Artist Talks: Jordan Schulman & Carole d’Inverno

Carole d'Inverno In Her Studio, GIF Made From Video | ©Monica Jane Frisell ©Carole d'Inverno

In this latest installment of Esthetic Lens–Artist Talks, our Associate Editor, Jordan Schulman talks with artist, Carole d’Inverno from her home and studio in Brooklyn, NY, about her painting practice, her grounding in chemistry, and her experiences growing up in Europe.

I’m always intrigued by artists who come to their practice from different disciplines, especially science. In my formative college years, I had the unique opportunity to intern with a photographer who came to the medium from high-pressure thermodynamics. During this time, I learned an enormous amount about photography and more about math and chemistry than I ever did during my primary public education. It taught me early on how important having conversations, absorbing information, and examining the thinking of dedicated practitioners of all kinds is, to grow and inform one’s own art practice. All this being said…I was eager to learn from d’Inverno about her experiences.

Carole d’Inverno has a lively spirit and glowing disposition; we discussed heavy subject matter, and at the same time, balanced it with a lot of boisterous laughter…it was a wonderful and educational experience. Our conversation turned into something bigger, more than I ever could have anticipated; a discussion about science and painting expanded into her personal history living in post-WWII Italy and Belgium. She offered up a European take on coming to New York City in the late-seventies and how she developed a love for the American landscape.

This interview has been edited for length.

HERE, 84×120, Flashe’ vinyl paint on canvas, 2020 | ©Carole d’Inverno

Jordan Schulman: One of the things that I’m really fascinated by, and I was hoping that you could talk about, is your background in science, in particular, chemistry. It is always wonderful to come across artists who have a scientific discipline. How did you get from chemistry to painting? What does that road look like?

Carole d’Inverno: Well, it’s a straight road, my dual brain seems to have a side for each. Actually, what I like about chemistry is it’s very concrete, and so is a painting, if you can actually pull off a painting. There is a correlation, in a way…a chemical compound is a chemical compound…in chemistry, there is this process of identification. When I was in school, I literally had to pour one thing into another to get a chemical reaction, and I’d discover, “oh, that’s this compound, or that is another compound.” I would see the colors change and I would get completely lost in it – of course, it would result in my failing whatever test I was taking – it was amazing, the reds and the oranges. It is very similar, for me, to mixing paint.  There is this push with chemistry that is towards something concrete, it has always given me a sense of anchoring into something.

When I think about it, my whole childhood was about moving. My parents –you know, I always joke but it’s kind of sad, but true– they failed…massively…all the time. They were very good at failing in business, so we kept moving, but, it was the economic crisis post-WWII and all that, so I never really had a concrete steady place. My whole childhood was moving from Belgium to Italy, back to Belgium, to so many different places. I think there are certain things about the concreteness of the earth that interests me. I’ve always been fascinated and curious; “how do things hold together?” Actually, it’s not really holding together, there are these forces and massive voids between one atom and another. I remember when I was a little kid, probably twelve, there was this tiny little section in the newspaper that had this little image. It was the first-ever image of an atom with its cloud around it…there was an actual image! I remember just staring at it like it was the most incredible thing I’d seen up until that point; it was such a creative moment for humanity. It was a moment of “wow, we figured this out, we’re able to actually take a picture of this!”.

JS: That leads wonderfully into my next question about your background growing up. You were born in Belgium, and you went to study chemistry at Université de Liège, which is a French-speaking school?

Cd: Yes, I was born in Belgium to Italian parents in Spa, it was named by the Romans, and was the original spa-town. It has incredible sulfur-based water sources. It is called Perle des Ardennes (Pearl of the Ardennes), and eons ago it is where everyone wealthy would winter, it was this pretty little town. The royals would spend the season there, the Tsar of Russia would show up with his whole entourage. So, there is this whole weird upper-class draw to the town but, it is in the Wallonia region, which is very working class. My father spoke Walloon and grew up with that language around: it is a very particular dialect.  

