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Monday, December 31, 2012

The Architectural Landscape

Man & Nature

Palatine from Circus Maximus, 2006
Max Gillies has an article in the January/February issue of Fine Art Connoisseur, “When Architecture and Art Converge”, that features a number of contemporary plein air artists particularly interested in architecture. Among them is my friend Victor Deupi, like me a classical architect as well as artist. The article’s last illustration is my painting of the Palatine from across the Circus Maximus, one of those surprisingly rare views in Rome that hasn’t changed much since Corot’s day.

While Italy affords spectacular landscapes up and down the peninsula and on its islands, it seems to me at least that what makes working here uniquely appealing is the poignant relationship of landscape and architecture. It part it is designed to be so: villas and their gardens, churches and cloisters, villages and hillsides were in fact considered with respect to each other, complementing one another with the common structure of classical geometry. But there is also the aspect of entropy that artists like Fragonard and Hubert Robert reveled, that visually compelling effect of Nature taking over again those things that Man had imposed on her—crumbling stone walls, overgrown trees invading courtyards, fountains covered in moss; these are things never intended by the original creators, but are tolerated and perhaps even appreciated by later inhabitants. In both cases Italy is unmatched for the abundance of paintable settings. But it is also worth musing on, as previous cultures have, what it all means: the power of geometry to give structure to our world, the tension between formal order and natural form, the relentless power of Nature to push back on our interventions, the strange appeal of decay.

at the Villa Lante, Bagnaia, September 2012
Good landscape paintings have structure, and nothing so deliberately structures our world as architecture. While one may stumble upon happy accidents in a wholly natural environment (views that capture our imagination and compel us to capture them), I find it even more natural that we would use human interventions as the underpinnings of a painting’s compositional structure. Nature civilized, made even more beautiful because of human effort, was what artists formed in the classical crucible always found most appealing. And especially when landscape documentation served primarily as prelude to studio paintings of more “elevated” subjects did a judicious juxtaposition of the natural and manmade serve to inform the figurative compositions overlaid upon it.

A tutti coloro che dipingono all'aperto in Italia, vi auguro un
Buon Anno.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Foreign Eyes, Local Lights

The exhibit of foreign plein air painters opened at the Forte di Sangallo in Civita Castellana last evening. The organizers—Maddine Insalaco, Joe Vinson, Emanuele Rossini, Alison Kurke—did a great job of gathering the artists and their work, and shepherding the exhibit through the regional bureaucracy to the impressive venue in the spectacular fortezza, which houses the local museum of Faliscan culture, in particular terracotta work (some of it on display in the exhibit space). A welcome catalogue includes Maddine’s fine introductory essay, which highlights the precarious nature of the local landscape, so beloved of painters for centuries and so vulnerable to short-sighted economic blight. She reiterated those thoughts in brief in her brief speech that helped open the exhibit, and I would distill two essential ideas from the exhibit that have wider implications:
1. that artists are often the most alert, and active, advocates of beautiful environments, and could be more widely engaged to defend threatened landscapes
2. that the plein air movement, a branch of the wider Anglophone world’s renaissance of realist and figurative art, is producing exceptional work that stands up to comparisons with its predecessors

The show is up until 11 November.

Some photos from the evening follow…
frescoes for the patron, piano nobile
the cortile, looking toward the exhibition

Maddine Insalaco and Joe Vinson listening to introductory remarks

Emanuele Rossini delivers his remarks

the venue; to the right, Alison Kurke with a catalogue

Saturday, September 29, 2012

See the Show

Maddine Insalaco, "From Vignale", detail

Settimana della Cultura civiTONICA

Museo Archeologico dell’Agro Falisco · Forte Sangallo, Cappella Papale
Via del Forte, Civita Castellana (VT) 01033
27 October 2012 through 11 November 2012
Open Tuesday–Sunday according to the museum schedule: hourly entry, every hour on the hour, first entry 8:00, last entry 18:00
Opening Saturday 27 October 2012 16:30 – 19:30
Free Admission
For further information:  347 143 40 36
Paintings available for purchase following show, by reservation

Participating Artists
Debbie Berger, Lucy Clink, Gordon France, Jacque France, Elizabeth Garat, Christine Godfrey, Liz Graham-Yooll, Joan Hooker, Charlotte Hope, Diana Horowitz, Maddine Insalaco, Salee Lawrence, Carol Magnatta, David Mayernik, Mary Louise McCarroll, Barbra Mudd, Jessica Pinsky, Molly Preston, Christine Ritchie, Ane Carla Rovetta, Joe Vinson, Amy Weiskopf

David Mayernik, "Forte Sangallo, Rear", detail

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Italia di Nuovo

at the Forum of Nerva
It is thrilling to be back in Italy, even in what is proving to be a record hot summer. Yesterday (Ferragosto) I was in the full sun along the via dei Fori Imperiali--saved by watermelon! 

Having recently been in Lucca and now in Rome, what is posted here documents three aspects of my evolving plein air strategies: drawing a subject as well as watercoloring or painting it, making watercolors approach oils in saturation (while preserving light), and addressing simple single subjects in order to confront them in greater detail. Last things first, a photo in situ of yesterday’s painting at the Forum of Nerva, along with one from spring a year ago on the Campidoglio; then, two views of the city walls of Lucca, one in sanguine in my sketchbook (morning), the other in watercolor (afternoon). 
The Trophies of Marius

NB: the show of plein air artists in Civita Castellana has been pushed back to 27 October to 11 November, to coincide with the town’s Arts Week, and will now be in the beautiful and imposing Forte Sangallo. More info to follow when I know it.

Outside Porta S. Donato

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Modern Artists in Civita Castellana

I'm ceding the floor in this post to my friends Maddine Insalaco and Joe Vinson, who have organized, along with Alison Kurke and Emanuele Rossini, a show in Civita Castellana this fall of modern plein air artists who have worked in this part of northern Lazio so beloved of Corot and others. Please do try to come and see what should be a wonderful exhibit.

“Through Foreign Eyes: Civita Castellana by Artists Past and Present” (Con gli occhi degli artisti stranieri)
Exhibition to be held from 19 -26 September 2012
American artist painting at Civita Castellana 2007
Curated by Maddine Insalaco, Joe Vinson, Emanuele Rossini, Alison Kurke

Before the introduction of the automobile and construction of modern highways, most overland travelers to and from Rome along the Via Flaminia passed through Civita Castellana. In the 18th and 19th centuries the town became a favorite destination for international artists seeking places of exceptional natural beauty with local hospitality, and it was immortalized in the numerous works they produced. Today it is rare that anyone, including Italians, has even heard of Civita Castellana except in the context of sanitary wares. Yet, the interest by foreign artists has continued through the centuries to the present day. Originally motivated by a curiosity about the open air painting tradition in Civita Castellana, contemporary painters have acquired a genuine appreciation of the territory that will be formally shared with the public in this proposed exhibition. Between reproductions of historic paintings now located in museums throughout the world and original paintings by professional artists, the exhibition will comprise between sixty and one hundred images of Civita Castellana.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Resources for Painters

 American Artist  magazine has just published a special edition Painter's Handbook, which you'll find on their website here. I continue to be astounded by the number and quality of artists out there who are working in a realist mode, especially en plein air. That abundance of activity means a wealth of information gained by experience, and American Artist is quite good at helping share it. In the spirit of Car Talk's Shameless Commerce Division, note that I have a few of bits of advice, and two Roman plein air works, in the publication. One of the paintings, at the Teatro di Marcello, I have already posted; the other, of the Casa dei Cavalieri di Rodi, is posted here (at a significantly larger size than in the magazine).

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Painting, Actually

Actually painting out of doors

The flowering plein air phenomenon is a wonderful thing. Some ambiguity hovers around what it means to work en plein air—are you really painting out of doors, are you painting what you are seeing, are you painting what you are seeing in Valenciennes’ two-hour window of time—but there is an obvious love of the act of being on site and capturing the world. I don’t see, though, much discussion on the various websites and blogs about painterly technique, partly no doubt because, without consensus on how much one is expected to capture, there is no focused idea of how one does the capturing. So I’m posting here some details of relatively recent plein air work from Rome and Lazio that shows my brushwork, which is for me the essential aspect of what it means to paint—as opposed to render—what one sees. As Diderot said:

"The value of creating resemblance is passing; it is that of the brush which causes us first to marvel, and then makes the work eternal."
—Denis Diderot, "Salon de 1763"
(Le merite de ressembler est passager; c'est celui du pinceau qui emerveille dans le moment et qui eternise l'ouvrage.)

Over at Emulatio I’ve posted details of some studio work, to facilitate a comparison (or to suggest that I work similarly inside and out). I welcome comments on each site.

Columns Near the Theater of Marcellus, Rome

Ponte Sisto, Rome

Vignale, Civita Castellana

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Rocks, Opera

on designing sets for the Haymarket Opera Company of Chicago’s upcoming performance of Charpentier’s La Descente d’Orphèe aux Enfers:

Tarpeian Rock, Capitoline Hill, Rome
watercolor and gouache on toned paper
I’ve written elsewhere on what, in the end, one does with plein air work. It so happens that a very fertile opportunity has come my way to employ my plein air experience in another context: Baroque opera sets. I’ve designed sets for the upcoming Haymarket Opera company’s performance of Charpentier’s La Descente d’Orphèe aux Enfers, and for the second act’s underworld set I drew heavily on the experience of these rocky Tyrrhenian shores. Please visit the Emulatio blog for a series on the sets, and the Haymarket Opera company’s website.

Piscine Naturali, Island of Ponza, Italy

Bastia, Corsica