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Showing posts from July, 2013

Notes from the Palace

When I was in Florence recently with my wife Patty (who is still there as I write), we were staying in a good-sized apartment on the Borgo Santa Croce, very close to the Basilica di Santa Croce. The day we arrived, hot and tired from a long flight, we noticed straight away the remarkable decorations in the central courtyard, and the fine façade of the building. All the time I was there, I wondered if there was a story behind this particular building. I started digging around on the Google machine, and it turns out that there is, indeed, quite a story behind Borgo Santa Croce number 10. The building was/is the Palazzo Spinelli, and it was remodeled from a number of buildings in the street beginning in about 1460, by a wealthy Florentine merchant and banker called Tommaso Spinelli. According to an excellent book called The Spinelli of Florence: Fortunes of a Renaissance Merchant Family, co-written by a cultural and an economic historian, Tomasso came from a family that began accumulating…

Estados Unidos! Estados Unidos! Estados Unidos!

This post has been brewing for some time. It’s about me and my relation to the Spanish-speaking world, and it’s also about the United States and its response to the Spanish-speaking world. It’s about my memories of living in Spain, learning and speaking Spanish, visiting countries in central America. It’s about how I see the increasing Hispanicizing of the USA, where I now live. And it’s about how I respond to the way a solid minority of white Americans perceives that shift in the culture. Let me start on the treadmill at the gym, some time in early June this year.The NPR channel I was listening to on my audio device wasn’t working properly, so I randomly moved the dial along and landed on a Chicago Spanish-language station. It only took a few seconds for me to remember a time when I was surrounded by these sounds all day. Living in Barcelona, the longest stretch of time I was in Spain, and watching some Spanish TV in the morning before going to my studio, stepping out onto the square …

Forthcoming Exhibition: Places I Have Never Been

I am extremely pleased and proud to announce that a collaborative exhibition I proposed to 1078 Gallery in Chico, California, has been accepted and scheduled for January 2014.

The gallery is a huge, marvellous space in this buzzing university town in northern California, which is also home to the Janet Turner Print Museum. The gallery hosts live events as well as exhibitions (see above photos), and my proposal consisted of a combination of these things. Called Places I've Never Been, it's a reimagining of two previous projects: The Lucerne Project (my solo show from 2011), and Climbing the Crooked Trails (my joint show with Patty from 2009). To quote from my proposal document:

The title Places I Have Never Been unites the common themes of these two bodies of work: imagining the lives of people in remote places; creating a narrative that is based on ‘facts’ but develops into a different, parallel, oblique form of ‘truth’; arriving at a third space somewhere between the ‘show’ o…

Quick Response to Venice

Back in Florence now after four days in Venice. I will be writing about the Venice Biennale at length later, when I am less busy with teaching and so forth. So for the moment here are several pictures out of the hundreds that I took that summarise the different reactions I had to the floating city.

Walking for miles through narrow passageways, over small stone bridges, and emerging onto large squares bordered by grand palaces and churches:

Visiting part of the Biennale and seeing lots of drawing in the selection:

All the street life in the neighbourhood where we were staying, fairly far away from the thick of the tourists:

The shadows on things:

Doing 24 drawings over 30 pages during four days, and seeing how good things came about by drawing lots of bits from different places over the same page:


Written Friday, July 12th: So we came to Venice today but we nearly didn't after getting on the wrong train at Florence station, only changing to the correct one a few minutes before it left. Thankfully we did not go to Milan, and arrived just a few hours later at Venezia Santa Lucia.
Getting the vaporetto to the Giardini stop was easy enough, too. Pity about the horrible little child sitting opposite us, who kept squealing, shouting, biting his mother on the arm. What are the local laws about throwing small kids into the lido, I wondered?
That was the only cloud during the entire day. Despite what several people have told us, we found on our first stroll around the city that: a) Venice is nowhere near as crowded as Florence, not even on Piazza San Marco at night; b) it does not smell bad; c) we didn't get horribly lost during several hours of wandering small streets, walking under low arcades and over small bridges.
We also popped in to see the Welsh exhibit for the biennale…

Holy Trinity? Holy F***!

Although I said that yesterday was the start of the Journal and Sketchbook class, it was more of a short introduction to some of the drawing and writing activities that we will use throughout the time in Florence. Today, Tuesday, was the first full four-hour class, and we led people through using lists in writing and drawing, as a means of gathering clusters of material and mining them for story potential. Patty and I have a number of "list stories" that we usually read aloud as examples of what we mean - Charles Johnson's "Exchange Value" and Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" - but seeing as we are in Florence, we were able to use a letter by Leonardo da Vinci to the Duke of Milan in which he asks for employment by listing all the war machines that he has designed. For the drawing, we went outside to the Piazza degli Strozzi, and surroundings, to do written lists and list-drawings:
It's clear after only two days that this is a tale…

Florence class, Day 1

So we gathered the students today in front of this:
And we quickly got them doing quick drawings in their sketch-journals:

Huddling against the steps of a bank on one edge of the Piazza del Duomo didn't prevent our group from getting lots of attention. It was also 90f today, though thankfully there was a cooling breeze in the afternoon. It looks like a good group of students, who were so absorbed by their surroundings and drawing that they didn't get distracted at all.

Ogne parlar sarebbe poco

Corn' io divenni allor gelato e fioco,
nol dimandar, lettor, ch'i' non lo scrivo,
pero ch'ogne parlar sarebbe poco. How weak I now became, how faded, dry --
reader, don't ask, I shall not write it down --
for anything I said would fall far short. Dante, Inferno, Canto 34 I read these lines in the Inferno late yesterday evening, after a day that included my first visit to the Uffizi art museum, and they struck me as appropriate to the cumulative effect of seeing so much familiar art for the first time.

We are fortunate to have been given an apartment that is a five minute walk from the Uffizi, though we didn't set off until after midday, on a Saturday afternoon, in July. Possible forecast: raining human beings, take immediate shelter elsewhere. Big surprise: once again, the Amici card permits you to go in through a reserved door, and once again we were climbing the stairs to see the art mere minutes after arriving. I don't think this luck can hold, but I…

The Thing About Drawing

I suppose it's to be expected that when I am going to be in Florence for three weeks, my drawing in art museums and galleries is going to look completely different from how I have come to draw in the last ten years or so. That is, like this:

This chap was a marble relief sculpture on a tomb in the floor right beside me, where we were having our introductory meetings yesterday (in a 12th century chapel, of course). As I said, I don't draw like this much any more, and when I teach drawing I don't, either (my emphasis is much more on making marks, any marks, as expressively as possible, and as soon as possible from the start of the first class). And while some people may look at the drawing above and think it's not bad (which it isn't), there are many artists better than this kind of life drawing than me who will see the same fault in it than I do. Shorter version: drawing like this is hard!

It got me thinking about what kinds of other drawing there are, and why I li…

Back from Break, First Stop: The Renaissance

I've been taking a break from Blogger for more than five weeks, trying to use Google Plus as a substitute. But now that I am in Florence, Italy, and feeling the desire to talk about my first impressions of things I've seen here, I find that a blog is still the best format to say those things, and to control where the pictures go inside the text. So I'm back!

After several days getting used to the time difference here in Florence, buying a few things for the apartment, doing preliminary meetings with our host college, welcoming the students arriving from the USA, I finally had my first transcendent experience with the art of the Renaissance today. 

Starting with the early Renaissance, I went to the Monastery of San Marco, which was only a short walk from where the last meeting was, to see the frescoes by Fra Angelico. Let me preface all this by saying that I am talking about art that I have waited more than thirty years to see, a long time since my first exposure to these wor…