Wednesday, July 31, 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 its wealth and status in the 1300s by acting as money-men to the guilds in Tuscany. They also worked in the banks of much older and more significant families, like the Alberti and Medici, until they became prominent bankers themselves. Tommaso started working in a relatively lowly position for a bank owned by the Albertis in about 1420, and within fifteen years he was personally overseeing the financial arrangements for the Pope. He was not as wealthy as the Medicis (few were), and his patronage of the arts was dutiful and canny, rather than profligate. For example, he provided the funds for the construction of one of the cloisters at Santa Croce, and while no less a figure than Brunelleschi was the original designer, there are records of Spinelli making sure that the loggia protecting the frescos in the cloister was built so that it would only just keep them covered, so as not to spend one florin more than necessary. Contrast that with the spending of the Medicis, which was vast, and profligate, and more like the way a contemporary hedge fund manager splurges the dosh as a visible sign to all of how his wealth equates with his worldly status.
Tommaso built up his fortune mainly by shuttling between Florence, Rome, and Venice. By the middle of the century, he had inherited the role of paterfamilias in the Spinelli clan, and he decided to settle in Florence and make a home to house his sons, daughters, nephews, and so on. When it came to building a palace, Tommaso similarly combined art with acumen. Rather than constructing an entirely new building, he took over an existing structure and had it extensively remodeled. The main work was overseen by Rosselino, an architect whose significant works include the beautiful façade of Santa Maria Novella. The courtyard that took our attention has some elements that may have been designed by Michelozzo, who designed the Palazzo Medici and is another significant figure in Renaissance art. (Every day, Patty and I would walk down the grand stone staircase to this courtyard, and each time I would get this strong feeling of being surrounded by something with an unusual degree of craft.) The graffito design on the façade of the building is also influenced by similar motifs by Michelozzo found on other palaces.
And then there’s the Vasari connection. The house next door belonged to yet another Spinelli, who ran afoul of Cosimo de Medici in the 1500s, so that Cosimo confiscated the building, and then gave it to Giorgio Vasari for services rendered. That name is familiar to anyone who has even briefly studied Renaissance art: Vasari, the painter, whose “Lives of the Artists” is still used as one of the primary texts for the art of the era. After Vasari died, the Spinelli family became the trustees of all his manuscripts, notes, and papers, which may have (I’ve yet to verify this) included the “Lives”.
And speaking of papers, the authors of that book on the Spinelli family say in the introduction that they were able to build up a highly detailed picture of this family, and through them the society around them, because of the vast number of records that they kept and which were preserved by the city for so long. This is something that Patty mentioned to me in one or another of the museums – going into a room of long display cases, filled with 600 year old ledgers noting the thousands of daily transactions that depict the minute life of Florence at the time.
Personally, I am fascinated by all this stuff because it presses a lots of buttons for me: history of art, social and political history, the history attached to specific places, the effect of those places on the work that you make in them. But there’s an extra piquancy to the fact that for a few, all too short, weeks I was privileged enough to stay in the rooms that were once inhabited by a man and a family who were close to the heart of life in Florence, at a time when the inhabitants of the city were creating a revolution in human affairs, and sketched the outlines of the world that we live in today. How fortunate, too, that Tommaso created a palace with bones that have lasted for six centuries, and that gave a decidedly unwealthy lower class Englishman the chance to say: Signior Spinelli, grazie mille.

Friday, July 26, 2013

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.
Romario scoring against Real Madrid, 1994. God, he was good.
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 and walking to the Urquinaona subway stop, buying a copy of El Periodico to read on the journey, underling the words in the paper that I didn’t understand to look them up later, going to the bar next to the studio building several times a day and talking to the owner about FC Barcelona, mainly (they were on a good run that year, back in the 90s, making it to the Champions League final), going out in the evening to a party where I might be the only non-Catalan, trying to keep up with the flow of the conversation, missing many of the jokes, but generally staying with it, until I had too many beers or it got too late, and then the tired brain just kind of switched off. But at the end of my year there, my Spanish got really pretty good. Not the best accent (I’ve never, sad to say, been able to trill the ‘r’, just genetically not been given the gift), but good enough that at least people didn’t automatically mark me down as an English person (one of the worst accents, I was told, to Spanish ears). A lot of people say that they end up dreaming in a foreign language, which may be true, but which I suspect is just a way of boasting or exaggerating their linguistic prowess. I remember having a couple of dreams in which I was speaking Spanish, but the mark of the progress I made came in waking life, when over the course of one year I did the following things entirely in Spanish: going to a rental agency at the start of the year to look for an apartment; going to Telefonica to arrange for a phone to be installed in the apartment; calling Telefonica to send an engineer over when the modem for my girlfriend’s computer stopped working (that was a hard one); talking to landlords on behalf of some of my fellow students who didn’t speak any Spanish; arranging for a brochure of student work to be printed at the end of the year; meeting the manager of a nearby bank to set up an account; talking to the doctors and x-ray technicians at a hospital when my then-girlfriend had a medical emergency, and acting as translator between a frightened Dutch girl and some very patient Catalan doctors and nurses; and many parties, café and restaurant meals, train and bus journeys, supermarket transactions, and so on.

I went into this hole in the ground hundreds of times.
At the gym, when I heard the Spanish voices on the radio (actually Mexican-origin, I think, judging by some of the elongated vowel sounds), I thought of how much Spanish I used to know, and how much I had forgotten. The broadcast seemed to consist of a male speaker talking to a roomful of older men and women (who responded with laughter and the occasional interjection), and recounting a long anecdote about the typical quinceanera, and the kinds of classic expectations and mishaps that can occur, and the difference in attitudes between the younger and the older generations. I understood that much, and not a lot more, but far from being frustrated, it just brought back good memories of the things I mentioned earlier. I was only glimpsing a few trees, as it were, when previously I had a much larger view of the entire forest, but for me it was a comforting feeling to be suddenly surrounded by the sounds of Spanish again, to hear the rise and fall of the voices, to hear the warmth and playfulness of the speakers, the love of playing with language and making puns (yes, my Anglo friends, Spanish-Latino speakers are just as punny as us, if not more so), the laughter, the speed.
There's a place like this just around the corner from me, actually.
And I thought about when I first moved to Chicago, and how much Spanish there was in the city. Restaurants and restaurant workers, yes, but ads on the side of buses on Michigan Avenue, billboard ads on the expressways, and then the entire neighbourhoods of businesses with Spanish words everywhere. I thought about how the demographics of the USA are changing, have changed gradually over the last twenty years, but how all of the society is now suddenly aware that the USA will be a majority Latino country some time this century. And that Univision, the Spanish-language TV network, was the Numero Uno network for the first time this month.
I see all this, and I think: so what? Of all countries in the world, the United States as a whole cannot possibly have a problem with one group of people supplanting another. Which if course is not exactly what will happen, because Latino is just a fictional shorthand for many different groups of people, who happen to speak a common language. Two common languages, actually – Spanish and English. Besides, the majority-minority thing is a distraction, a way of changing the topic and making it about fear of The Other, rather than acknowledging that this society, and every society, consists of lots of different ‘groups’ rubbing shoulders with each other and attempting to co-exist with each other’s differences and competing interests. It pains me when I hear the terrible things that certain people and politicians say in response to these trends, and facts. I am tempted to go off on a long rant about that, but instead I will just say two things:
a)      If this is really inevitable, then a racist response to it will in the end only hasten the demise of any political party that employs that vocabulary (I'm talking about you, Rep. Steve King of Iowa);
b)      Learn to speak some Spanish! You will find that it’s actually a rather beautiful language. And if you never start dreaming in Spanish, at least you can avoid the nightmares that currently seem to cause you so much unrest.
Buen consejo para todo el mundo.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

