When the Los Angeles-based painter Mattea Perrotta arrived in Marrakech for an artist residency a few years ago, she realized she had a problem: after an airport security check, she didn’t have any paint. With only some canvas and no knowledge of the local language, Perrotta had to think fast. Luckily, after a stint in Florence, she already knew how to make oil paints, and found pigments at the local market. Over the next few weeks, she developed the earth- and rose toned palette one sees today in her abstract paintings, which have been shown from Los Angeles to London. And, in a twist of fate, on the last day of the residency, Perrotta discovered an art supply store she’d overlooked.
The 28-year-old artist laughs recounting the story, surrounded by her paintings, in the Downtown LA studio where she works almost every day. “I don’t know what to do with myself if I’m not in my studio,” she tells me. “It’s my greatest love and probably the biggest relationship in my life.” While she doesn’t have time to make paints anymore, she returns to Morocco almost every year, and her travels—to residencies in Portugal, Spain, and England—inflect her minimal yet expressive canvases, which pare down the female form into subtle arrangements of warm, rich color. This May, her work appeared in an exhibition at the Landing in Los Angeles; when we spoke, she was also curating a group show in New York.
Adventures notwithstanding, Perrotta lives and works in her hometown. The child of a fitness instructor and a body builder, Perrotta grew up in 1990s Venice, better known for Muscle Beach than its Silicon rebrand. “I didn’t grow up going to museums or anything like that,” Perrotta, a longtime swimmer and surfer, says. From studying at Berkeley and then abroad in Italy to returning home, Perrotta “literally had every job under the sun,” working at McDonalds, at the YMCA and at a sunglass store in Venice. Meanwhile, she developed her painting practice, and slowly moved away from traditional portraiture.
“I feel like there’s a loss of mystery and romance nowadays,” she says of her interest in abstraction.“They’re all self-portraits, in some sense. It’s kind of me struggling with the duality of my masculine and feminine sides, and trying to find a balance.” Perrotta’s show at the Landing also included rugs she had fabricated in Morocco. “I want people to sit on it, eat dinner on it, roll cigarettes on it,” she says of the new work. “It’s not precious.”
Up next, she has an exhibition with LAMB Arts in London in September, a two-person show with her friend Ariana Papademetropoulos, after which both artists will show with the gallery at Contemporary Istanbul. Perrotta tends to use the word “duality” in conversation, and it suits her: while deeply rooted in LA, she continues to be stirred by wanderlust.
“I wish I could just speak every language in the world,” Perrotta told me at one point. “That would be my superpower.”
Originally commissioned for LALA’s 2018 Summer issue.