In the early 1980’s, the Roman-born Monica Incisa settled in New York and soon became known for the wonderfully concise illustrations she contributed to such publications as The New York Times, Rolling Stones, House and Garden, The Nation, Vogue and The New York Review of Books. Monica’s drawings were like epigrams: incisive, witty, always to the point; and they had great appeal to editors on the look out for images that would add a lot of sparkle to columns of print. She also had just the right touch with what the French call culs de lampe (end pieces). Hers had a way of catching one’s eye – miracles of ingenuity in a nutshell.
Back in Rome, Monica – the wife of the American writer and photographer, Milton Gendel worked as a staff illustrator on Il Messaggero and a contributor to the culture section of La Repubblica. She also emerged as a diabolically funny political caricaturist. Besides doing drawings for animated television films, Monica had made a name for herself on both sides of the Atlantic as a writer and illustrator of children’s books, which are much admired by grown-ups who don¹t usually like children’s books.
In the past, Monica often incorporated collage into her illustrations, but it is only in the last year or so that she has perfected a mosaic-like technique that is hers and hers alone. It enables her to endow images that are satirical and comical with a resonance that goes much deeper. Particularly ingenious is Monica’s use of fragments from her own photographs to enhance, define and comment on the images in her work. Thus the portrait of Pope Alexander VII turns out to consist of tiny glimpses of the great buildings he commissioned; the Venus de Milo is voluptuously pieced together out of slivers of flesh from soft porn magazines; the pig has been recreated out of its own by-products (mortadella, salami, and the like).
Look carefully at the hand of the Statue of Liberty clutching a torch and you will see that Monica has used snippets of her Green Card for the torch and successive U.S. visas from her passport for the background. The irony of the concept and the subtlety and ingenuity of their execution make these works very relevant to the tragi-comic anxiety with which we look at things today.
John Richardson March 2003