The Jagged Edges Of Humanity, 42×170, Flashe’ vinyl paint on canvas, 2020 | ©Carole d’Inverno

JS: You state on your website, and on the Saatchi website, that your work is very much rooted in history. Is your training in science, chemistry, and the need to find something concrete in a direct correlation with your interest in history, the story of a place, and that element of narrative in your work? Is it wanting to find something concrete in order to create something else out of it?

Cd: Yes, probably part of it is the concreteness, but also my growing up post-WWII Europe…post-fascist Europe…all the adults were shell shocked. Everybody had post-traumatic stress disorder; every adult had lost somebody. The number of people who died in the war was forty million-plus across Europe. Coincidentally, I was brought up in the Ardennes about twenty minutes from Bastogne, which was the most horrifying part of the war (The Battle of the Bulge) in the northern part of Europe. I also lived in the Monte Cassino (Battle of Monte Cassino) area in Italy, those two places were the worst Theater of War if you take away Leningrad in terms of allies pushing back. I grew up in places where the adults wouldn’t talk about the war, they would all say, “You don’t want to know… but those fucking Germans!” My memory of their history –the adults– is very concrete.

My dad…and this is a weird story, the family thing is just so mixed up but…my father was a jazz piano player. When the war broke out, he refused to join­— because he was an Italian citizen, he refused to join the fascist army. So basically, the entire four years of the war, he had to hide, moving from one place to another, he had the Gestapo the Commissionaire after him, somehow he survived. He never wanted to talk about it because he almost starved to death and died; literally, there was nothing left to eat in Europe by the end of the war…I mean, nothing.

I think they (the adults) wanted to turn the page, you know? I remember as a child, one way that he would try to tell me about what had happened –it is kind of morbid in retrospect– but, he would take me to the major monuments, and cemeteries like in Monte Cassino. If you look up the history of Monte Cassino, that town was completely obliterated, as was the abbey, it was just flattened. The abbey was over a thousand years old. The Allies didn’t believe that there weren’t any Germans in there and destroyed the whole thing. The entire city was gone, forty thousand people, it was brutal, there was nothing left. What is there, are five huge army cemeteries with hundreds of white crosses. I remember he (my father) would take me, we would go and just walk around, and he wouldn’t say much, all it did was make me more terrified, you know… “What is this, you know, and why?” I tried to understand because there was so little information when I was a little kid; the history books had literally one paragraph about the war because people couldn’t talk about it yet. There was all this conflict, but nothing is written about it. There used to be a lot of things on TV, I remember the imagery coming from these short reels; Goebbels from the camps, all these images from the Warsaw ghetto, just seared into my mind as a child and I was like…“what the hell happened?”

My generation was born shortly after the second world war and we really tried to understand what happened during that time. We still couldn’t go out in the fields as they had not all been cleared. There were still people getting blown up, kids running into a field and then coming back with a leg missing, that was my childhood. I think the trauma that the adults felt, definitely passed on to me in the early part of my life. I remember applying reason, which in retrospect is not everything, but that was my only way out. It was trying to make sense of all of the chaos that visibly had happened and that we were still paying for.

I came to the states when I was twenty-three. Having been brought up with the steady diet of America is the greatest nation on Earth, and then I get here in 1979, and it’s like; “Holy shit, this is New York, I get to live here?” Half of the city boarded up, the other half is burning, there are thousands of people living in the streets, including little children. I didn’t have to be smart to figure out that the vast majority, sleeping in the streets, were people of color. I was like “what’s going on?”  Why is this like this…visibly the richest country in the world…it sure is going nowhere. This started my interest in American history; also as an immigrant, I never really fit, and won’t ever will…that is just the reality of my life. Part of my analytical mind wants to try to figure out connections and try to see where things hurt, and figure out how to cope with certain things.

JS: So, you landed in New York right after Ed Koch was elected; right after the US government said, ah to hell with you…”Drop Dead New York.” Shortly thereafter, 1981 was one of the most violent years in the city on record.

