Ravenna, in the Basilica di San Vitale, flooded with midsummer light, is where I found myself on the day before my departure from Italy when I took the reference photo for this painting in July 1998.
I had made a solo pilgrimage to see the mosaics and pay my respects at the resting place of Dante who had been my guide to seeing Florence since the very beginning.
The Basilica di San Vitale, an ancient octagonal structure covered in sparkling mosaics, was completed in 547 AD and the experience of being there stands in my top ten moments of amazement.
In this painting I revisited a photographic image I took in 1998 with a medium format camera that my grandfather had given me. (Sadly the camera was stolen from me in Spain later that summer.) On that day I explored the roads that traverse the hill up to the Piazzale Michelangelo with that spectacular view of the heart of Florence. I was likely alone, like this woman pictured.
I also made a tiny etching (2 x 3 inches) based on this photo in 2011. Since then the image has been quite metaphorical to me. The wall is a barrier that has come to mean not just distance of place, but time. I was lucky enough to be in Florence a few weeks ago, but during that visit I could only travel alongside my memories. My experience there as a 20-something year old art student/English teacher lives in some sort of a parallel universe.
For several years now, I have keep travel journals of our family vacations. Sure, it takes a good amount of time to complete, but I find that capturing the moment in our family life to be priceless. For this trip, the travel journal doubled as my plein air sketchbook.
We went to Italy. It was a big trip. My focus was to show the kids some of the places I love in Florence and to discover the Eternal City (Rome). And, as a teacher, I couldn't help but to make an educational experience out of it, so I made sure that my kids knew about Brunelleschi, Galileo, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Dante as well as a few words of Italian before we left.
Personally, I prepared myself by reading several books. Caroline Murphy's books on Isabella de Medici (Murder of a Medici Princess, 2008) and Felice della Rovere (The Pope's Daughter, 2005) connected a lot of the history for me. E. M. Forster's A Room with a View (1908) and Mary McCarthy's The Stones of Florence (1959) despite their distance from my own time there (1998-1999) shared many similarities with the Florence I knew.
Also, I read my old journals. I think 20 years gave me enough distance to see my experience there in a new light. I was glad to carry that understanding with me as I walked those same streets with children in hand.
Fiesole, the ancient Etruscan town, was our first stop. Below the cathedral sits the Roman amphitheater. In the foreground are some remnants of the Roman baths that were once used here. As we walked through, the breeze was divine and the loudest sounds we heard were the birds and locusts.
On our last evening in Florence we climbed up to Forte di Belvedere. Fiesole is visible upon the distant hill to the right. We had a snack while we watched the colors become more and more intense. A glass of crisp white wine from San Gimignano may have been consumed. ;)
Following our four days in Florence, we spent four days in Rome. After a long hot march through the Colosseum and the Roman Forum we found respite at the pizzeria Massenzio ai Fori. I ended my meal with this lovely cup of espresso.
On the last morning, I went for an hour's walk by myself and painted this elephant sculpture carved by Bernini in front of the church Santa Maria Sopra Minerva before the heat rose considerably. Though we greatly enjoyed our entire trip, it was a good day to leave. Ciao Italia!
Ever since I left Florence (Firenze), the city has left a significant mark on my subconscious. I've had hundreds of dreams where I'm there and the realization of where I am elates me. This dream has recurred so many times I could draw you a map of my dream Florence...and since I am awake now I will tell you it varies from the real map of Florence.
This painting is a recent work that I made using a photograph I took in 1998 as reference. As I painted it, I liked how the work took my mind to this subconscious space. I want to spend some more time there as I prepare to take my family to the real Florence. Expect to see more from this series as I engage in my personal preparation for our trip.
At the reception for the Artist in Residence Exhibition last Sunday, the most common question viewers asked me was "What is a nocturne?" (This was second only to, "What do you mean by Ghost Chickens?" See my post from 12/7/17 for the answer to that one.)
Simply stated, nocturne paintings capture something about the twilight or night time. It was already known as a musical term when James Abbott McNeill Whistler first used it in the titles for several paintings in the 1870s. Nocturnes aren't that common and I have 5 of them in the show right now at the Cheltenham Art Center. I suppose that might strike some as strange.
