On letting go, Greek mythology, and reclaiming our right brain.
I meet Colella in Artfix Woolwich, an all-encompassing café that serves as a studio, workshop venue, and communal space for local artists. She is timid, her voice intimate as she leans in inches apart from my face to tell me her story. I sense a quiet but persistent storm in her that matches up with the passion I see from her art collection.
Colella has been in London since she was around ten years old, growing up with a love for comics that she developed with her brother. The siblings would rummage for comics in “jumble sales” (garage sales), which would inspire them to draw. Colella’s comic drawings always felt inadequate compared to her brothers,’ exacerbated by the sibling rivalry brewing under their mother’s critical evaluation. “I just thought my brother was so cool. I remember doing everything I could to be as good as him.” She now finds it funny that her brother has gone down a path in writing while she ended up becoming an artist.
For a summer, she worked at a T-shirt factory and became acquainted with people in the theater industry. She soon became involved in costume design, and had designed for some major productions like Cats and Beauty and the Beast. “I loved working on a big scale.” When she pulled out of the industry, it was to help her mother out who had been going through a tough situation. Only after working as a tour guide for nine years, trying to make ends meet, did she return to her initial passion: visual art.
Coming back to art, Colella’s artistic process went through a groundbreaking transformation. Through an advanced art course at the Blackheath Conservatoire, she met her tutor, David Whipp, a Brighton-born artist who worked with fusing metals. He saw Colella making preparatory sketches, and had said, “what are you doing? Why don’t you just do what you want to do?” Whipp’s words would open her eyes to an entire set of artistic possibilities, changing the very attitude with which she faced the canvas.
“Nowadays, there is too much emphasis on logic and information”, says Colella, reflecting especially on the emotional detachment we humans have faced through the COVID-19 lockdowns. “What matters is to share the same energy with those around us.” She strives to manifest this idea through art, focusing on the energy and emotion without letting logic or thoughts inhibit what comes out of her heart.
One way in which she makes this happen is through music. Once she has an idea for an artwork, she carefully picks out a song that inspires her to feel that very specific emotion she wants to get at. She would then put this song on repeat as she sets to work. Music acts as “an extra pastel” for her, one which facilitates the creative flow and “boxes you off” from inhibitory thoughts. Through technology, she is able to present the artwork in a much closer way to how she experienced it herself: her recent artworks posted on Instagram all come with their corresponding songs as their background tracks.
Representations from Greek mythology frequently appear through her art pieces. The stark connection with modern life that ancient mythology embodies has never stopped fascinating her. At first, she felt distanced from mythology, thinking that it was “too difficult to understand.” That was until she realized that, upon further study, myths were simple reflections of us. She recalls the story of Medusa, who was cursed by a jealous wife who caught her with her husband. The tragic twists of age-old stories are perhaps closer to our emotional lives than we might initially suspect.
Concerning the art world in London, Colella admits “it’s getting better.” Artfix, the art studio in which we meet, appeared in the neighborhood (Woolwich) a few years ago with the philosophy of bringing art into the high street. “Everyone can come here to be an artist,” says Colella, which was an idea that didn’t exist only until a while ago.
According to her, London is trying its best but still missing some crucial pieces, and she raises affordable children’s clubs as one example. In the UK, she feels there is still a stigma around artists that they are simply “playing around” — that art is not serious enough to earn its title as a proper occupation. But art is crucial, contends Colella: “Doctors use medicine to save lives; artists save lives through ideas.” She likens it to religion and storytelling, which are also what humans can’t live without. Admittedly, with the proliferation of social media, competition, and mental illness, it seems to me that we all need to get a little more in touch with our creative side.
See more of Lucia Colella’s artwork on: