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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Arch of Drusus

The Arch in Context

I went back to the Arch of Drusus (so-called, but it’s hard to imagine it being later than the Aurelianic gate just within which it’s situated) a couple of weekends ago to paint the same subject I’d drawn (see my previous post). I worked in the morning, within about a two hour window of time. With that constraint of Valenciennes’ you must decide what you can capture, and what you can’t. I’m interested in the overall form, some sense of texture, light and shadow of course, and context. I’m also interested in the subject for what it tells us about how the Romans understood what a triumphal arch was. I’m especially interested in the use of the orders (an innovation essentially of the Augustan age, when the former simple fornix—a deep arch or vault—accrued the classical orders and changed its designation to arcus). Here the columns en ressaut frame a pediment grafted on to the arch proper, not spanning from column to column. While the pediment situation is unusual (but not unknown) the en ressaut columns are effectively normative for most Roman arches. That’s partly the subject of my summer research, but here talking about plein air I’ll let the painting process speak for itself. You'll note I worked, as always, on a toned ground.

Arco di Druso, oil on canvas board, 25x35cm

Friday, June 17, 2016

Outside and Inside the Walls of Rome

Arco di Druso, via S. Sebastiano, morning
Finding Historic Plein Air Landscapes in the Eternal City

As I said here a while back, Rome has changed a lot since it became the capital of a unified Italy in 1871. Which makes painting en plein air a challenge if you’re looking for the landscape of Corot. This summer I find myself lodging just outside the Porta Latina in a twentieth-century neighborhood that, urbanistically speaking, would win a CNU award if it were built today. 

S. Giovanni in Oleo, via Latina, morning
Circus of Maxentius along the Appia Antica
Now, that’s not exactly an endorsement from my point of view: while the neighborhood has all the requisite services that the centro storico has mostly lost, it can’t hold a candle architecturally to the inhabited Rome of the Nolli map. But, it has two great advantages: one, the roads leading in from the Porta Latina and Porta S. Sebastiano are some of the most beautiful, because mostly untouched, stretches of Roma disabitata that exist; and the road leading out of Porta S. Sebastiano becomes the via Appia Antica, in its less trafficked stretches a miracle of picturesque ruins and countryside.

Balancing research in libraries with drawing in the field, I’ve started by disciplining my observation. First I intend to work on Magnani’s Annigoni™ medium toned paper, drawing in graphite then modeled in white and black gouache; for my first drawing, the tomb of Cecilia Metella on the Appia, I couldn’t resist capturing the blue Roman sky. But for the second, of the Arco di Druso (so-called; a focus of my research), I stuck with black and white on the warm grey paper; that’s the discipline I intend to sustain before I tackle color in oil.

As I produce more I’ll post them and describe some of my thematic agenda for the summer.

Cecilia Metella

Arco di Druso

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Working It Out En Plein Air

iPad sketching

A month or so ago I was in Florence with my iPad Pro, and stopped in the Piazza Ss. Annunziata with a break in the clouds and drizzle. I decided to sketch one of the fountains by Pietro Tacca because:
  1. It’s bizarre and amazing
  2. I’m still learning how to use the drawing apps
  3. I’m interested in the video capture aspect of the Procreate app to record the process of making a drawing

The result, emerging in a short video clip, is appended above. I worked with a “pencil,” “pen,” and “brush” effects on toned “paper.” All of which, of course, is virtual—you’re still drawing with a rubber tip on a piece of plastic. But I think there is value in illustrating the emergence of an image in time, approximating the kind of thing that would be done with real pencils, pens, brushes, and paper.

