Friday, November 26, 2010

The limnal spaces in art...

The skies have been really dramatic. Big cauliflower clouds, dark menacing ones with glowing edges of brilliant white, and so on. It's been great fun to watch and paint. I have a passion for dramatic skies, big weather and November in Rome offers both. As I watched one day I realized it was the sky I'd seen before by the great landscape painters then realized it was only the British and Dutch School that came to mind. I got wondering about Italian landscape painters, so went searching and all I could find (albeit not an in-depth search) was Canaletto but his sky or any other nature was clearly secondary to buildings. The skies are so dramatic here I couldn't believe it waited until the 1700's and Canaletto for them to even gingerly enter an Italian painting. Certainly the great frescoes include sky drama but again, the main theme is religion. Since I am at the American Academy in Rome surrounded by breathtaking minds I asked around. Turns out the shift to landscape did not happen until the Barbizon School…hard to imagine it waited until the 1830's! Without a doubt the really great landscape (and for sake of this entry land/sky) painters were hands down the British and Dutch. They had all the dramatic elements to work with and be inspired by but so did the Italians and what were they doing? One brilliant person (and deeply witty)I spoke to, says it began with Turner's visit to Venice followed by Ruskin's incredibly long tome about it which in the end is all about Turner in Venice.

It is precisely the limnal space between artistic movements that drives me crazy. Frankly if I were younger and not so desparately poor I would dash right back into school and study precisely that…the space between artistic movements, the shift between overwrought religious paintings and landscape, or how and why did the leap from prehistoric painting become more considered work - meaning brought indoors to serve a specific purpose. Or my favorite, when did art go from largely king & church supported to commercial. I want to know the politics and everything else about what goes on during those shifts as it's always more than one thing. I will definitely look for all the information I can about this but do not feel as if I can take it on in a scholarly pursuit, not only because I feel too old to do it but more importantly it would entirely consume me and take me away from making art, something I won't allow to happen. Not many people follow my blog but maybe someone will find this entry, be intrigued by the idea and run with it. I firmly believe the limnal spaces in art are an area rich for exploration.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Musings on art residencies...

The Margo Gelb shack, an inch of wood against the weather! Also stayed in Zara...

I've done a bunch of art residencies through the years and each one has been remarkably, dramatically different from the last. First one I ever did was in a dune shack on Cape Cod. No electricity- only an oil lamp and candles, no running water - only a pump down a 100 ft dune that pumps water you are never really sure is ok to drink even though they say it is but rusty orange water is not attractive, no bathroom - only an outhouse but a nice outhouse with great sea views! The dune shacks are all small maybe the biggest being 10 ft x 15 ft with a bed (more like a camp bed) that you always have to shake off the mouse turds. A propane refrigerator & stove, table and maybe 2 chairs. Overall it is an inch of wood against the weather and it's fabulous. It's also not for everyone, the solitude is intense and your only company will be the zillions of mice that spend and extraordinary amount of time and energy trying to get in, or when all light fades running around the place like maniacs. But it is a purifying place, your senses get a good rest and in my opinion the shacks are hallowed ground where really great writers, artists, poets etc have all stayed in and either started great work, worked on existing great work or recharged their creative batteries.

Pouch Cove, residency in renovated bank...
Next residency was with the Pouch Cove foundation in Newfoundland. I stayed for a month at their newest facility…a renovated bank in Corner Brook. Newfoundland called to mind what the US or pretty much anyplace looked like before ANYONE got there. Corner Brook is a sizable town but just outside of it is vast wilderness. You could lie down and take a nap on it's main highway and never get run over. This was my least successful residency for a number of reasons first, I really wanted to see Newfoundland it seemed such a strange and wild place and then 9/11 hit. But before it did I went exploring and took a bus up to Gros Morne, stayed in a B&B…a real one…someone's house & I stayed in their spare room. It was very nice and so were the lovely couple who were just trying to survive. I explored the area where the words bleak and desolate still come to mind…but so does the word fascinating! When I do a residency it takes me a bit to get the creative juices off jet lag and running smoothly. I got back from exploring and was just about to start making images when 9/11 hit. My residency was for the entire month of September 2001 and, as you can imagine, I couldn't focus on anything except what was happening in the US and world. It was a global event. So that residency was certainly my least successful in terms of work.

And now I'm at the American Academy in Rome...fabulous!

Now I'm wrapping up a month long residency in Rome at the amazing American Academy and has been my most successful residency! Of course what I proposed when I applied for a Fellowship is not at all what I've been doing. Rome is like smacking your forehead and going WOW especially since I've never been here before. I was thrown off my pins but once I steadied again I dove into just making art, no agenda, no plan, just visually respond to everything and I have to say the work from the second half of this time has been very successful. I started to form a desire to focus on color and form and I did. The other terrific part of this residency is being part of this amazing community of great minds! Did they make a mistake letting me come here? I do not have the scholastic pedigree these folks do. Once I got over my own issues of insecurity I started making friends. I've been learning about archeology from Greek Vase painting, secrets of ancient landfills, history of ancient battlefields, religions, languages, etc. etc. I LOVE good conversation and have had plenty of that, it's been wonderful! My residence is as close to living in a palace like a princess as one can get. It's been utterly magical! Every place you look there is art old and new, it's no wonder Italians and Europe in general are so comfortable with art and the concept of artists. I wish I could stay but know one thing for sure…I will be coming back.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Best Baby Jesus ever...

I have never, ever seen so many baby Jesus' or Madonna's. Today as I wandered the Galleria Borghese it dawned on me that no wonder Christianity took such a firm hold…this was their form of media blitz, advertising. Of course if you see thousands of Madonna's and baby Jesu a trend emerges, the Virgin Mary, at least to me, is always beautiful, serene, passive but you can sense her power. The baby Jesus is usually pretty ugly either depicted as a freakishly small man or just not all that baby-cute except for one painting which is now my all time favorite baby Jesus painting. Lotto painted it in 1508 and shows the Madonna and Child with St Flavian and St Onophrius, Jesus is squirming in her lap. Jesus is a fat cuddly looking little baby who's grabbing at the cardinal's clothes, you can almost see the drool on his chubby little chin…he's a real baby, clearly a handful and she has that calm but tired look of a mother who has a very active, curious baby boy not a mini-man who's aware of all mankinds foibles at barely 1 years old.

I saw more of Lorenzo Lotto's paintings in the Uffizi and he really has a knack for getting baby Jesus right. Another favorite of mine is Madonna della Grazie, 1542. There are angels around but Baby Jesus and Mary are the ones in real communication. I love the gesture of her hands and the pose, gesture and expression on Baby Jesus. Another favorite is Madonna and Child with Saints and Mary looks young, tired and in a comfortable pose. Jesus is no longer a baby, he's a bit older and his curiosity has deepened as he watches and listens to the Saint but you can almost sense his little chubby legs are about to do that funny thing babies do when they do bouncy or rubber legs. The other interesting thing is that Jesus is listening to the Saint but you sense his attention will break at any instant but Mary is not focused, she's daydreaming. I've been researching more on Lorenzo Lotto and find I really REALLY like his work. His people come across as real, soft flesh, great emotion and many in family situations, they seem more natural than work I've seen from this time period. As far as I can find out he was never married, never had a family…maybe he wanted that.

Another surprise painting I saw today at the Uffizi painted by Francesco Rustici around 1621 called Allegory of Painting and Architecture. It is a painting of a painter and an architect with all their tools around them and clearly in a full blown discussion about something and they are two women!!!! I cannot think of another painting, especially that early, that shows women in such revered professions. Rock on Rustici!

Another surprise was to see the paintings of Andrea Di Vanni Andrea and learn that the painter was a woman who did these works in 1370!!! And is the only woman painter in all of the Uffizi for centuries up until the amazing Artemisia Gentleschi's works! It's huge to even acknowledge a woman painting at that time.

Then I went on an art pilgrimage to see much more modern and perfectly simple work by the incredible Giorgio Morandi. It was a welcome break from all the massive frames and giant intense paintings that invoke a mental sound track of angelic music. His works are small, very simple and deeply inspiring!  More on Mr. Morandi at another time...

Most recent work from Rome...

One might think I'm just gadding about Italy. Well I am but with a DRAW. Drawing is the very bones of art and it helps to sit and take in the sights, study an area. Here's a link to the newest work which is basically visual note taking, making a log of things I see and love all the colors of the buildings and angles! The first images in the group (posted at the top) are really strong and I'm very pleased with what's happening. Here's the link to all the new work I wanted to move more towards shape and color and it "seems" to be happening. We'll see when I get back if it holds, heck if it doesn't I'll just have to come back to Italy!!!

And for once I'm so pleased with the pen and/or pencil sketches I put them out there for all to see. There are two in the group that reveal my process for making a painting...lots of notes all over the drawing and it was a scene so visually rich I can't wait to get started on it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Best part of travel is...

Meeting people! ...

Sister Maria (r) and Sister Hikkema (l)

Me & Roslyn having a great dinner!

Every time I travel I meet interesting people either in the group I'm with or when I stay places on my own. This time around has been a particularly rich experience. The Visiting Artist Residency in Rome just got a lot deeper and more than about making art or seeing it and beautiful towns. During my time here and in a recent trip to Florence I met people who have stopped me in my tracks, introducing wonder, awe and humor. It hardly gets better than that.

During my residence at the American Academy I've met musicians, master stone carvers, lots of writers, medievalists and archeologists. But I've never met an archeologist for the military...until now. Laurie Rush is a real inspiration, sorry I don't have a picture of her. She works for the military as an archeologist and has been instrumental in preserving Iraqi cultural and religious sites and training the soldiers who serve about how important those things are to the people they come in contact with. One of the ways she does this is she took everyday playing cards and re-designed them so that each card gives important information on protecting antiquities, the culture they are in and the religions of the area. Because of her efforts many soldiers go into archeology after their military time has been served. I'm in awe of her work but it turns out she is only one of many! Laurie told me of another female soldier who signed up in the military specifically to protect the culture and art (and artifacts) of another war torn area. This was a real eye opener for me as I, along with probably everybody, only think one thing when they think of soldiers...turns out there are some who fight but not with guns, they fight with ideas!

Speaking of Iraq, this will be hard to write up only because it's so moving I'm already tearing up. This week I went to Florence and stayed at a convent, turns out it was quite possibly one of the most moving experiences of my life. Casa Santo Nome di Gesu used to be a full on convent for Franciscan nuns and as the number of sisters dropped off they turned it into a school and then the sisters were moved to other convents and the convent was taken over by the Dominican Sisters and are trying to make a go of it as an incredibly clean, safe and inexpensive place to stay for travelers...then I learned about the sisters who are running it...there are onlhy 3 of them. They are Iraqi nuns of the Domican order. Sister Hikkema and Sister Maria, the third nun is off on retreat at the moment and they miss her terribly. These two Sisters are quick to smile and laugh, they are sharp, quick witted, multi-lingual and have a HUGE place to run. All of the money goes to the good missionary work of the order and to help sustain these nuns. How was this all life changing? I got the back story on these dear Sisters Hikkema, Maria and the one on retreat. They were moved out of Iraq after the very recent bombings of Christian centers just this past October. Many civilisns were killed and two was 25 years old, the other 30 years old, barely fresh from taking their vows. These nuns moved into tents in the desert so as NOT to further endanger any civilians then they were moved (evacuated) to Florence, given a B & B to run and they seem to love it and they certainly have a great sense of humor given what they've just been through. I took this picture of them just before I left and each one took one of my hands and asked me to pray for them and for I extend their wish to all of you...pray for these nuns and tell everyone to stay at Casa Santo Nome de Gesu and pray for Iraq.

Now for some lighter inspiration...the other photo is of me and a terrific woman I met at the convent, since I'm not sure if it's ok to publish her last name I'll just call her Rosalyn and she's from Australia. She lost her Mom recently and told her daughter she was off to see the world for a while. She retired early (63) and hit the road, she doesn't have a plan, she just goes where she thinks would be interesting and has -so far in about 2 months- been all over Europe and now exploring Italy. She stays about a week in every place, longer if she's crazy about it, and is not at all wealthy. Roslyn takes cheap, slow transportation because she sees more and meets more people that way. She's been a massage therapist, social worker and most recently writes bereavement ceremonies which I learned are all the rage in Australia. They don't want ministers running the ceremonies of bereavement or marriage there because as she says with great humor "Aussies are a bunch of heathens". Rather they want a lovely poetry & music filled event, plus she spends a great deal of time with each family finding out as much as she can about the person who has passed so she can "make it as meaningful as possible" for them. During her travels she's been most moved by Scotland and is headed back there for Christmas. Roslyn says, quite proudly, that she's never owned property and to that end recently had a gypsy wagon built so when she gets back to Australia she can keep moving. The only home she says she could ever tolerate is one on wheels and that has a lot of character...Rosalyn certainly has a lot of character!

