Saturday, February 15, 2014

Learning to See

I came to Florence looking for something, a spark for my art. Something that would launch me to a new level. What was I missing in my art? There was not something specific that I felt I was missing, only that somehow there could be more. I knew I could do better. We can always do better, striving for this is what makes life interesting in my opinion. I love trying new things, but I also love trying 'old' things in a new way. This is how we learn, how we discover wonderful subtleties that perhaps we did not know existed.
I love to paint, and I like my paintings for the most part; but I wanted to discover a new subtlety to make it fresh and ultimately improve what I do. I just didn't know what that subtlety was. I came to study at the Florence Academy of Art because the school is renowned and one of the top 3 belle arte schools in Italy. It is based on the Academia tradition set up in Paris in the 1800's which in turn was a program designed to return to teaching the basic principals and ideals laid out in the Renaissance, which in turn was based on rediscovering the classical Greek art forms. It is a long and winding road working it's way back through the history of western art to antiquity.
I have heard that if you really want to understand something you need to start at the beginning. So that is what I am attempting to do. The beginning, going back to school, a school based on antiquity, ancient ideals and techniques.  It is through this process that I have learned what it is I came here to learn. I wanted a subtlety, some little unknown trick that would open new doors for me. Well I have found it, and it was not so subtle when I discovered it, but more-so hit me in the head like a ten ton brick!
Through-out our studio time I have realized I did not come to Italy to learn how to paint. I already know how to paint. I have done it nearly every day of my life for the past 25 years. I have come to Italy to learn how to see. To see an object, a shape, a form, a colour, a nuance. If you can not see these then you can not paint them. I can still remember my older brother looking at one of my earliest paintings. I was about 10 and had received a set of acrylic paints for Christmas. I was trying to copy pictures of animals from National Geographic magazines. I showed my brother Greg what I had done. He has never been one to sugarcoat his answers. He said to me, "it's o.k. but you need to learn to paint what you see, not what you know." A somewhat profound discourse between a 15 year old and a ten year old, admittedly I didn't totally understand what he meant. Now I do. Learning to see means forgetting everything you know about the world around you and then breaking it down into abstract shapes and forms that relate to each other. Once you can do that, you are able to draw just a few shapes that fit together like puzzle pieces and when you stand back, look at them and realize you just drew a face, or a building or a bird's wing in flight. It really is quite a magical experience to stand back and be shocked by your own work. This happened to me when I stood back and realized I had painted my son's toy car,  it looked as though I could reach over and pick it up off the canvas.
Perhaps some will say - "but what about the emotion, the feeling, the imagination and the abstract? You can not see these. What if you don't want to paint realism?" How true, I would compare this to a musician learning to hear. If you learn your scales, and are able to actually hear them recognizing notes, picking them out of an ensemble, knowing and hearing the differences from one semi-tone to another then you can improvise. You need to be able to hear the notes before you can change the nuances, add emotion and create a sound that follows it's own rules. It is the same in painting. I have no interest in being a realist painter when I finish here for my life is filled with reality enough; but I can hardly wait to see what compositions and nuances I will be able to compose with these new eyes and all that I can see!

Still life after six days of work

Still life after four days ( had to repaint the pepper twice...the first one rotted over the weekend and I couldn't find one the same shape!)

Still life after two days 

Here are some photos of the dreaded "Nose"
It really could use a few more days work, but i have left it to continue on with the many other projects we are working on.