What caught my eye during an evening pass of the Wall House in my car, is the window lights. They almost make this old house seem inhabited in the gloaming.
This was the last painting I completed for this year-long residency at the Cheltenham Center for the Arts. Personally, it marks the end of a body of work where I worked hard to keep focused, and now I look forward to a little experimentation and outdoor adventure. Watch out for the plein air cyclist!
This tree is the same American Elm featured in my last post, except at night. Which brings me to the theme that emerged in my work for this artist residency... night and day.
There is something I find very pleasing in the way that the dark layers of paint allow the lights to shine.
I find it hard to believe that the end of my residency at the Cheltenham Center for the Arts is upon me. The studio, the community, the commute along the creek... pretty soon will not be a part of my daily routine. I am so grateful for the support I have received in building this body of work!
All of the paintings feature aspects of my hometown, both during the day and at night. I hope you will have a chance to see the exhibition between May 20 and June 12. The reception is on Sunday, May 20th from 2pm - 4pm.
Including figures in a landscape painting is a challenge. Why include them? Scale and interest. Do I include them in my landscapes? I'm working on it. Look, there are a few in this painting!
Howard Watson first brought this concept onto my radar last year. It was a profound moment when I realized how the narrative of a work could suddenly become so much more. For example, instead of just showing a spring house, I could tell a history that there used to be a chicken coop in the upper part of the structure by including some chickens. See Ghost Chickens.
In this painting here, I was first interested in how the light creates the space at this time of day. However, when I added those commuters who are coming off the train and either walking home or going to one of those cars...there is a whole new story. In fact, is that you in my painting? Maybe.
I'm currently attending a short course at the Wayne Art Center with Mick McAndrews on this art of putting figures in a landscape. Mick is a great guide. (See his amazing work here.) So, I feel there will be more figures to come in my work.
Be careful, if you haven't already...you might find your way into one of my paintings.
The last in a trio of vegetable paintings, I present "Farm Onions" I love how, unlike most onions that I buy, you can see the part of the plant that grows above the soil.
The painting challenge here is in the subtle study of white... for white objects are rarely actually white. I learned this from my hero John Singer Sargent. When I look at paintings like "Simplon Pass: Reading" done in the Alps in 1911, the multitude of greens, blues, yellows, and grays that create the white drapery stun me. Feast your eyes on it here.
Locally grown, organic vegetables inspire me. They feed me both physically and artistically. And, best of all, I know that I am supporting farmers who are on the front lines of improving our sustainability. *
I really enjoyed the range of greens in this painting, which are all mixed. The painting begins with a cobalt blue and winsor lemon, continues with a prussian blue and winsor lemon, then ends with Prussian blue and indian yellow. All relatively transparent mixtures.
Like several other vegetable paintings I've done in the past year, this head of lettuce came from the Pennypack Farm and Education Center last summer. I've recently prepared for the 2018 growing season by buying into the Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op. I'm looking forward to the variety and quality of produce they grow and I plan to continue this series of paintings. :)
*Notably, organic farmers are supporting our declining bee populations by not using neonicotinoid pesticides, or seeds treated by this noxious chemical which has become too common in the conventional agricultural market. Organic veggies support bees, and who doesn't love bees?
Upon reflection, I see a great metaphor in this watercolor study. Not only are these beautiful potatoes a product of organic farming practices at Pennypack Farm and Education Center last season (so delicious!), they refer to a common phrase.
I first approach that phrase in my quest to simplify. It acts as a mantra to avoid letting the small stuff block my sight of what's really important along the lines of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson. However, after finding a quote by Charles Dudley Warner who while gardening in 1870 wrote, "What small potatoes we all are, compared with what we might be!" I feel like my eyes have been opened. His view in this quote is that we often stunt our growth because we "don't plow deep enough." (Thank you Project Guttenberg, where I found Warner's book My Summer in the Garden.)
I am inspired by a new mandate to nurture my small potatoes into big potatoes by taking the time to dig deeper into the earth. Stay tuned for next year's crop!