I posted a drawing done at the Getty at emulatio. This will never replace my real drawing and painting tools, but I hope seeing a drawing evolve has some value.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Camelia Show in Lucca

Botanical Painting at the Villa Bottini

As part of the annual celebration of the spectacular flowering of camellias in the region, the group Antiche Camelie della Lucchesia have curated a show of botanical painting at Lucca's graceful Villa Bottini, within the walls of the city:

I have three paintings in the show, juxtaposing trees and the city walls. It's worth a trip outside of town to the heart of the camellia festival in Pieve di Compito:

August 2015 on the walls of Lucca, Baluardo di S. Maria

Monday, September 14, 2015

L’Occhio di Lucca

Or, Light in the City

On September 14 every year the city of Lucca celebrates its renowned relic, the Volto Santo, for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross; the big event is in fact the night before, when the city is candlelit and a vast procession moves from San Frediano to the Cathedral of S. Martino. The day before the procession this year the city reenacted its ancient signaling system, an extension really of its circuit of walls to include a warning system broadcast back and forth from towers in the city and the surrounding countryside and mountains. Smoke from the Torre del Bargiglio in the Garfagnana was the “Eye of Lucca” warning of threats from the north; for the reenactment what was spectacular in town was the vermillion smoke emanating from the verdant crown of the Torre Guinigi. The purple clouds of the twilight sky and the brilliant red, despite its implications of danger, was a visual feast. For a city defined by its walls, built for defense but now enjoyed for a whole town’s passeggiata, the aesthetic delight the walls afford is rich and diverse enough—in different light, at different times of day and orientations—to reward returning again and again to paint en plein air.

The painting here of the Baluardo (bastion) di S. Maria in the late afternoon of late August was an exercise in capturing diverse greens and projected shadows. My notion of plein air—short window of time, accuracy of hues and values—can’t be divorced from the painterly technique needed for such quick work. This painting, aiming to be an hour’s effort, wound up at about 90 minutes, with the moon rising telling me it was getting to be time to go.

The Baluardo di S. Maria

just for fun, from Murabilia

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Painting En Plein Air is Painting Out of Doors in a Short Window of Time


Painted in one hour on the walls of Lucca, June 2015
It's wonderful to see the breadth of interest in the idea of plein air painting, especially in America. It’s not unallied to our penchant for know-how, figuring out how something is done, because it is, in fact, a learnable and teachable discipline. The phrase "plein air" has become so popular, in fact, that it has taken on a value that transcends its actual meaning. At one level, this is fine, since anything that gets people to paint landscapes is positive. But the confusion of meaning, to the point at which plein air becomes more a euphemism than a definition, defeats both an historical conception of what artists were doing in the past who painted en plein air (like the works in the Gere Collection at London’s National Gallery), and confuses the playing field for those doing it today (whether in terms of practice or the publication/premiating of practice).

Let me put it another way. Painting en plein air is painting out of doors, perforce in a short window of time. Anything that is not painted in that way is a landscape painting. That is not a value judgment—a well-painted landscape not done en plein air can be a much better painting than an actual plein air work. But to paint in the open air is to be subject to a moving light source (the sun) and a changing atmosphere. The former especially conditions the window of time within which the artist may work, because after about two hours (as Valenciennes recognized centuries ago) you’re simply not looking at the same scene anymore. While mid-day in the summer the light is fairly constant for hours, it’s also a bleaching light that rarely yields compelling paintings. Of course, you can try to return to the same scene over subsequent days at the same time and find the same light, possible in the summer in Italy but not often in the late autumn or early spring, much less in England any time. And since the reason people started painting en plein air in the first place was to record fleeting conditions on site, to bring back to the studio like captured game, why would you want to treat the out of doors like a painter’s studio, expecting to show up day after day to paint in the same conditions? Record your experience, and go home and work it up in the studio.

And it’s not true to say that the amount of time to make a painted sketch is not a factor in its appreciation. Fragonard famously painted a series of portrait sketches in an hour, which he proudly scribbled on the back of the canvas. I’ve realized that the time constraint focuses the mind, and forces a focus on the essential elements of a scene. Whittling the time down to an hour not only conditions a subject doable in that time, but an economy of means in realizing it. It shouldn’t be forgotten that one of the reasons to paint en plein air is to hone one’s skills, not only to bag an appealing painting.