Sunday, November 12, 2017

Upon Reflection....

Upon Reflection….

With the Italy residency and Florence workshop behind me, here are some more thoughts to the Traveling blog.

Everything about the trip was wonderful, instructive, constructive, enlightening and contributed to learning more about how I work best/worst, and what I’m searching for in art.  While I’ve discovered I don’t do my best work when painting plein air, the experience is important for learning to see nature more accurately.  I can ignore insects, loss of light,  changing weather, losing my painting and easel to the wind, grass, dirt and weeds in the paint, planet rotating, maintaining focus, grumpy land owners for just so long before I’m anxious to return to the studio.  But quick, gestural sketching outdoors, in tandem with a camera, becomes a great tool to train my eye to simplify and capture the essence of a scene. I'll also remember a lesson I learned years ago in nature drawing workshops, but forgot this time.  It's actually great to be back to sketching again! That is to guard my sketchbook from critiques.  A sketchbook is very personal and is more a recounting of a jumble of ideas, notes, quick value studies, even faster gesture studies and doesn't contain finished or even beginning work and shouldn't be part of any critiquing, comments, or comparisons.

Another thing to remember is that traveling in different regions means a convergence of new information, sights, sounds, aromas, all things that can be overwhelming.  It becomes difficult sometimes to take it all in!  I'm pretty good at walking and chewing gum at the same time, but it may not be the best time, for me anyway, to try to travel and paint at the same time. Next time I'll stay in one place and take it all in!

The food in Italy is superb, fresh, organic, local and delizioso!  The trick now will be to duplicate this in the U.S.  I buy organic food as much as possible.  In the grocery stores I seldom go down the aisles unless absolutely necessary.  But the true test for me will be to devote more time to cooking and preparing comparable meals.  Time for simple, visual and easy to follow recipes!

When flying in the future I will always put a copy of my itinerary and a TSA Manual description of the hazards of oil paint on the top of my packed things in my art supplies bag. The itinerary includes where I’ll be, the dates, who I'll be visiting, and what I’ll be doing.  I did this on the way over.  While the bag was still delayed, it wasn’t opened as they could probably read it with their technology.  On the way back I wasn’t concerned about how I packed and forgot these two sheets.  Security delayed and opened the checked supplies bag in the Amsterdam airport both way, but not the other one, and made a mess of everything!  I’ll also remember to carry a small bag of basic painting supplies in my carry-on bag in case the major bag of supplies is delayed again. I might also upgrade my airline seat next time to something more comfortable than economy.  It was seven hours of torture each way, but still a great trip!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Traveling in Italy - Traveling


"Can't be late if you don't have a timetable
 Can't get lost if you don't have a destination."       
                                      Colin Stafford-Johnson

On a plane going to an airport I've never been to, in a country I've never visited, with a language I don't really know, to catch another plane to another country, to find a bus to meet a ride to a facility for an artist's residency.  What was I thinking!  But as one instructor told me if you aren't uncomfortable then you aren't learning.  I'm about as uncomfortable as I've ever been so I'm ripe for learning. I’m on my way to an artist residency and have no idea what to expect except that I selected one that allowed me do just one week in length, at La Macina di San Cresci, to try it out and also coincide with a workshop afterward in Florence that I’d already signed up to attend.

But, where to start on this journey?  There's been a minor seismic crisis of confidence and focus in my art related goals since I decided the crowd funding project called the Art of Food wasn't going to work out – it consumed my life for eight months and then cancelled for lack of confirmation of commitment by a partnering group.  Now, is food even still my focus?  Do I concentrate on egg tempera or oil as my medium?  Do I paint still life, landscapes or are there already enough of those or do I have a passion at all?  What do I do when I get to my first residency??  I'm beginning to panic a bit that I won't know what to paint or will be so overwhelmed I can't focus on painting at all. On the first flight I sat next to another artist with a similar problem. We both decided that it's time to explore and just see what happens. Serendipity?

After skipping over a few time zones it's actually the next day of my travels, but I haven't slept and instead have gone directly into travel mode. The airline delayed my checked bag containing all my painting supplies that were the whole purpose of this trip for an additional security check. My carry-on bags contained mostly clothes and more importantly this iPad and my cameras.  But I'm still tethered to the world of technology as my lost luggage included all chargers so this blog will only last so long.  The age of being wireless is a misnomer - it's only as good as it lasts without all the wires. Now, with all our technology, we’re really only pretending.

So here I am in the 10th century church of Le Pieve di San Cresci (pieve was a rural church with a baptistery, upon which other churches without baptisteries depended), known as one of the most important Romanesque structures in the region of Chianti, Italy, situated just outside of Montefioralle, above the town of Greve in Chianti.  After a shuttle bus from the airport into the Florence bus station, and a bus ride to Greve, I’m now somewhat settled in and Demetria has given me a tour of the facility.  She'll come back to collect me to drive into the town of Greve In Chianti to make a stop at the market for some food.  No, this isn't a hotel.  Artists are on their own for cooking and eating. The residency philosophy is ‘freedom’ – freedom to do your own thing.  This will become important later.

