Mixtape No. 48: Mattea Perrotta

Mattea Perrotta

Mixtape No. 48

Mattea Perrotta

WORDS: Rachel Plotkin
PHOTOS: Helen Nishimura

Are great artists made or born? The clichéd query poses a question almost as old as art itself. Venice-born 27-year-old Mattea Perrotta seems to lend credibility to the latter theory. “They actually thought I had a learning disability when I was young because I didn’t care about school,” Perrotta laughs. “They tested me for almost everything, and my mom sent me to sort of a hippie therapist,” she tells me. “The therapist asked what I liked to do and I told him I liked to draw, so he suggested I draw everything I was learning in school.” After the initial catalyst, she was hooked. Although she didn’t care much for early schooling, Perrotta went on to get her BFA from Berkeley.

Perrotta’s first major collection, Portrait of a Nude Woman, was completed in 2015. Her most recent work, Psychology of Visual Pleasure, was finished this year and spent the first half of the summer on display at a gallery in London.

Most of Perrotta’s paintings are large scale, with some measuring 8 by 10 feet. She prefers to work this way, likening it to a form of meditation. “I like to get lost in my work, fall into the paintings, swim in the paintings.” She describes small works as restrictive.

The subject of Mattea Perrotta’s art is often politically-inspired, dealing with themes of feminism and the role of women in art and society. She cites some of her main themes as global issues and women’s rights. Perrotta travels often and finds inspiration in the places she visits. While visiting Morocco, she was inspired to begin work on Portrait of a Nude Woman after reflecting on the nude body beneath the modest dress. Perrotta reads a lot from various sources and undertakes a multitude of research on these topics before beginning a collection.

“Psychology of Visual Pleasure was inspired by an an essay by feminist writer Laura Mulvey called ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,’” she explains. Written in 1975, the essay centers around the male gaze and depiction of women in films. Perrotta believes that feminism can be used as a “voice and a vehicle” for her own work. With this most recent collection, Perrotta wanted to explore the male gaze, and how women have more power than ever before to control the lens through which we look at them, through social media and other channels. “We now have the power to create our own image and our [own] gaze,” she says. “History repeats itself.”

This collection was also physically grittier than the prior one. Perrotta used many layers of paint and introduced plaster to the pieces, describing it as “rougher, edgy, and grotesque.” Perrotta seems fascinated by contrast and opposites, saying that she wishes to “express the discomfort and dualities of women.”

Being a female painter in a man’s world is another central idea that Perrotta is passionate about and wishes to explore with her work. Perrotta wants to fight against the notion that “art is for the boys” and aims to “transform the art world.” She believes that women in art can bring a certain “vulnerability” that men cannot. “I am inspired by women,” she says, and cites radical feminists from the 1960s and 70s such as the Ninth Street Women, a collective of painters breaking the boundaries of modern art.

Another old cliché is the one about art imitating life, or the other way around, depending on whom you ask. In Mattea Perrotta’s case, her life and art seem to exist in delicate harmony with one another. Art has seemed to permeate many facets of Perrotta’s life for decades. Along with painting, Perrotta also draws and takes an interest in film photography. She’s going to Colombia to exhibit some works with another artist whose collection carries a lot of masculine energy, which she believes will create an interesting dichotomy when viewed in conjunction with her work. She stresses how important the process of making art is to her, and she leaves me with an insight. “I never plan my pieces. I begin with a rough direction or skeleton that transforms into something else which is magical in the end.”

And this is some of the music that helps with the magic making.