As a child growing up in Puglia, Nella de Luca Lush found herself surrounded by art and artists, so it’s no surprise that she carved out a career for herself as a painter.
Though the North Andover-based artist has been living in the United States on and off since 1983, “the old country” – as she calls it – still influences her immensely, with scenes of Italy constantly showing up on her canvasses.
Here, she talks about Italy, her inspiration and why she doesn’t create conventionally “beautiful” works.
Bostoniano: How did you first discover the world of art as a child?
Nella de Luca Lush: I come from a family of a lot of artists. I always say that in Italy it’s part of our DNA in a way. My father writes poetry and he did a lot of drawings and sketches, so I grew up in this sort of atmosphere. It’s just something that you do without thinking art is going to be your profession.B: Is art the main way you stay connected to your home country today?
NL: Most definitely. The art is an extension of who I am. For instance, last year when my mother died, if it hadn’t been for my art, I would have gone crazy because it was something I never had experienced before. I threw myself into my art. … I made a lot of seascapes and the earlier ones were with blue and gray and then as I got better, you could see the colors getting lighter and lighter. In all my work, though, you see the influence of Italy. You know, the Indian reds, the burnt yellows, the ocher – those are the colors we have down south. It’s part of who I am, so Italy always comes to play with my work.
B: Some of your seascapes are named after places in the Boston area like Ipswich Bay and Rockport. Do you find inspiration here as well?
NL: Yes I do, because the sea is universal. Though the landscape will change somewhat and the climate itself is different, the ocean is universal. But I’ll tell you the truth: when I paint, I’m not saying, “Well I’m going to do Ipswich now” or “I’m going to do Cape Ann.” It’s only after I paint it that my husband will say, “Nella, do you know what you just painted?” He’s the one that actually puts the title.B: Now you’re working on a series of frescoes. What motivated you to create those?
NL: Fresco has always been part of what I love. Even in the earlier years of my artistic career, I was doing what resembled a fresco but with the oil paint and canvas. Every time I go back home, I always look at the walls of old homes and of the churches. I like the structure; I like the peeling paint; I like the thickness of walls.
B: How do you make them?
NL: My husband makes these boards and they’re pretty big so they can handle the plaster. On this board I will also glue some linen, because I need to know that there’s linen under – it’s just one of those crazy things about me. Then I start with a coat of plaster and I will put some tempera paint to stain the plaster. I’ll let it dry and I will do another coat of paint. … I will do designs, so sometimes I will do a figure and then I will bury it again; I will do a landscape and then I will bury it again with more plaster. It’s a process. Many times I do four or five coats of plaster and then paint.B: You also teach classes and workshops. What do you enjoy about this work?
NL: I become inspired just as much as I inspire the students. And, I don’t necessarily see myself as being a teacher, but a guide. The artists that come here are often seeking permission to be themselves. … It works like magic when I tell them that there is no right or wrong when they are expressing their emotions on canvas. It is the moment when everything opens up to them.
B: Can anyone take part in the workshops?
NL: They’re open to people who have a desire to be free; not to people who are happy with what they’re doing. … One time, a lady asked about my workshops and I said, “What kind of work do you do?” It was still life – beautifully done, but very traditional and very tight; you couldn’t even see a brush stroke. I asked if she was happy with it and she said, “Oh, I love it,” so I said, “Well then you don’t really need my workshop.”
There are people that connect with that kind of work, but I don’t connect with the beautiful stuff. I connect with things that leave a mystery – that the viewer is digging into the painting and each time they find something different. That’s what I want. I don’t seek perfection; I just seek to be heard and to have the viewer connect emotionally to the painting, and bring them to a time and place in their life. That’s what’s thrilling for me.