By Ali Booth
Gabriella Martelli never titles her artwork.“I don’t have to confine myself to a little box,” she says. “I don't want to tell you what to look for in a piece. If you don’t see something, so what?” she shrugs her shoulders comfortably. Known in the studio for her infatuation with depicting “blobby, organic shapes,” Gabriella has painted everything from eggs to toes, and refuses to follow any and all rules.
She was always the girl in the back of the classroom drawing while growing up. “I was very, very shy,” she explains. Drawing led to acrylic drawing, which led to oil painting, which led to printmaking, and now, as a senior, Gabriella can’t find herself picking a favorite medium.
Currently, the Hopewell Junction native finds herself mesmerized with printmaking, infatuated with the processes that go along with it. “You don’t just slap something on a canvas and call it a day. There are all these steps that you have to do. And it’s hard. You’re dealing with acid and sharp objects and sticky ink and chemicals. I think all of that, that’s what’s so rewarding in it.”
Itching with subtle passion, she pulls three sets of printmaking plates from her black leather bag: linoleum, etching, and acrylic plates, and begins to describe the creation process that accompanies each of them. At the same time, Gabriella gushes over how easy it is to break those processes and forge her own artistic path. “There are no rules. It’s not like math, where two plus two has to be four. I like that about art. It’s the only thing in my life that I’ve ever had absolute control over,” she says.
Gabriella recognizes that the love she has for art is ingrained deep in her bloodstream, following a lineage of artistically minded family members. One of her earliest memories is of her dad showing her his childhood sketchbook, torn, tattered and falling apart. Together, they flipped through pages of comics and superheroes and cars, her younger self entranced in the power of his pencil. “I look up to my dad so much. He’s my best friend. So I started drawing,” she says, her eyes dancing with admiration.
Her paternal grandfather, “Nonno,” was once the “go-to guy” in the art moving business, packaging and transporting artwork for some of the world’s most well known artists.Gabriella proudly pulls out her phone, a black-and-white photo of a group of men, including both her dad and her Nonno, carefully handling Picasso’s “Guernica” stretched across the screen. “I can hear my dad’s voice in my head now: you don’t have to like every piece of art, but you have to respect and appreciate where it comes from.” It was possibly the most important lesson Gabriella ever learned.
Since then, she’s been pushing the boundaries on different ways of presenting and appreciating artwork, working with her capping class to curate unique shows at children’s libraries and zoos, rather than the typical art gallery. Of her desire to think outside of the box, she says, “Having stuff just up on white walls has always made me kind of uncomfortable. You find people walking in a circle around the room.”
Despite her undeniable artistic perspective, Gabriella refuses to identify herself as an artist. “I feel like don't deserve it yet,” she reveals, of her hesitancy to grant herself the label, leaving herself as untitled as her work. “I’m still getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, being okay with vulnerability. That’s what the best work comes out of.”
Gradually, over her four years here, she’s found herself coming out of her shell, becoming more comfortable with vulnerability, and it’s reflected both in her personal life and in her art. Never having previously thrived with creating abstract work, her professors would continuously demand more. “We know you can draw the chair in front of you. Show us something different,” they’d say. “I’m starting to get it now,” she says excitedly. “That’s the bittersweet thing about graduating because I’m just now starting to figure myself out.”
Moving forward, she has plans on peeling her shell away more and more, and breaking more and more rules as she does so. “I always told myself that no matter what I do, I’m going to do it in my own way,” Gabriella announces proudly.