), and here many of these shapes combined with their colours clearly represent the world that Conticello lives in. By reducing the number of elements and simplifying each idea, she invites viewers to study the raw shapes, lines and curves in the world around us, unhindered by additional objects or other clutter that can distract.

There is also a definite element of mathematics in her work; Isabella herself admits in her 2015 Osso Magazine interview that the Bézier curve helps her to realise her artistic goals and it is clearly evident in some of her pieces.

Her minimalist approach, careful selection of geometric shapes and thoughtful composition makes it possible to extract entire landscapes from some of the designs. There is a beauty and vastness in their simple shapes and soft colours. I particularly like how she captures the essence of nature in the following examples, where I see the ocean and sweeping sand dunes, respectively.

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While not all of the designs are easy to interpret, each one is telling a story about something—a place, or an object, or a concept. Isabella herself loves yellow, blue and red and believes they are the perfect triad (Osso Magazine, 2015), and these colours feature heavily in her designs, often as pastels but also sometimes as richer variations. She creates many pieces using a paler palette, which lends an ambience to the flow of the gallery. I found while scrolling through and examining her work that it was as relaxing as it was fascinating.

Isabella also occasionally plays with texture and three-dimensional elements in her designs, giving them a stronger sense of depth than a lot of the flat, two-dimensional pieces have:

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Overall her aim was to create a cohesion that spans all of her work (Osso Magazine, 2015) and it is possible to see this achievement if you scan her Behance gallery, where many of the themes, styles and colours found in the A GEO A DAY  set are present.

I admire Isabella’s dedication to this project, because as a fellow graphic designer I know that it is not always easy to simply sit down and create something that you like or that you are happy to show to people. Some days it is a struggle to start a piece of work and other days it is a struggle to complete a work-in-progress. Regardless, Isabella has managed to create a connection between these pieces that ultimately tell a story of her life over the course of many months, observing her surroundings and paying homage to her favourite things.

I would like to develop this type of dedication and discover a way to represent my own interests, favourite places and ideas. While I do not think I would use a style similar to Isabella’s, hers is a prime example of how simplicity can speak volumes and communicate a concept with just a few basic shapes. This ties in well with my findings from other areas of geometric design, right down to my research and work with logo design: more often than not, simplicity is key.

References

View Isabella’s full project on Behance here, 2015.

Interview with Isabella in Osso Magazine, 2015.

Article about Isabella’s work at Partfaliaz, 2015.

Smigel, Eric (2012): Lessons That Bear Repeating and Repeating That Bears Lessons: An Interdisciplinary Unit on Principles of Minimalism in Modern Music, Art, and Poetry. General Music Today (journal), issue 1, pages 5-10.

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Artist Spotlight: Louise Nevelson

“Some of us come on earth seeing,
Some of us come on earth seeing color.”
– Louise Nevelson

Louise Nevelson (1899—1988) was a Russian-born American sculptor who created intricate, abstract geometric art out of pieces of wood and debris that she found on the street of New York City where she lived. Her sculptures held a grand and intimidating appeal, many of them towering walls made up of individual boxes, which were filled with the objects she found.

I am drawn to Nevelson’s work because it is comprised of detritus that most people discard, ignore and believe to be useless. She scavenged most of the wood used in her sculptures and from this scrap Nevelson created deeply personal works that told many stories of the city. Their structures were often chaotic and busy, emulating the structure of New York City with its districts and blocks and the myriad lives contained within each one, all of them unique.

Nevelson01Black Wall, 1959.

Nevelson began painting her sculptures one uniform colour in the 1940s, usually matte black, although she occasionally deviated to white or gold. When I look at her work, the single, solid colour helps to unify the many different shapes and aspects of the piece, as if she was saying that all of these components might be different but they ultimately work toward a common goal, or share the same playing field. This also speaks to me of the city life.

Nevelson02Dawn’s Wedding Feast, 1959.

Not all of Nevelson’s work were about her surroundings. A number of them were deeply personal to her and related to her past. Dawn’s Wedding Feast was the first sculpture she painted white. This piece was symbolic of Nevelson’s failed marriage, a bittersweet homage to a traumatising event in which she separated from her partner and also abandoned her son so she could travel to Europe to study art, but she also considered it the dawning of a new chapter in her life and work—signified by the change from black to white (Rapaport, B. K, et al. 2007). This sudden change is striking and an extremely conscious choice. In Louise Nevelson: A Passionate Life, Laurie Lisle, who spent extensive time interviewing Nevelson, states that Nevelson was not the sort of person to dwell on the past but preferred to look at what was important in the present (Lisle, 1989). However, I would argue that Nevelson might have instead been constructing a maze-like structure in which to bury her past, rather than process it and move on.

Troubling events in Nevelson’s early life led her to become interested in the Cubist movement. Nevelson herself said:

“The Cubist movement was one of the greatest awarenesses that the human mind has ever come to. Of course, if you read my work, no matter what it is, it still has that stamp. The box is a cube.”

Cubism gave her a sense of structure, offering her sanctuary and order when everything else in her life seemed chaotic (Rapaport, B. K. 2012).

In her article Geometric Abstraction, Ana Franco writes that although Nevelson’s art followed a geometric structure and hinted at a profound desire for order, Nevelson herself was interested in the magical powers of art (Franco, A. 2012). It is easy to see, when looking at Nevelson’s complex sculptures, that there could be a hidden spiritual message within. Her wall sculptures are maze-like, or like giant mythical puzzles, with countless dark crevices and nooks for shadows to settle. When I look at Nevelson’s work I see both the mathematical nature of her composition but also the sense of monumental curiosity, secrets and stories captured within the details.

Nevelson was also acutely aware that, at the time she was working to develop her art, she was existing in a male-dominated profession.

“Throughout her career, her beauty and flamboyance made it difficult for many people to take her seriously as an artist. She was often depressed or enraged as she struggled to exhibit and sell her work. Yet while she attacked the art world for being male-dominated, she saw herself as unique—not a model for other women.” (Lisle, 1989)

It is interesting to me to find an artist who wanted to simultaneously break down the gender imbalance in the art world and also stand apart from and above it. Nevelson’s wanting to be unique and not a model for women to aspire implies a superiority complex, although this seems strange given her hardships and the incredibly gritty experiences she had been through years before. Again I wonder if it could be possible that in her complex geometric structures, Nevelson was trying to escape the human aspects of her life—all the trials and struggles—rather than process and let go of them.

Nevelson03An American Tribute to the British People (1960-1964).

Nevelson’s style was borne from an intuitive art style. She once said:

“I hate the word ‘intellect’ or the word ‘logic’—logic is against nature, and ‘analysis,’ another vulgar word.” (Lisle, 1989).

I admire the notion of allowing intuition to dominate the creative process, although I also believe that to be afforded this type of creative freedom, and for people to trust your instinct, you have to have had an extensive background in your field and have done the research, trial-and-error, and learned all that you can from many different sources. According to Nevelson’s son, nobody really knew how much she knew about art because she never revealed the extent of her knowledge (Lisle, 1989). I wonder if her tendency to play her cards close to her chest was due to her not being widely accepted by her male contemporaries. Her documented bravado and flamboyance could have also been a screen for her to hide behind. Furthermore, if Nevelson thought herself above most other humans, she might not have seen any reason to impart all of her wisdom.

Nevelson04Mrs. N’s Palace (1964-1977).

Nevelson’s work is important to my research because of her use of geometric structures—whether they are meant to tell stories, or be a hiding place for truths. The last piece, Mrs. N’s Palace, strikes me as the embodiment of a mental fort that Nevelson might have constructed, but her use of palace speaks of her confidence and outspoken attitude and her tendency to set herself apart from everyone else.

References

Franco, Ana M. (2012): Geometric Abstraction. The New York-Bogotá Nexus. American Art, vol 26, No. 2 (Summer 2012). The University of Chicago Press.

Lisle, Laurie (1989): Louise Nevelson – A Passionate Life. Summit Books, New York, NY.

Rapaport, B. K. (ed.); Danto, Arthur C.; Senie, Harriet F.; Stanislawski, Michael (2007): The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend. Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

Louise Nevelson at the Tate: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/louise-nevelson-1696

Louise Nevelson photos: Maine, An Encyclopedia – http://maineanencyclopedia.com/ and Biography.com – https://www.biography.com/people/louise-nevelson-20854319

Artist Spotlight – Manolo Gamboa Naon

Manolo Gamboa Naon is a Creative Coder from Argentina. He creates interactive installations, video games, data visualisation, websites and tools for digital advertising. He describes himself as “obsessed with generativity” and likes programming images in which he works with geometric patterns, textures and overloading.

I found Manolo’s work a few months ago while browsing Behance, and was immediately drawn in to his designs. They spark with colour, shapes and motion, and there is often an incredible sense of depth in his work thanks to his relentless layering techniques.

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For me his work stands out because it seems like every geometric shape has been placed carefully and thoughtfully to reach the overall outcome. It must be a painstaking and time consuming process putting some of these works together, and Manolo does it prolifically—indicating that he simply loves creating these deeply complex compositions.

In his essay Nature of Abstract Art, Meyer Schapiro writes that in stripping away the literal subject and the bias of the artist, we are left with pure aesthetic elements, shapes and colours.

“The new styles accustomed painters to the vision of colors and shapes as disengaged from objects and created an immense confraternity of works of art, cutting across the barriers of time and place.”

This way of thinking meant that all art was suddenly valid, from children’s paintings to the scribbles of people with mental disorders, and all deserved of consideration (Schapiro, 1937). Art is subjective, as are most creative fields, and perhaps more so when it comes to abstract, where shapes and colours exist as their own entities and remain open to interpretation.

To me, Manolo’s work feels almost stream-of-consciousness that produces beautiful complicated works. They are not uniform patterns and there is not often perfect symmetry, but the use of geometric shapes gives off an illusion of order and precision. This is an interesting balance to me: abstraction and order. I love how Manolo achieves this and makes it look effortless.

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A number of his pieces are reminiscent of colourful fantasy cityscapes. One in particular I am drawn back to time and time again is this piece posted in July 2018:

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My interpretation is that I am looking down onto many circular buildings, the faint grey lines and intersections signifying the many pathways and possible directions people can travel, with the larger circular shapes housing their own networks and pathways within. It could also represent a person’s brain, with its innumerable neural pathways and connections, the colours representing the different areas of the brain working for different purposes. Manolo is a creative coder who also makes video games, which is possibly why when I look at this piece I see a landscape full of areas to traverse and explore.

While I enjoy most of Manolo’s pieces, there are one or two that do not work so well for me. For example:

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This piece is far more minimal than his other work and in its own right fine, but when viewed in his gallery sitting next to his other pieces it almost looks like a mistake. While I appreciate the simplicity of many geometric shapes and their different meanings this piece does not speak to me or tell me a story. Within the context of his other pieces I feel this one does not fit. Many of Manolo’s other creations feel like well-rounded stories or places for great exploration. Unfortunately he rarely adds a commentary along with his art so I am not sure what this represents to him or where the idea came from.

References

Schapiro, Meyer (1937): Nature of Abstract Art. Published in Marxist Art Quarterly, from the American Marxist Association.

Visit Manolo’s website | Manolo on Behance