I don't have a picture of this, so you have to use your imagination, liberally, as this is hands down one of my favorite people watching events in a long time. In Bologna after fulfilling my mission of seeing the Giorgio Morandi Museum (awesome) I decided to wander the streets of Bologna to see what the folks do there until I saw a sign for hot chocolate and Panna. I heard that's pretty tasty and it is. I went into the tiny coffee shop, SO cute, got a table in back and just to my left was an astonishing woman ... let the show begin. This little coffee shop had about 5 tiny tables, all full, with me and the rest locals having lunch. The woman to my left was a character in the social play about to unfold. Clearly she'd been sitting there for a while and it was easy to pick up on the "energy" between all the players. Let's call the woman in question Lola...Lola was in a TIGHT, super short animal print dress that left nothing to the imagination...and I mean n o t h i n g, my best guess is she's a 46DD most of which was also on proud display. She was drenched in lots of cheap gold-looking jewelry, bright blue nailpolish on freakishly long fingernails which typed furiously away and a neon pink cell phone, she has a mop of curly bottle blond hair whose roots need serious retouching, lots of make up and 10 inch heals. Right across from her was clearly the wife of the owner (and the owner would sneak peeks whenever he could) and she was the cashier who would smack him on the arm if she caught him. If you could ONLY see the looks she threw this woman you'd double over. But every time, and I mean every time any man walked by Lola would "display" herself and the woman cashier really had steam coming out her ears!!! Then more people came in for lunch, clearly they all knew each other and the looks flying around the room were much being said with the eyes & gestures but amazingly no one actually said anything. I sensed the drama would deepen so once I finished my hot chocolate I ordered lunch - no way was I going to miss this! Then Lola gets up & goes to the restroom...well the chatter began and I didn't need a translator to know what the women were saying! Lola comes back out and sits back down, she had to have heard them and she was stuffing it in their faces. My lunch was finished and I couldn't justify staying any longer. I think Lola was there for the long haul and maybe purposefully to drive someone crazy. OH how I wish I were a playwrite as it was a great scene!

Moving, heartwrenching, inspiring or just plain and meeting people or people watching is the BEST.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The ugly side of Rome...

Graffiti! I hate it, really hate it. Lots of people will disagree, that's fine but I don't care...I hate graffiti. Unfortunately the bored "Art" world ever in search of edgy or odd things or the new bad boy (never a bad girl!) has raised this visual grundge to art with jerks like Banksy, who clearly learned how to manipulate the media because he just needs attention, and Shepard Fairy who is now even working in the studio making piles of money by mass producing his images, he's just making a product. Graffiti, in my opinion, is not art. It is, however, the visual equivalent of dogs pissing on lamp posts, building corners, mailboxes etc. to mark territory. And in Rome it is a gruesome visual blight. In many cases it is disastrous for the antiquities. I never understood why people do it, it's so stupid. Is it really all about wanting attention? In Rome it doesn't even come close to being art for those who want to call it such. It's mindless, repetitive scribbles over absolutely everything, cars, vespas, walls of every kind, stairs windows on and on. I was talking with a friend who has lived in Rome a great deal of his life and he said it's never been as bad as in the last 5 or so years. Plus he travels throughout Italy and is seeing it places that have never been defaced before. It doesn't seem like anyone even notices it, but it's not surprising because there is so much of it that it becomes one long visual sour note that just hums across your eyes. There are people in Rome trying hard to combat this but in one interview a graffiti person vowed they will never be defeated...what a dope. You want to be noticed? You want to write? Go write a book, play, music, paint, want to leave your "mark" on the world then do something REALLY creative because if you visually piss on everything you are not an artist.

