Art in focus: 'The Story of Life'

by Poppie Johnson - Nov 07, 2018

Intricate pen lines fall upon one another, creating detailed renderings of some of our most notable historical buildings and landscapes. There is remarkable, stunning detail that only reveals more of it as you find yourself drawn ever-closer, yet there is also irreverent whimsy in the joyous hot air balloons that float high above. This unique and enticing drawing is the work of Luigi and Kate Agnelli, artists in residence for the summer at the Lakes District Museum and Gallery in Arrowtown.

Jane Peasey, Special Projects Director at the museum is excited to not only exhibit their work but to have them in residence until the end of January, creating original works on site throughout the duration of their exhibition.

"The staff at the museum are looking forward to watching the work as it grows day by day. It’s always wonderful to have artists on site during an exhibition. The artists enjoy the direct feedback that they receive from people and our visitors love being able to speak directly to the people who are in the process of creating works of art."

Luigi Kate

Kate and Luigi Agnelli produce phenomenally detailed drawings.

Kate is originally British but met Luigi 10 years ago in Arezzo, Tuscany, at his first exhibition. They started to draw together ‘just as a bit of fun’ she says, but they discovered a talent that evolved the more they worked together. Amazingly, neither of them have any artistic training but they found themselves constantly inspired by the omnipresent nature of art throughout Tuscany.

Think of Italy, of Tuscany, of those beautiful hilltop villages and ancient landscapes and it is the masters that come to mind. The couple say they draw inspiration from the past masters, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Durer and Escher, but find their joy in creating their own style.

"The way we draw, the minutely detailed way of telling a story and the emotions we evoke is instantly recognisable and unique to us. When we are together in the studio or at the exhibition we draw on the same piece, though we usually have two drawings on the go which we both draw on at different times - that’s part of the fun (and sometimes the challenge!) as you never really know what you are going to find." 

A Trip through Italy2

The minute detail captures emotions, history and landscapes.

The art is created on 100% cotton paper that is made in Fabriano, Italy and drawn entirely in pen. As the style has developed, Kate and Luigi have introduced colour pens, moved to thinner pens and integrated pencil lines as well as gold and silver. The drawings are astonishingly detailed and take over two months to complete.

Perhaps one of the most striking things about their art is not only the detail, but the sense that you are being taken on a voyage. As with all good art, there is more to see than just a picture: there is a story that is being told and as the viewer, you are invited on the journey.

The exhibition is titled ‘The Story of Life’ and draws on the Agnelli’s dreams, inspirations, emotions, experiences, the places they have been and the stories they have lived through. It is their travels that brought them to New Zealand originally and the nature and beauty of the landscapes that drew them back. They fell in love with the environment and wanted to share that magic with others through their art. This storytelling aspect is no accident, they often sit down before starting a piece and write a story. The creation is artistic brilliance, but it is also communication of the highest order. Kate is passionate about this element of their creations.

lakes agnelli

Each viewing reveals new intricacies of detail and encapsulates our district's history.

“Storytelling is at the centre of everything we draw - if there are no words accompanying the drawing, it’s because they are not necessary or we leave it to the spectator to write their own story from the images we give them.. There are many metaphors and hidden details in our drawings but everyone who looks can see read the story. We want to unlock people’s imaginations and emotions, to take them on this extraordinary adventure that is life. We put our heart and soul into our drawings and people say they give them a lot of positive energy and hope in a difficult world. Ours is a magical reality.”

Although they are here for two months and will be continuing to create original works, the couple have already created a piece for the exhibition. There’s something new to see in every viewing, layers upon layers that reveal themselves slowly and communicate not only through their images but through the way they are linked together, each delicate pencil line and carefully chosen splash of colour has been chosen by the artists and demonstrates their passion for their work, and their love for our landscapes.

“In the drawing we have created for this exhibition, we wanted to take the onlooker on a magical trip around the wonderful Southern Lakes region, featuring Arrowtown at the centre (because we are here for the exhibition!) with its gold mining history, but also remembering the earlier Maori influence. We wanted people around the world who don’t know the region to look at our drawing and say ‘I want to visit this place!’.”

Kate and Luigi are married and work together, they clearly have a very special relationship. Although they have had heated discussions at times, these are a strength, a growing part of the process of creativity rather than any challenge. The couple consider themselves incredibly luck to be able to work together, in Kate’s words, "We are much more creative than we would be if we worked independently: with two minds, two hearts, two hands and two pens we create one drawing." This connection is evident the closer you inspect their work. Keep an eye our for the black and white cats that are present in every drawing, they represent the couple and their distinct identities, a pleasing quirk (and a fun detail to point out to kids).
Kate and Luigi may not be ‘formally’ trained artists but they have made a successful career from their passion, no easy feat. They identify with other artists and have made a point of getting to know New Zealand artists’ work. Kate’s amazed by the portraiture of Gottfried Lindauer and CF Goldie while the atmosphere and light of John Walsh and the vibrant energetic colour of Wendy Leach’s landscapes has inspired her.

Their passion, approach and determination is no doubt a measure of what has helped to make Kate and Luigi such an enduring artistic partnership.

Their advice to budding artists? “Throw away the computer and phone, your are your greatest source of information - use your own experiences, don’t compare your work with other artists - just be your unique self.”

In true Italian style the grand opening will be a social affair, complete with free entry and wine and snacks. Kate and Luigi would love to meet locals and have the opportunity to launch their work to the community. They will be creating original works during their residence as well as selling prints and originals and taking commissions. Let’s vote with our feet and show the value we place on having such wonderful artistic talent visiting and creating amongst us.

  • Opening date: Friday 16th November 6pm. All welcome. 
  • The details: 'Art & Aperitivo' (wine & snacks – Italian style!) free entry. 
  • Exhibition Dates: 17th November 2018 – 27th January 2019. The museum and gallery are open every day (except Christmas day!) from 08:30 – 5:00pm.
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