The Nose after 2 days in studio

The Nose after 4 days in studio

The Nose after 6 six days in studio

Thursday, February 13, 2014

David's Rainbow

I would be lying if I said travelling with children is all fun and games. There is no doubt that it is exciting, fun and allows you to see the world from their perspective. It certainly is easy to make it all look like a "cake-walk' or an easy going stroll from one gelato store to the next, stopping at parks and window shopping along the way. It is true, we have done much of that, but there are also many challenging moments that are not quite so 'quaint'. Like on our 10th day of rain in a row, and everyone is soggy and tired of being wet, nothing dries, we have been in a state of perpetual dampness since we arrived it seems. Everyone has colds, coughs, and now the kids have Pink Eye - inevitable really.
On this 10th day of rain, we are trying to simply get home from school, the task is momentous as both children insist on walking. If only I was an Indian Goddess with 6 arms I could push the stroller, hold the umbrella, carry the groceries and hold each child's hand as we navigate the narrow sidewalks that are not wide enough for two people with umbrellas to pass without one stepping out onto the road into on-coming traffic.
After much stress and shouting after children (who by the way also refuse to put on mitts or wear a hood), as  elderly ladies walking by scowl at the foreign lady who lets her sick improperly dressed child run wild down the sidewalk, we huddle in a doorway. My youngest has decided that she is tired, thank god! I can now tie her on my back and fight with my other one to get into the stroller and hold the groceries while I bee line it to the bus stop. Of course the buses are over-crowded, who wants to walk when it's pouring rain?
Now bumping and squashed on the bus the youngest insists on getting out of the back carrier, my eldest wants to stand on the bus like a 'big person' instead of taking the seat offered. With one child being lurched across the bus and the other screaming bloody murder to get off my back, the stroller threatening to roll off the bus I lose my grip on the grocery bag. So much for the fresh tomatoes I bought which are now more like fresh tomato sauce. By this time the youngest has succeeded in getting down and is on screaming fit number three since we left school. Like her big brother she wants to 'stand' on the bus. Impossible. She would be sent head over heals as the lurching bus ricochets it's way down 600 year old stone streets. With one hand holding the squished groceries, my leg pinning the stroller down my other hand hangs on in a vice grip to the rain coat of my beautiful, screaming, flailing daughter. And with every ounce of reserve energy I concentrate on staying calm - and on the bottle of wine in my purse that I pray doesn't break in the midst of the chaos. It would be impossible to clean out of the leather.....and God knows I'm going to need a glass of it when we get home.
Like all things there is an end. This trying evening ended with a rainbow and smiles. Eventually the children settle (from exhaustion), the rain abates and as we reach the bus stop at the top of the hill, the one with the view over the city the bus pulls up and stops and what do we see? A glimmering bronze reproduction of The David looking out over a giant rainbow. Everyone smiles, the bus driver pauses longer so everyone can click a photo from the door.
My daughter agrees to climb back into the back carrier and promptly falls asleep. My son informs me he has had a good day, he liked the rainbow and "would I like to play Ninjas when we get home?"
We do get home, tired, wet but blissfully home. There were some ninjas, some good pasta and some very good red wine.
 David and the rainbow

My beautiful daughter when things are all smiles!

The city when it is not raining! And the bus on the bridge is the one we ride to get home.

One of many many gelato stores


How to chose?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Italian Adventure part 4 - Florence with kids

Art and study are only half of the adventure here in Florence. The other half, and often the more fun half is exploring this amazing city with two young children. The pace is slow, and forces me to take in the city from a different perspective and to "stop and smell the flowers along the way".... "or at least stop to feed the pigeons along the way"...which is almost the same thing.
Here's what last Sunday looked like:
To start with we need  a few essential "tools" that we never leave home without.
- soft fabric back carrier
- collapsable stroller
- umbrella
- dinky car x3
- Zip lock baggy with a chunk of old bread
With that, we are pretty much ready to take on whatever the day may bring and enjoy ourselves in the process. Keeping both kids "contained" and close to me while we hike from one venue to the next is crucial, as roads are narrow, sidewalks often non existent and traffic just a "little" crazy. With One strapped to my back and the other in the stroller we can make pretty good time and it's amazing how adept you can get at steering those mini strollers over uneven ground. Once arrived at different locations they are free to go, and the fun really starts. Hiking all over carrying/pushing two kids has it's means there is no guilt with having that extra piece of pizza, glass of wine or cappuccino!

Ten minutes down the street from our apartment is Boboli Gardens. An 11 acre garden, built by the Medici family behind their residence at the Pitti Palace in the mid 1500's. It  is a gorgeous expanse of winding trails, pathways, mature trees, ponds, fountains, and over 150 sculptures scattered amongst it. It's like a giant maze to run and explore and find hidden treasures; or at least unique little sculptures and secret pathways that emerge into sun-splashed clearings with ponds and funky statues. Obviously the perfect spot for dinky car racing and road construction.
                                          Car racing through puddles around the Isolotto

                                   Heading up a path thought to lead to the home of some "trolls"

                                              Checking out an interesting and unusual fish.