Cd: Yes, and then the AIDS epidemic.

JS: What neighborhood introduced you to New York City, where were you living?

Cd: We (d’Inverno is married to guitarist Bill Frisell) were actually living in Hoboken, which was out there…it was only fourteen blocks, a good portion was just abandoned buildings. I’d never seen anything like it…it looked like a war zone, my response was, “what the hell is wrong with this?” There were buildings just crumbling! The rest of Hoboken at the time was very ethnically diverse…every two blocks… and they wouldn’t talk to each other!  The Polish didn’t talk to the Cubans; the Cubans wouldn’t talk to the Italians…I mean, it was just absurd. The upside was all the great food but, It was mayhem, people were struggling, and it was dangerous because of the desperation. There was nothing else those struggling could do but try to just grab whatever money you may have had on you…they had no choice; it was their reality.

The Marchers’ Love, 84×84, Flashe’ vinyl paint on canvas, 2020 | ©Carole d’Inverno

JS: Were you painting when you were still living in Europe or was it when you got to the states that you started?

Cd: When and where I grew up, girls were not supposed to do any of that stuff… by the time I was fourteen, I had to go and work, I couldn’t be doing much more than that. I started my university studies later on when my family went back to Belgium. There were all these life interruptions and way too many details…I think the art-making was always there, even when I was very young. It was one of the ways that I articulated or expressed what I was learning…it was always certain shapes and colors. I’ve always done it, it always offered me a lot of ways of breaking things down, to try to understand, or channel my emotions in some way. I don’t think until I came to the states I felt like, maybe, at some point, I can really make art.

When we first arrived, of course, you know, we were just a couple of kids with no money. My first job was actually in Weehawken, New Jersey, in a kosher food factory…rolling little sausages into a piece of dough for $2.70 an hour.  I think of all of that now, and I see it as…it’s food for me, it is the stuff that I can work from, you know, having been exposed to these different groups of people from working.  I worked as a nurse’s aide, one of the many things that all newcomers do here in the states… My situation was more privileged, being married to an American…a white boy from America. That played into my having some more leverage because I didn’t speak the language at first. There are all these things that I had to figure out. In retrospect, it’s great, because I was able to actually use all that, it became part of what drives me. Little by little, to answer the original question, I just started carving more and more time to make art, just a little bit. An hour a week, then maybe two hours a week, and then slowly, slowly…I always had the idea that I would eventually be able to do it all the time.  It just took the time that it took, that is just the way it was. I had to just keep channeling myself into this one track and say, okay, you’re going to get there, you’re going to get there, just keep going. The passion for it was always there, I was also interested in literature, there’s a bunch of stuff…you know, visual artists, I think we spend a lot of time trying to know all different kinds of things. Painting is such a strange little world, you make something and it sits on the wall, and it just feels so disconnected from everything. Buffering the act of painting with other information (reading, research) helps me get out of my head and the whole “why the hell am in this room doing this weird thing?”  

By The Fountain, 84×63, Flashe’ vinyl paint on canvas, 2021 | ©Carole d’Inverno

JS: I’m curious, did you always know that painting was going to be the thing for you? Did you try other mediums? What brought you to it? I have a sneaking suspicion that chemistry has something to do with it, the whole mixing of things…can you talk about that?

Cd: I tried a bunch of stuff, I started with 3D, working with clay because that seemed to be an easy thing to get to. That came from that from chemical structures, I still have one of those plastic models that, you know, have sticks and balls, you use to map out formulas… It is one of those things I have taken every place I’ve moved, for an absurd reason, I still have it…not that I use it, but it’s sitting there in a little plastic box. I think structures are what I tried to understand the most through the 3d work.

When I finally took a workshop in pastels…all of a sudden, it was like, holy shit, here it is, the color scheme! It was like, okay, that’s it, this is it, I have to figure this out! There are so many layers to painting and I don’t quite know which way or which direction to go. It is such a struggle for me that I want to do it. I hit that wall all the time, and I think that is what is exciting to me! It is always research; there is something to try to understand.

