Artist Angela Cavalieri’s new work is vivid, colourful and, above all, big.

Her new show is called Canzone, and it has taken over fortyfivedownstairs this month. It’s a series of linocut prints, varying from notebook-sized to 10-feet high.

Thick with slabs of deep-blue paint, it might take a moment to see what you’re looking at. Layers of language distort into abstraction. They loop and contort into recognisable forms: faces, musical notes and bridges, beneath which flow rivers of words.

These are Cavalieri's interpretations of music, specifically the work of Claudio Monteverdi, a pioneer of opera known for his retellings of Greek myths.

“My work is basically an exploration of narrative and text,” Cavalieri says. “The music side of it came naturally. I’m not an opera buff. For me what’s interesting is the narrative.”

Monteverdi was also very into what he called “word painting”, which is the expression of words as sound – interpreting the mood of a text as music. “I wanted to carry that into my work,” says Cavalieri, “which is using words visually to interpret the sound. This is what I imagine the opera looks like.”

Monteverdi often worked from poetry, which he then turned into song. So turning those songs into images seems like a natural progression. And performing music alongside them just completes the circle.

To that end, the show will be accompanied by two musical performances in the coming weeks: Cantations is a faithful performance of Monteverdi and his contemporaries performed by a harpsichordist and several vocalists. Variations builds on the traditional foundations with a tapestry of music spanning four centuries, performed with vocals, percussion and piano. 

It’s a way of bringing music back to the centre of the work. Growing up in an Italian migrant family, Cavalieri says that music was a way of communicating.

“My father was illiterate, and he used to sing me folklore stories,” she says. “My grandmother was illiterate too. I never met her, but I grew up listening to audio recordings of her, because that’s how her and my father would communicate across the world.”

Canzone shows at fortyfivedownstairs until October 24. Musical performances accompany the work between October 13 and 22.

45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne