Dick Iacovello is nearly 79 years old, and his art is still evolving. He’s won the Ag Fair poster contest, written and illustrated a children’s coloring book, and come up with artistic methods before he realized they were “a thing,” and his artwork is in a permanent exhibit at the Library of Congress. Then there’s surviving Vietnam, meeting Ram Dass, and taking iconic photos of a young Van Morrison when he played Boston Common in 1968; to say he’s led an interesting life is the epitome of understatement.
Now Iacovello’s got a photo exhibit with several 8- x 12-inch pieces at Mocha Mott’s in Vineyard Haven. The works are mostly contemporary and bright, but there are a few with a darker quality. Iacovello said he does most of his creating on the computer these days, and then adds his own elements, sometimes generating ideas from his own photos, sometimes working from a friend’s sketch, or even a news story that sets him to thinking.
“I’ll make digital images of the file piece, and send it to a company to have it printed on canvas. When it’s printed and it’s back, I repaint the whole thing with acrylic paints,” Iacovello said this week over coffee at Mocha Mott’s in Vineyard Haven. “When they come back, the colors are very subdued, but then I accent them with paint, marker. I experiment, and what I like, I keep.”
One piece that’s hanging on the coffee shop’s wall is evocative of an enormous wave, or the sensation of diving underwater.
“That one has water swirled green, light green, some blues. It’s prop wash, and it’s not at all like the original photo,” Iacovello explains. He took the initial photo when looking at the water stirred up by the propeller on one of the ferries. “I added and subtracted colors to my liking.”
While Iacovello drank his coffee, a customer approached him with a commission of the same piece, only a 40 x 60 version, the perfect complement to a blank wall in an Island summer house.
He said he could recreate any of the smaller pieces, including those with a more photographic quality, like the larger piece at Mott’s of the white blossoming pear trees overhanging Clough Lane in Vineyard Haven, or the one of a West Chop sunset through the branches of black tree limbs.
Iacovello began taking photos early on, and amassed dozens from his time as a medic in Vietnam in the early ’60s; it took him decades before he could share them. Originally from Quincy, Iacovello was deemed 100 percent disabled in the 1990s from his Vietnam experience; one of his duties was helping to clear perimeters of foliage using Agent Orange.
“I was a medic in Vietnam, and I had lots of pictures I took that I never showed anybody for over 45 years,” he said. “I met some veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and they make paper out of their uniforms, and they asked me if I wanted to try it … I had no idea what I’d do with it, but I have a good printer, and I wanted to see if I could print a Vietnam photo on top of the paper.”
About 10 years ago, the group of some 16 vets created the final paper product at Sandy Bernat’s Seastone Papers in West Tisbury. “You could see the threads in the paper,” Iacovello said.
He printed more of them, adding his usual artistic elements, and then sent some to the group he’d worked with, the Combat Papermakers, and they eventually ended up in a show in Washington, D.C.
“Two years later, I get a message from a lady at the Library at Congress,” Iacovello said. “She said if it’s OK, we’d like to incorporate this in our permanent collection. I said OK and then I thought, Now I don’t have to do any more. But that didn’t have to end my creativity.”
He says he works from intuition, that the creativity isn’t really his, but something that flows through him.
“The best way I can describe it comes from a book on meditation,” Iacovello explained. “Let me see … Intuition is the apprehension of knowledge derived spontaneously and immediately from within, not to be confused with your own fallible sources of reasoning.”
In the late ’60s, after his tour of Vietnam, Iacovello came home, and like others of that era, took up Transcendental Meditation. He and a group of friends spent an evening at Ram Dass’ parents’ house in Brookline in 1968 or ’69, Iacovello said, where the spiritual teacher talked about a book he was putting together — what would eventually become the classic “Be Here Now.”
“It was this big loose-leaf thing, and it came with a record. The Lama Foundation put it together. We called it ‘The Book’ back then,” Iacovello remembered. “That night they said if you sign up for it, we’ll send you a copy. I did, and I still have it.”
Iacovello’s work will be up at Mocha Mott’s on Main Street in Vineyard Haven until the end of June. Drop by to see it, and you might just meet the artist.