JS: This is great, the reason I asked is that others have posed a question to me…why photography? What I finally came to realize when I was old enough was that it fed my impatience. It fed the part of myself that wants to see…I’m really curious about looking and need to be able to do it rapidly…to process information quickly.

I’m old enough that I was reared on film, I’m right at the end of that part of the medium. I’ve lived through the evolution of digital and I can see so much faster! I’ll tell my students all the time, “you’re so lucky because you are learning to see a thousand times faster than I did.”

Is there a part of your personality where you can pinpoint… this is why I do this?

Cd: Yeah, I think that for me, it is the challenge of it, I never feel like I’m doing something…I feel like I’m trying to fill a hole. I get lost in my work, and then maybe, a year later, six months later, it dawns on me; “Oh, that’s what this…or that was about…I didn’t see that…and it was so obvious!” It’s a weird process to try to figure out how to stay honest with the work. I have so much to use from my childhood, and I’m trying to figure out, what is this really…what is pushing me here? I try to follow, but sometimes I feel I’m just a mole, underground… “where am I going?

The Gyrations of The Powerful, 84×78, Flashe’ vinyl paint on canvas, 2020 | ©Carole d’Inverno

JS: So much of your work requires travel and is rooted in different places. How has the past year been? I don’t doubt that you have a tremendous backlog of things that you could paint from.

Cd: Yes, thank God!

JS: You’ve been holed up in Brooklyn for some time now…how’s your productivity? Are you painting more?

Cd: Yeah, non-stop! I’m just incredibly productive…I always have been. There aren’t times that I’ve stopped…even when I’m lost, I keep pushing really hard. Anything from drawing to painting…I’m constantly doing it.  So, this whole ordeal didn’t really change the amount of work that I produce, I think what I’ve done is –like you said– work with the resonance of my past trips and find what is still percolating and present, then try to balance it out and make work from it. Bill and I have always this conversation about nostalgia…I fucking hate nostalgia. (said with a big laugh) Use that stuff (nostalgia) to learn something, but please, just don’t take me down memory lane…I refuse. (another big laugh)

It is interesting trying to figure out, like I said, the resonance of certain places and seeing how they’re now coming back into my work. I just did these four, five huge pieces that I haven’t put out; I haven’t shown them yet…I think I put them on Instagram. They are all about connecting the history of what is happening today to what I’ve experienced traveling in certain places across the United States. This shit show is not just…what we’re living through is not a fluke, the loss of lives is not a fluke. I can see that and connect it to past experiences of traveling. What is great about having been able to travel that much, I have a physicality of the places in my head to work from, it creates a certain type of, again… resonance, it seems to be the best word to use. I plug into the emotional part of the resonance and I can say (visually), this is what I saw, and this is where we’re at now…

JS: Right now, is one of those situations where, coming out of this, there is going to be in some ways, some kind of post-war trauma, especially with the volume of loss. It is of the magnitude of a world war, it has affected everyone, it’s not regional, it’s a global change. With your work, are you at the point of— I keep making all this stuff, but I’ve not had any distance from it…I don’t know exactly what is going to stick, and what and what’s just going to get stashed away?

Cd: Yes, for sure, I think that is part of painting…you don’t really get, as you were saying with photography, the immediacy. Painting is completely the opposite, it’s just such a slow process. It doesn’t matter what was really happening while I am making the paintings. A year will go by, and then maybe…I’ll pull some of it out. Being able to look back on the work later is always something that is very important, for me… It is only at that point I can go,” oh, wow, this is interesting, oh, this is what this was about, or…this is trash!”

This past year, there was just so much global hurt, none of us know how we’re going to deal with it. I’m not sure…I mean, everybody is going to have some level of PTSD, for sure. We lost people to COVID, but also, we were just right on the verge of losing our country; the whole thing is just so brutal right now…for a lot of people. I’m fortunate, there are people that are just going to be hurting more and more. I went to a couple of the BLM protests in Brooklyn, I could actually walk to them, and it was really striking… just how many people were coming together for this. There are so many big themes from the last four years. There is a staggering amount of people that fit together in this weird way from #MeToo, to BLM, to the Women’s March, they’ve all converged in a way to push against this incredibly fascist government that we were up against. We can’t look at it yet, because we’re still in it…I don’t think we can fully analyze anything at this point. I’ve spent some time in this painter’s group on Zoom, we all talk about how to bear witness to this moment and everything we can’t see yet, all you can do is the work, try to be honest, because you don’t fucking know what’s going on. It’s not over, none of it is, so the consequences and the repercussions and whatever it is that is going to come out of this…I don’t think any of us know. To say, artists need to define the moment…yeah…can we? I don’t know, because we can’t even see it ourselves, it is just such a dark time for this country in particular, politically and socially. I just hope that there is going to be a different level of consciousness on the other side of all of this…

The Numbered, 84×96, Flashe’ vinyl paint on canvas, 2020 | ©Carole d’Inverno

JS: You’re maintaining contact with a group of painters…what else have you been doing to stay connected? I personally know artists who are forcing themselves to just make stuff to get through this, and I, myself, was doing that too. I was at the point of, I don’t know where to channel this rage, I don’t know what to do with this. There are unfortunately people who just have completely locked up because the fear of all this is so crippling. What are the outlets and the channels that you’ve been utilizing?

Cd: I was part of this workshop, which was interesting…people on Zoom from, New York, but also, other places in the States, some from South America. It was intense, everybody talks painting.  It’s like, let’s analyze this one corner, it just seems like it’s not resolved… I think that helped, because, again, it had that sense of being concrete and about something specific. I keep in contact with artists and friends of mine, we just Zoom, or call or text, we just try. The reality of painting is just it is a solitary endeavor, I can be in my studio and not be bothered about anything for days.

I’m trying to think through what my painter’s group was saying about how do we bear witness to this damn thing…what are we going to do with it? I don’t know what’s going to happen, our rage and our pain are just going to be part of it, and it’s going to sit there.  We as artists have the chance to be able to channel it, other people are not going to be able to. We’re going to need a lot of mental health help in this country, and all over the world. We are the lucky ones because we can do this, we have this outlet for our emotions. If we stay honest about it and try…I think that’s all I can see at this point. I don’t know if there is going to be some definite resolve to all of this.

JS: Thankfully, there’s a shift in Washington D.C., but there is there a lot of work to do. One of the things about healing that a lot of people don’t understand unless they’ve had to go through it following something really big, a loss, an illness, is that it doesn’t happen in a week.

Cd: Exactly, there is no pill… the exhaustion is real, the pain is real, all of it.  I think about the children, the trauma of being in the middle of this, and how is that going to play out when they are in their thirties or forties? There are going to be repercussions for them, for sure. I’m thinking, wow, you know, kids in kindergarten or elementary school, they are always hugging each other, wrestling, and swapping spit. I think about the teenagers…my god, being a teen without hugging and making out…how the hell you survive that?!?

Through all of this, I never forget that we have the privilege of being artists, and I’m thankful for that, it gives me space to keep going. Our choice lets us always be on the outside, we don’t have to directly connect to the everyday reality all the time, if we don’t want to…we are so lucky to be able to do this. It took me like decades to get here, I’ve had to battle for it, but shit, you know, I’m lucky. I try to always keep that in mind, and work to remember, at some point…this will end.

JS: It is great to hear somebody else say that…this will end. You haven’t let go of your optimism; you understand that there’s another side to all of this. It’s just going to take some time.

Cd: Well, I don’t know if it’s optimism…it is understanding a difficult fact; this virus, it’s going to decimate a lot of people…it will die out, that is what a virus does…its science.

