The room where it happens.
by Alexis Auleta | Photography by Holly Hughes
One perk of being the daughter of an artist: I get to see my mother’s work in progress, long before it’s hung on prestigious gallery walls.
Ever since I can remember, my mom, Renee Iacone, has crafted abstract sculptures and paintings and objects, moving fluidly from canvas to metal and ceramic sculpture, to mixed media and clay-firing. What I most love about her work, some of which graces my own walls and rooms (an even better perk), is that, beyond allowing room and space for multiple interpretations, her pieces have a vividly spiritual quality to them. Growing up, my mom’s life as a maker belonged firmly in the background of my childhood, a din I didn’t pay much attention to. But now, as an adult raising my own daughters, I find myself much more interested in my mom, the artist.
On a recent chilly spring morning, mugs of coffee in hand, my mom and I head to her Columbia County studio, a classic red standalone farmhouse in Ghent, NY that’s been lovingly converted into an artist’s workspace. The studio sits adjacent to the main residence, a 1750s colonial gem known in these parts as the “Pink House” (it’s been the same pale hue for 75 years), set on acres of land with sweeping views. Designed for year-round use, my mom’s studio barn features several large windows and skylights for maximum brightness, and stark white walls and floors to lend a sense of calm. “It’s where I feel safe to be me,” she says. “I’m happiest when it’s a good work day in the studio. I’m so lucky and grateful to have this space.”
My mom tells me about her well-established routine—something I hadn’t known—as she preps for studio time. “I’ve got to have my coffee, my seltzer and my phone—and ambient noise,” she says. “Lately, I’ve been listening to podcasts, usually political stories or true crime. Sometimes I’ll have tennis, football or baseball playing on the TV. Then it’s about having my tools, materials and open projects around me to get the creative process going.” Oh, and wheels are key. As we walk over to several large tables and rolling easels, she says, “Being able to move my equipment allows for adaptability while I work. It’s key to my process.”
Though my mom’s been focused on ceramics, sculpting and firing large works as of late, she’s beginning to turn, once more, to large mixed media paintings. “Even if I don’t feel inspired, I follow the advice of an artist friend,” she says. “I go to my studio anyway.” And if she still feels “art-blocked,” as she calls it, she steps away from her work for a few days to recalibrate. “It’s kind of like working on a crossword puzzle. When you get stuck, you take a break. And when you return to it, what seemed impossible before becomes obvious.”
When I ask my mom which piece of her diverse body of work she feels most connected to, she considers for a moment before answering: “I love my Spikes series,” she says, referring to a collection of ceramic and print work completed a while back. “I was inspired by these hand-carved wood Civil War tent spikes I found in a Hudson antique shop. I transfigured them into clay spikes and their forms totally suggest spirits to me.”
Besides her prolific studio work, my mom’s newest project, a collaboration with fellow artist and former RISDI professor Holly Hughes, is the launch of Hand Shake Press, a print studio the pair designed in an old barn on the Ghent farm which will offer artists from all over the world workshops taught by master printers.
As we make our way back to the Pink House, I ask my mom, cheekily, which brilliant piece I can bring home with me today. “Nothing,” she smiles, “…yet.”