“As I was working, I would see things that felt like Italy,” Rolli tells me, recalling the period after the vacation in the autumn of 2012. “Maybe there was the shape of a gondola or something that felt like the structures there, the buildings, the water, the shapes.”
Rolli says the influence of her time in Italy came through in four paintings in particular, and then it started to dissipate.
This is how Rolli has painted, intuitively and emotionally, ever since 2009, when a residency at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center propelled her into the abstract world, a change she had considered making for years.
“I think deep down I knew that I was moving toward painting abstractly,” she says. “It was something I had thought about, and I was really attracted and inspired by a lot of the painters from the ’40s and ’50s who were of the New York abstract expressionist school. But, I wasn’t ready; I needed to have all the experience that I had had up to that point before I could make that jump.”
Although Rolli’s abstract work is a relatively new phase in her career, she has been involved in art for decades, having worked as a graphic designer after college and always maintaining a home studio in the years when she was a full-time mother.
Then, about 15 years ago, she found herself falling in love with painting, due largely to the influence of her aunt, who was also a painter. “I’d go visit with her and she’d have an easel out in her living room and she’d be painting and I’d watch her,” Rolli fondly recalls.
The same aunt, at age 86, brought Rolli along on an all-women’s painting trip to Provence, France. It was Rolli’s first time in Europe, and through the experience, she realized that she wanted to focus her artistic energy on painting. “That for me was a moment when I thought, ‘This is just who I am; this is what I have to do,'” she says. “I was so thrilled about being there and experiencing the place and I was painting like a madwomen. I had barely unpacked before I set up my easel up and was painting.”
After the trip to France, Rolli continued to paint on location and about eight years ago, she moved out of her home studio and into a space in one of Boston’s greatest artist communities, the SoWa Artist Guild. It’s here that she now comes to work most days, devoting herself wholeheartedly to her craft, even though her new role as a grandmother keeps her away a couple days a week. “I was a little concerned at first,” she says, candidly. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, two days out of the studio,’ but I’m there every other day pretty much.”
Still, Rolli says that becoming a grandmother has influenced her work in another way, as the joy of that new role manifests itself in her paintings. Another recent inspiration is the sense of freedom Rolli has found since she and her husband sold their family home of 20 years and downsized to a condo, as so many empty nesters do these days. “We’re living more simply, more minimally, so even that’s entered into my work,” she explains.
Regardless of what’s inspiring her to paint these days, Rolli says she feels very fulfilled in the work she’s doing as an abstract artist, five years after making the change in her style of painting. She emphasizes that it all feels authentic now.
“It’s being very true to who I am as an artist and as a painter — not letting other things pull me away from painting the way that I need to paint,” she tells me, adding that, for commercial reasons, some artists may be motivated to paint in a certain style.
“I don’t paint for that reason; I paint for me,” Rolli says. “At the end of the day, when I step back from a painting and I look at it, I say, ‘Oh yeah, that works’ — it works for me. If it resonates with people and they purchase a painting, I’m thrilled. If people don’t like it, well, it’s all subjective. I just feel like I’m doing some of my best work right now. It’s so honest.”