“It’s the opportunity of being able to do anything–writing, drawing, sculpting–and know that I will always be supported.”-Anna D’Alvia
As I’ve gotten to know many fellows and their partners living at the American Academy in Rome, it’s easy to see how important it is to have the emotional and intellectual support of loved ones to inspire whatever creative endeavor you follow. This week MD chats with one very creative family, sculptor Carl D’Alvia, painter Jackie Saccoccio and their 14-year old daughter and recently published writer, Anna D’Alvia. Upon hearing about her first published book Chasing Shadows (and consequently enjoying it) I thought Carl, Jackie and Anna could teach us a lot about creating a supportive network for creative growth.
What do you make?
C: I’m a sculptor. My sculptures are artisanal, hyper-real, absurd, dialectically infused, post-pop , tragic/comic, high/low, minimal/ baroque, figurative/abstract statues.
J: In broad terms, I make large highly chromatic paintings and monochromatic wall drawings to describe moments of the human condition in an abstract language. Different bodies of work focus on different aspects, but in the portrait series that I’m working on here in Rome, my aim is to convey presence.
How do you support one another’s practice?
C: I think we support each other’s work mostly through impromptu end of day critiques.
J: Carl and I have been together since we were in our early 20’s. We rely on one another to be each other’s best and toughest critics, the one who sees through all the fluff, the one who knows when to push and when to embrace.
When did Anna first show interest in writing and how did you guide and support her interests?
C: I think she was 10 or 11 when we understood she loved to write. We tried to supply her with appropriate reading material. She has been a voracious reader. And we also arranged a writing tutor and enrolled her in some “gifted” online writing classes.
J: Anna has always been inquisitive and creative, so I can’t say we’ve guided it, but we have tried to encourage her in her interests and let her set the tone and medium. The transition from drawing to writing was organic and could very well move to encompass other forms in the future. From the time she was two, she has had a creative laboratory, with ample supplies to be any sort of creative, in our studios. It is chock full of her creations and collections, from architectural models, paintings and Sculpey creations to dragonflies, snakeskins, hand- sewn doll clothing and balsa wood airplanes. As the years progressed, the objects have been supplanted with books of all sorts and notebooks of character and story ideas. The medium has changed, but the spark of creativity remains the same.
A: Wolves are my favorite animal, so I’ve been reading about them for years and have seen them at Nature Centers in Connecticut.
You include poetry in Chasing Shadows. What’s the difference between poetry and prose for you?
A: The poetry in Chasing Shadows works like a mini- fable. It uses a different structure to get my point across. The poems in the book are supposed to be sung. The chant has a haunting nature to it.
How is it living in a creative family? How does it affect your practice?
C: Living in a creative family seems normal I guess! I think that we all do affect each other—but it’s difficult to pinpoint. I can say that I don’t think I’d be making the work I’m making without the support and inspiration of my family.
J: Fantastic! I wasn’t raised in an artistic family, so living in a creative environment as an adult, 24/7, is something I do by choice. I feel very fortunate to share my life with two very creative people who like to sit around and talk about characters in movies and books or go to galleries together. I would say the commonality between us artistically is that we respect and support one another’s pursuits. Carl and Anna are both very inspiring to me.
A: I’ve never really known anything other than my family, but I’d say living in my creative family is always having an open notebook. For me, it’s the opportunity of being able to do anything–writing, drawing, sculpting, etc.–and know that I will always be supported. It is rummaging through my mom’s drawers of colored pencil or taking some of my dad’s clay and making a little dog to play with. It’s, well, it’s the opportunity for creativity.
Do you have creative rituals to get yourself started?
A: I make lists of characters. I have tons of them. Some of them I’ll never use, but I like to write down words that sound interesting – maybe they’re actual words pronounced incorrectly, or fragments of words I see written or things that just seem out of place – those are the ones that stick with me. Going through them every so often sometimes gives me an idea for a story.
J: My ritual is pretty boring. It’s sort of an anti-ritual. I like to have everything (cans of paint, brushes, solvents) organized. I close all books and turn finished paintings around. It’s like giving myself a clean slate and allows me to completely focus on the chaos and improvisation that happens in the piece I’m working on at the moment.
C: No!! Just start!
Do you have any advice for young writers and other creatives? How do you stay committed to your craft?
A: Just believe in yourself and keep doing whatever it is that you like to do. Remember it takes determination and no one feels like doing something every day but you have to, if you want to be more than just average, whether it’s writing, drawing, a sport or whatever.
J: I strongly believe in the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell speaks about in Outliers, so respect and make time for your creativity now! Make a schedule so you automatically have a spot in the day that is carved out for your art, whatever form it is, even if it’s just 20 minutes. Even if you aren’t feeling particularly ‘creative’, spending time in the studio looking, thinking or free-writing adds up to something eventually – plus, sometimes not knowing is when the most interesting intellectual leaps occur.
C: My advice to young writers would be the same as advice to all in a creative field–try and do a little bit every day!
C: I’m working on multiple sculptures, both large and small, in clay, resin and marble– I’ve started a lot of pieces here and now I’m trying to tie it all up before having to leave the Academy here in Rome. I’m having a show in New York in September and another project is happening here in Italy, in Milan. So I have those projects in the back of my head as I’m trying to finish things–thinking how all can click together.
J: I’m working on a series of large paintings titled Roman Portraits for two solo shows at Corbett v. Dempsey in Chicago and at the Museo di Arte Contemporanea Villa Croce in Genova.
A: I’m working on a longer book that doesn’t contain wolves as the main characters. The protagonist is a teenage girl who sees reflections where there are supposed to be shadows.
Do you too have a creative family or team? How do you encourage one another? What more can you do?