One focus of my work is the gorgeous effects of time and weather on ancient walls. The colors change, moss grows, there are water stains and salts seep through all of which make for amazing natural art, then some butt head visually pisses on it. Makes me crazy!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Big doings at the Villa

Leaves on the Sycamores are fully changed to yellow ochres with touches of cadmium yellow light, burnt sienna and the trunks of the massive trees are mottled greys. Fall has clearly come to Rome. At the Villa the ever busy landscapers took away all the lemon & lime trees that line the edges of Villa Aurelia and in an incredible checkerboard pattern in front of the main entrance. Each tree carefully removed to the shed area and they still had so many lemons on them! I wanted to pick them all, I love lemons! Once they were all moved they began on replacing them with the very healthy Holly topiaries that line the path along the walk to my place. The checkerboard of lawn & pea stone in front of the main entrance now has little Holly trees on each green patch.

There is so much that goes on here and a big crew all lead by a fantastic guy Alphonso. He has an absolutely HUGE smile and it's immediate. The smile bursts across his face instantly and effortlessly almost as if he's going to break into an hysterical laugh I smile too in a knee jerk reaction, you can't help it when you see him. I defy anyone not to smile when they see him, it's not possible to hold it in. He doesn't speak any English but it doesn't matter he prattles on and somehow I understand or I don't care if I do...I just want to be in his presence, he sparkles.

The landscape crew seems to be huge I can't get a grasp on how many there actually are but each one has a job and they buzz away all day almost every day, but especially when there's a function and they work extra long hours. There's no 10 am break, no union, no leaving at 3 but they do get the healthy European lunch 2 or 3 hour which is most civilized. But when there is something going on at the Villa they come right back and work long hours. Last weekend was a fall music festival, concert on Friday night, all day Sunday event. Then they were shooting some TV or movie thing here most of the week. Next weekend is more's always something.

One of them brings their dog and we've become fast friends. When he sees me in the morning he bounds across the lawn while I brace myself for his forceful greeting...the dog smiles too! He's a lab mix, very big and strong and like so many Italian animals, not neutered so he doesn't understand gentle, it's all big play and I'm trying to find ways to establish "boundaries". Like any dog I've ever known if I just keep throwing the ball everyone's happy.

Then there's my own personal cleaning crew that comes in once a week. Two men and a woman, they mop, vacuum, dust, clean each room, change my linens, lights indoor and out if needed and EVEN vacuum my piazza, dust the eaves and railing! Amazing! All in about 10-15 minutes max then whoosh they are gone to the next place. I am going to be so spoiled they're going to have to drag me screaming from this place!

But the melancholy has set in now the nights are downright chilly, the lemon trees are gone, replaced by holly. Here's some pics of the crew changing out the trees & my canine buddy!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I'm living in a dream and I don't want to wake up! Currently I'm in Rome as a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome and I've entered my second week here. I have hopes for this residency one of which is to focus on drawing, the very bones of art and I never spend enough time really drawing so that is a goal. However, as usual everything interests me and I'm painting whatever comes in from of my eyes. I spend a day painting and a day exploring and drawing. I am in Rome after all and there is a very great deal to see. This ancient city is all new and exciting to me and I love history. My god standing in the Parthenon or wandering the Roman Forum you can feel the history, it bubbles up through my feet and takes me over. But today I got to wondering if Italians ever get tired of all the antiquity, all the statues and giant fountains. Every street, every turn reveals new astonishing wonders for me but what is it like for a person who sees the Parthenon every day? I was weak in the knees when I saw it, do they feel that way after years or decade. After 2 weeks here I feel a bit worn out by all the chiesas (churches)! More than likely they are just so sick and tired of all the tourists! Clearly there are a lot of Italians who care deeply for their history or it would not be preserved. Yet every Italian I meet instantly knows I ain't from around here asks where I'm from and then go on about how much they love America, Boston plus the Celtics and Red Sox!

Usually when I go to a city first thing I do is seek out the art galleries and spend as much time in them as possible. Normally US cities architecture just bores the beejesus out of me, one more square bldg of glass and steel. So I seek solace in galleries & museums but in Rome I never ever thought about it until today when I saw a museum and I couldn't bear to go in…there's so much to see outside! Rome is a living museum! I went to the Vatican Museum and had NO idea it was so massive. I could spend days in there. All this history is our history too, a cultural genealogy of sorts and many lessons to be learned…I am walking through time and it's intoxicating. I'm grateful to all those who work so hard to save these Roman treasures, what a tragedy beyond words it would be to not have access to this!

Here are some paintings & drawings I've done so far that I like :) More to come later...enjoy!