Dissipation, 84×96, Flashe’ vinyl paint on canvas, 2020 | ©Carole d’Inverno

JS: Has this whole experience presented any opportunities or brought you to a project, tools, or materials that you’ve had in the back of your mind for a while; any moments of “I was going to get to this or that one day…I guess this is the day that I can get to it?”

Cd: I’ve gotten a lot more into watercolors more than I used to, and also ink, I’ve been working with it as well, it’s been kind of great. I finally decided and went ahead and got a studio outside of the house. That has been amazing, because I can I get there at a quarter of seven in the morning, and by twelve, one o’clock, come home. I can put in this just absolutely focused time, then I’m done, it’s great to be able to do that, just leave the house, go to it, then come back. I’ve felt the loss of community since we moved back to New York from Seattle about three and a half years ago. It’s been difficult to connect with painters and all that. I wanted to get an outside studio at the beginning of this year, and then COVID hit. I finally said, “you know what, it’s actually a little cheaper to do this right now, the rent is lower, why don’t I just do it.” In the building I’m in, the management is really on top of things, they take your temperature! It is kind of amazing, I’m still a bit taken back, you know, like, wow, this is a luxury studio. When we moved back to New York I was like, “we are not getting a car, I want to be two blocks from the subway!”… which we are, but then, COVID, it was like, shit, now we’re going to have to get a car for a while. As long as I get to my studio really early. I can find parking…but it’s only because I’m really good at working in the morning, like, five o’clock in the morning. It’s been kind of nice to start developing this pattern of going there five days a week. I have more drawing and watercolor stuff that I’m setting up in my studio at home. I also started working with paper maché, wires, paperclips, twine…making these strange sculptures… I see where it goes…

JS: There is really something to be said about the discipline of going somewhere else to do work. It’s like, “I focus here…then I come home and then I come home, and “hey, what’s up?”

Cd: Yes! It’s nice.

JS: I’d like to ask about some of the things that influence your work. In looking at your paintings, I pulled some stuff out where I was, “I wonder if she looked at this…and I wonder if she looked at that.” I spent a lot of time with your mural paintings the last few days, they are really fascinating and really intricate. I would love to be able to see some of them in person. There’s a lot of map topography in those paintings. Do you have a special relationship with maps? I know some artists who are just obsessed with them.

Cd: It goes back to when I was a little kid going to school, you had to draw the maps of the countries you studied. I remember it being hell because, I didn’t have graph paper, and they’d be all catawampus. I had to learn how to read elevation on a map, all this stuff… I really had to learn how to use a frickin’ map! I remember looking at them, and how beautiful they are, they are little masterpieces; cartographers are crazy skilled people. I remember, I went to the Vatican, and walking down the gigantic corridors; there is an area that is all maps…and they’re all wrong because they’re really old maps…but they are just beautiful. I structure some of my paintings around maps. The ones that I did for the museum in Massillon, Ohio, I did them based on the actual place, Stark County, Massillon, Ohio. I went there and visited; there is one painting Big Betty-One Swell Lady, that is all about the steel industry there. The Erie Canal runs very thinly through the painting; I started with that and I just took off with it. I kind of went crazy with the actual painting, but it’s structured around the canal. It felt like the Erie Canal is what made Massillon Ohio. The whole thing is about going somewhere and trying to grasp what that place is about.

One of my main loves about America is the landscape; to me, it’s just breathtaking. Growing up in Europe, where every inch has been changed for the last six thousand years, there is nothing left of the original landscape, except maybe a few miles of the Black Forest…that’s it. In America, you don’t really get a sense that everything has been changed by human hands slowly through the centuries. When I first got here, I had no idea how big this country is until I went across to Denver where my husband is from. I remember repeatedly going catatonic out of pure fear of not seeing the edges of anything. I can understand David Hockney, and his gigantic paintings, like the Grand Canyon…he does them because he grew up in England in some dingy little place. He got to California and then went, “Oh, shit!?!” I responded the same way the first time I saw the Grand Canyon, I was just like, “Oh my god, this is real?!?” The American landscape is absolutely stunning, and it’s so varied…it has everything. You know that is why I like to drive around, we get to drive to all these places that are in the middle…like, “How did that happen, how did people get here, why? “Oh, Tulsa, Oklahoma…wow!”

