Dick Iacovello is a fixture at Mocha Mott’s in Vineyard Haven, and for the month of November, the popular coffee spot will feature an exhibit of his latest work — a new wave of abstract paintings inspired by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian’s cubism period.
“I very seldom stick to one style, and that’s why I name my body of work ‘eclectricity,’ because it stems from the psychedelic days in 1968 to now,” Iacovello says. “I’ll try different styles. I’ll just do anything that comes into my head. This exhibit is riding on the back of Mondrian, with blocks and rectangles. He made that really popular, and I like his work. But I would not compare my work to Mondrian, except for the blocks and rectangles and colors.” The work also differs from the 20th century artist in that Iacovello painstakingly uses a ruler and pens to outline each shape with black-and-white lines.
While some of the pieces in this exhibit contain cubist shapes and colors, others reflect the artist’s ingenuity. He often picks up old canvases from thrift stores and repurposes them for his own paintings. You can sometimes see what originally lay underneath his work peeking through. Iacovello explained that in one case, he picked up a used canvas and sanded the surface, leaving some bits of brown showing through in his own painting. “I got these strips of texture by doing that,” he says. When you look at the work closely, you can see the grainy waves of the paper or the painting that was on the canvas before he worked on it. Like everything else, the cost of artists’ materials has skyrocketed the past couple of years, Iacovello says.
“If people only knew … the prices on the new paintings will be a little more than usual because the prices of materials have almost doubled,” he says. “I’m stretching my own canvases now.” When Iacovello is asked about where his artistic leanings come from, his answer is surprising. “I went to barber school when I was 17, and that started my artistry,” he explains. “There was an art to it … I didn’t know it at the time, but it set me up how to see different sides of things, and how to measure, and the contrast between dark and light.”
Iacovello explained that through cutting hair, you learn how to blend the edges rather than have them appear separate and harsh. Barbering was the beginning, he says. Later he would transfer those skills as he designed a patch for his medical company in Vietnam. “We were flight medics, so it was a red cross with a white V going through it like wings,” he says. He was given a computer that had Photoshop years ago as part of a veterans’ program, and that started him down an artistic path.
“I was a 100 percent disabled vet, and they offered all kinds of things to occupy your time if you didn’t work a steady job because of your disability,” Iacovello explains. “I was a medic, so I was exposed to a lot of things. I always dealt with what I saw not really with sarcasm, but sort of lighthearted. You can’t walk around like a sad sack all the time.”
Iacovello, 84, is one of 13 children. He grew up in Quincy where his dad ran a food delivery business. “I’d go with him from Quincy to Boston in a cart drawn by a horse,” he remembers. “Later, he had a truck with refrigeration, and he’d carry meat and butcher it on the truck. During the Second World War, we’d get food rations. You were allowed so many per person. If you had three or four kids, you could feed everybody. You learned how to stretch it. We were never hungry. There were other people who had large families back then, and there was more of a sense of community then.”
His art itself can feel like it’s a part of the community. Iacovello has had several exhibits at Mocha Mott’s, and he also sells his work at Second Treasures antique and gift store in Vineyard Haven. You’ll see him walking around town, stopping to chat with folks along the way. Even though he may be older, Iacovello stays young in some ways by staying engaged. He has painted everything from the clay cliffs of Aquinnah to the trees in full bloom along Clough Lane in Vineyard Haven. “I know what I want to do when I start out with a piece, but it never turns out that way. It turns into something better,” Iacovello says. “When I go back to something and I find it doesn’t appeal to me anymore, I let it sit for a while, then repaint.” If you’re a fan of some of his more modern, abstract work, this latest show will be a don’t-miss.