After this we wind our way up to a clearing with a pond and sculpture of Neptune. The grass is green and carpeted in blooming crocuses. For a gang from Yellowknife, this is pretty exciting stuff on the 26th of January! We do "stop to smell the flowers", then climb some stairs and find ourselves on a large terrace with an exquisite view of the Tuscan countryside. On this terrace is an immaculately pruned rose garden or from our perspective, a miniature maze. There really is no better place for a game of tag.
                                          January Flowers

                                         Tag on top of the world

We exit the garden at the front of the Pitti Palace. It is a massive open area, paved and free from traffic. The perfect spot to dig out the stale bread and feed some of the local wildlife. It keeps the kids entertained for ever, and allows me some time to really take in the grander of the palace we are standing in front of, and wonder just a little bit about the lives of the people who walked in and out of this palatial building as their home.

                               It's amazing what two slices of stale bread can do for entertainment.

Next it's time to head towards the famous bridge the Ponte Vecchio for some gelatos. Ice cream is an art form of it's own here, and picking which kind you want becomes an adventure in itself. The gelato displays in the shop windows would rival those of any high end store filled with luxury items in down town New York, Toronto or Paris I would think. The huge mounds of fresh made gelato in exotic flavours are pilled into huge mountains, sculpted into shapes and then decorated with anything from fresh fruits, hunks of dark carved chocolate, fresh is a work of art. This also makes the art of choosing which one you want very difficult. The good part is, we have yet to try one we don't like.

With our bellies full of gelato we head across the bridge. The Ponte Vecchio is famous, the oldest bridge in Florence,  it is built with stone and dates to early medieval times. The bridge is lined with shops, all jewellery stores with little windows filled with gold, diamonds and semi-preciouse jewels. Just walking across the bridge which looks much as it did in the 1500's is an experience. I was entertained to learn from our art history professor here that the bridge filled with gold is not a newly configured tourist trap, but part of a tradition that dates back to the 1530's. The ruling Medici family had to cross the bridge daily to get from their governing offices to their residence at the Pitti Palace. At the time the bridge was the venue for the butcher shops and fishmongers. Trap doors inside the shops opened to the river below allowing them to easily get rid off the slop, innards and tailings from the day.
At some point the Medici decided that crossing the bridge amongst the people and chaos was below them. So they had a passage way constructed along the top of the bridge that connected their residence to the Palazzo Vecchio where they worked, it is known as the Vasari Passage Way. Yet even though the passage allowed them to avoid the riff-raff, still the stench from the shops below (particularly in summer time) was too much to bear. So, in the manner that a ruling family can, they told all the shop keepers they had to leave. They had the bridge cleaned up and then only allowed shops selling fine jewellery and goldsmiths to open up. This ensured no more bad smells and less riff-raff in the area. Problem solved.
To this day, the bridge remains traditionally the place to buy gold and other precious jewellery, although no guarantee on the lack of riff raff.....we were there wandering around after all.
The kids and I love crossing the bridge though, flanked on both sides by sparkling gems. It is like walking through a world for fairytale Kings and Queens. We have all picked out our favourite items at different shops while peering into windows. Kai has his eye on a gold necklace that he is really hoping he "might" get for his birthday...hope he's not too's probably worth about $20 000
                                          A section of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge

                                          One of many gold shops.

Italy is a place that loves children. People ohh and ahh over them all the time, and are warm, generous and welcoming, more so because the kids are with me I think. While poking our noses up to the glass at one gold shop, a lady came out and handed each of the children a small box, made from handmade Florentine paper.  The kind of little box you would be given if you had purchased some fine jewellery. Both of them were thrilled with their new little treasure boxes, with gold leaves and floral designs on them. After some more exploring, a trip to the market and a visit with some working horses we headed for home. The kids were excited to find their own treasures to keep in the boxes. Sadee found some special pebbles to keep in her box, and Kai designed, coloured and carefully cut his own treasure out of paper. We may not be Kings and Queens, but we certainly feel like them living such a fun adventure and by the end we will have a whole mound of treasure in the form of memories to bring home in our special boxes.
                                                                 Working Horses

Treasure boxes