Whispers, 84×84, Flashe’ vinyl paint on canvas, 2020 | ©Carole d’Inverno

JS: Some of your paintings are like abstract WPA murals, did you spend any time studying those murals?

Cd: I think there is some of that, and more probably than I’m aware of, now that I think about it. Remember, my generation, we rejected all that…. western art, you know… I would joke, the lady on the conch shell, give me a break! What we looked at; we were obsessed… and I was as a child…American architecture…Neutra, I love it!  The Julius Schulman photographs in Life magazine of those houses, were, to me, the most incredible thing ever. I was just really into that aesthetic; we looked to America, so I’m sure there is that stuff in there.

JS: How about Lee Krasner? Your murals share an energy with her paintings.

Cd: Yeah, absolutely, I was inspired by a lot of American painters, and also the vernacular stuff like regional stories, arts, crafts, anything that could help me understand this new place. I was interested in American art, and American architecture, because it was something completely new. In Europe, everything is so damn old. Nobody wants to live in those houses, cold, drafty, moldy. You guys (Americans) have houses with five bathrooms… and all the toilets flush!

There is this uniqueness of… “That’s American”, you know? In the depression era, all the buildings have no ornamentation, but they are amazing; billions of bricks one on top of the other. Something that is American uses this kind of language that mixes all these different things together, too. I was down in Maitland, Florida for six weeks for a residency. The Maitland Art and History Museums are totally Art Deco…but it is Mayan influenced architecture; one of the few examples in the entire country; it’s so incredibly specific and amazing. I think that is the thing, America has this way…because of all these different cultures, there are all these inputs, these chunks. In Europe, you go to Italy, it’s Italy, you go to Holland, it’s Holland, the same with Germany. Here, in the U.S. you get all the stuff; it creates, visually, this thing that’s very unique, that is what I responded to when I first got here. I’m still obsessed, I walk around Brooklyn, and look at all the Dutch influence, the area in Brooklyn that I live in was settled by the Dutch. There is all this brickwork… it’s just cool.

Big Shoe BBQ, 63×168, Flashe’ vinyl paint on canvas, 2020 | ©Carole d’Inverno

JS: Given when you landed in New York, in the late-seventies, what did you think of the really amazing graffiti and mural tags that would be on the subway cars? Was that something that that you ever responded to?

Cd: Oh, God, yeah, I loved it! It was this incredible, it was everywhere, and it was just such a new thing. I think for me, I was seeing it as artwork and was wanting to support the people who were making it, like, “Yeah kids…DO IT, nothing is coming to you, nothing is given to you!” It became this language, they could speak to each other. Those kids got so good, so fast with the spray cans, even while the cops are running after them… I mean, damn, wow! They were public spaces that were being taken over… I mean, shit, man, give me a wall outside! It would be such a great thing to be able to just paint over a wall, you know, why not?

JS: Subway cars are a really interesting non-traditional space, especially given when all this was being made; there wasn’t email, there wasn’t zoom, there wasn’t Instagram or any of that stuff. New York City is a regional place; the graffiti and tags are regional narratives. Using the subway, a public space, as a canvas, the city shows off their work for them; that train car is going to go from the end of Brooklyn, all the way into Midtown.

Cd: I think the whole aesthetic of it was just so natural, very regional like you said. They were communicating with one another; I think those who made that work are extraordinary, even more so considering the lengths they had to go to in order to make it.

Off Of It, Already!, 60×60, Flashe’ vinyl paint on canvas, 2020 | ©Carole d’Inverno

JS: Are there any artists, or writers that you wish were still around to be able to comment on what’s happening right now?

Cd: Yes, this is going to sound weird but, Giotto, hands down, to tell the story.