But getting too far ahead of myself.  Greve in Chianti is a small town about an hour south of Florence (towns in Tuscany, at least in this area, are referred to as the town name and then In Chianti) and is actually in the heart of Chianti and Tuscany wine country and this is wine harvesting season. The church and adjoining buildings have been restored by Demetria, an architect, and her husband Duccio, a designer, under the auspices and approvals of the national registry (similar to our historical commissions).  Part is their home, part is still owned by the Catholic Church (and although still sacred is no longer an operating church and, with approval of the church may be used for artistic exhibitions and performances) and the rest is La Macini di San Cresci that runs as an artist residency program listed with ResArtis and the Alliance of Artist Communities. 

Adjacent to the church and Mimma's and Duccio's home is the Artist's House where the artists live in two separate buildings. Each artist’s room is a sizable private room with sitting area, bed, and study area, two shared bathrooms, the main living room, and, in the building I’m in, a well-equipped communal kitchen.  Another connected building on the other side of the facility contains the studios, but was originally used for the olive and wine presses.  These are still there and meticulously restored - amazingly impressive since the olive press is about a two-ton mill stone and very large.  The wine press and original wooden vats take up two rooms.

In the center of all of this is an interior courtyard garden, open to the sky, and onto which my room overlooks. Bird song fills all the rooms.

All of this is set on the side of a hill overlooking a valley of vineyards and olive groves for miles in all directions, farms and a collection of very old and beautiful villas, a huge fig tree in Mimma's and Duccio's private gardens that makes the one I try to grow in my garden at home puny by comparison.

Traveling in Italy - Greve In Chianti

Greve In Chianti

So Mimma and I have driven into Greve In Chianti.  Now this puts life into perspective.  The well-worn stones on which we're walking were centuries old before Columbus even discovered America!  The town is now 1,069 years old and one of the town's famous citizens was Giovanni Varrazano who's name is recognizable to anyone living in and around New York City as the bridge was named after him.  Here in Greve there's a statue of Giovanni in the main town piazza as well as a stone commemorating the bridge in New York.  And in New York alongside the bridge is a similar stone commemorating the town of Greve In Chianti. As immigration and migration have played such a vital role in America our current political administration should take note as without it the U.S wouldn't  exist at least as we know it (some would say couldn't into the future) and certainly not without the Italians who helped make America great just as every other ethnic group that has contributed (something our alt-right and conservatives should also take note of as they undoubtedly descend from some of the immigrants, as we all have, at one time. Saying we are taking back our country just highlights the extent of our murderous, racist thievery as it was really the North American natives' country when we arrived and before we raped, pillaged and appropriated it away from them.  But this kind of talk is leading me down the path back to too much of today's sad realities.

As part of the lost luggage I was to blame for losing my own sunglasses so Mimma very kindly took me to an optical shop in town to buy a new pair on a beautiful non-mall side street off the piazza. Most of these side streets house small shops, pasticcerias, and of course the ubiquitous gelato shops!

We also went to the food market to buy a few things.  Both were a wonderful opportunity for noi parleremo in Italiano!  I've been trying to learn Italian over the last year but it's been slow.  Actually having to survive by living in the local environment and using their language is a much better way to learn a language.  It's comical, but effective if you want to buy something like toilet paper instead of asking mistakenly for sugar!  I knew zucchero!  I also wanted to buy a small amount of sliced meat I watched the butcher cut for another customer, but was so intent on asking in Italian for "a small amount.... just one more slice" that I ended up with enough slices to feed four people before I realized what I’d been saying!

Exhausted and finally a healthy meal in me I'll sleep well tonight!

Traveling in Italy - The Wine Harvest

The Wine Harvest

Buona giornata (good day)!  Now it's truly the next day in my body clock and any other form of time keeping. I slept soundly and ready for the next day.  It's very early and who needs technology anyway.  A distant rooster takes the place of an alarm clock.  The air is lovely and cool and still. Waking up in a room with stone walls and a 20-foot ceiling of centuries old timbered beams. A little later, now about 6:30 am, the sound of birds is beginning to fill the rooms and I'm set for a day of exploring. Because there are many churches, the church bells ring across the hills frequently - a lovely distant sound.

But taking away all my own art supplies will add to the challenge of exploring where to go with my art - perhaps the best way.  The facility provides everything, but there's nothing like having your own.  What will today bring?  Perhaps my luggage, perhaps some surprises?  Again, serendipity?

An early email tells me my luggage has been located and will be delivered in a day or two, but not soon enough to have my gear. So I set off for a morning walk taking photos and sketching.  Fortunately, as a last minute addition, I threw into my carry-on bag a small sketch book and one pencil in case I was stuck in an airport.  The air has a light pungent aroma that is probably a combination of olive trees and grapes.  Then I settled into the studio to read the books about other artists who have been here in the recent past. Some high quality and innovative work, but I'm going back to my sketching for the moment.  Plenty of time to paint when I join the workshop on Sunday. My first goal here was to photograph vineyards and olive groves so I set off to do just that yesterday and today, dozens of them.

The very next day they had all quietly disappeared – all of them gone!  They had been harvested quietly.  In amongst all the rows of grapevines I could occasionally glimpse a worker. But I have dozens of photos and this morning the sun was bright, the day cool and everything here in Greve looks beautiful and they’ve begun to get rain in the night after a severe drought. The surrounding hills stretch forever and the breezes sweep down across the valley and beyond.

The luggage is finally here and intact, but I no longer feel compelled to use paint so I'll keep sketching.  And most importantly the chargers are here and adapters work so I'm back in business writing this blog.