I was in Italy, it was the 2000 Jubilee, so they had cleaned everything up, which was nice. I went to the Capella degli Scrovegni in Padua after it had been cleaned out and spent about three hours there on one of the little benches. What was interesting for me, because I grew up in part in Italy which is very Catholic, I had all these aunts that would hand you the little cards of the saints (St.Lucy) with the story, the eyeballs on a plate…that kind of horrifying shit. I’m an atheist, but I knew a lot of the stories because I grew up with them. What was great was going back as an adult, into the chapel to see his (Giotto) work, and having forgotten the stories and just enjoying it all. I mean, talk about murals that are just stunning! All Giotto was doing was telling a story about something that he loved, that was it.

The main thing about him; his work had a human sensibility, it had a human proportion, it dealt with human things. The first panel is the most beautiful and loving kiss in the history of kisses, right? It’s Joachim, coming back from a self-imposed penance. He meets Anne outside the gates of the town, learns she will have a child after all after, and they kiss…it’s human. Hell, if I could be a tenth as good as that… you know, tell me a story as the viewer, just take me somewhere wherever it is…I think that is what I wish I could do with my work. It’s kind of a strange thing to say, but, yeah, Giotto for sure.

I also think of the American painter, Jacob Lawerence. Given his love of his subject, his mastery of the materials, and his gift for storytelling with his work, I wonder what he would have to say about everything going on right now and what kind of paintings would come out of it…

JS: So this will be my last question, is there anything you‘re looking forward to?

Cd: Trying to make a decent painting (we both burst out in laughter) You know, I’m sitting, making this thing…it’s a fucking struggle. It’s not like I’m like having fun here like this is so entertaining. I just can’t grasp it sometimes, again, I’m that mole, underground, trying to find a way out. I’m not being disingenuous in anything I’m doing, I mean, it’s hard for me. That’s all, it’s hard for me to make a decent painting. I’ll just keep making hard decisions, trying to figure out what do I do with this? There are so many possibilities in a painting, I think that is the thing that makes it so confusing. There are so many millions of freaking ways to go at it, you have to make the decisions, and when you finish it, then you go…hmm, what about the other million and a half ways I didn’t try with this? I’m just kind of left with that, like, “Oh shit, oh well…next!”

If I feel like I’ve gotten as far as I can, in one painting, and learned something, even a tiny something, then I can call it done, then go on to the next one and see what will happen. I think, in some ways, I want to be on that edge all the time, that is why my work changes often, I’ll just go from one thing to a completely different one because I feel like if I’m pulling away from that edge, I just can’t be truthful. I need to learn something from it every time.

Carole d’Inverno | Photo Credit ©Monica Jane Frisell

Carole d’Inverno is a self-taught artist who grew up in Belgium and Italy. She moved to the US in 1979, and resides in Brooklyn, New York. Selected exhibitions include Transumanza: Duluth and Minnesota, Duluth Art Institute, Duluth, MN (upcoming); Transumanza: Massillon and Ohio, Massillon Museum, Massillon, OH; Appalachia: an Abstraction, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC; A Way of Saying, at State University New York, Rochester, NY. d’Inverno has been accepted in the Artist Lab at Rokeby Museum, VT, and in the Yellow Chair Workshop, MDavid Gallery, NY. She is the recipient of The Art of Ivy Side, PENN State Altoona PA. Residencies include the Judy Pfaff Foundation, Tivoli, NY, Maitland Art, and History Museums, FL, the Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, VT, La Playa, Summer Lake, OR, Willapa Bay AIR, Willapa, WA, North Dakota Museum Of Art/ Rural Arts Initiative, McCanna House, Grand Forks, ND, BAU Institute, Otranto, Italy. Her work is in the Microsoft Art Collection, SUNY Monroe College, Rochester, NY, Group Health, the Swedish Hospital, Seattle, the Maitland Art and History Museums, FL, The Massillon Museum, OH, and in private collections in the US and Europe.

Carole d’Inverno can be found online at her Website and on Instagram.