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’ of visual art and the ‘tell’ of written narrative. For 1078 Gallery, the exhibition will consist of the following:
  • The 100-page accordion book from The Lucerne Project – the large space will enable the book to be fully displayed for the first time.
  • The prints on panels from Climbing the Crooked Trails.
  • Some of the letters and photographs of the Reverend Victor Hugo Wachs – also displayed for the first time.
  • A new set of QR codes fixed to the gallery walls, linking to cloud-based audio recordings of Hartigan’s fictional Lucerne diaries, and McNair’s readings from her grandfather’s letters.
  • Related special events: an evening of readings by Hartigan and McNair, plus invited local writers, speaking to the theme of the show.
  • A printmaking workshop by Hartigan, demonstrating the paper-litho transfer technique that forms the basis of the accordion book and the prints on panel.
Patty and I are both extremely excited about this, and can't wait to get started on the additional work. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

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:

Saturday, July 13, 2013


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. It was unmemorable, identikit installation art, which I suspect makes it no worse than most of what we will see on Saturday. The city itself is the work of art: grand, ancient, decaying, shabby, delicate, magnificent, absurd, breathtaking, transfixing, somnambulant.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

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:
John and Kelvin gettin' down with the crayons
It's clear after only two days that this is a talented group of students, who (believe you me) could put some of the hack artists in the tourist areas out of business already.

After class was over, I took the short walk to the nearby church of Santa Maria Novella. The main reason for visiting is to see Masaccio's 1427 fresco "The Holy Trinity", the one that basically invented/rediscovered central perspective, vanishing point, and trompe l'oeuil realism for Christian art:

It has two main levels of brilliance. From a distance, you see the illusion of the space, with the kneeling figures of the Medici (?) patrons seeming to occupy the same space as us in the church, and then the space containing the saints seeming to disappear into a hole in the wall. When you get close up to the painting, you see the subtle modelling of the shadows and light on the faces, particularly on the oddly middle-aged face of Mary, who turns toward us and breaks the barrier of 'world' and 'picture' that prevails with pre-Renaissance art.

That world is much in evidence in other parts of the church, like in these 13th century 'heaven and hell' frescoes in a side chapel:

Interesting in their way, if you give them the time and allow their sense of pattern to engulf you (if you are lucky enough to be Facebook friends with Matthew Collings, he frequently waxes enthusiastic about gothic and byzantine art along these lines).

But apart from the Masaccio, which is worth paying your 5 euro entry fee (and also worth dragging yourself face down across a cloister filled with poo, if necessary), it's the church itself that is visually interesting:

Click to embiggen

After a while, and particularly after I saw the facade of the church on the Piazza de Santa Maria Novella, I noticed what I think of as one of the reasons why the architecture is so compelling. They are like drawings (see my recent post on drawing and why this is important), concerned with making lines and shapes in space, with the solid material of stone, slate, and marble, of course, but not pushing brutally into the air like bad modernist buildings (and let's face it, like bad modern copies of renaissance architectural tropes). The Duomo, while much bigger, has a similar feeling of lightness.

Monday, July 8, 2013

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.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Ogne parlar sarebbe poco

Uffizi, partial view of the tribuna (sculture corridor),
taken when the fascist guards' backs were turned.
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'm enjoying it so far. The museum is pretty small compared to London's National Gallery, New York's Met, or Chicago's Art Institute. It's a U-shape, with most of the painting in galleries along one leg of the U, and most of the sculpture in galleries along the other leg. Currently more than half of the galleries are closed, due to the Nuovo Uffizi project (updating, reorganising, adding space to display more art from storage) which is still very much in progress. Some of the paintings that were in the upper galleries have been moved to a half-finished space in the basement, but ... anyway, there's still plenty to see.

My plan was to do some reccy for the students, and not to get too close to any one painting - just a moderate walk-through, stopping at the highlights. But I couldn't resist getting out my sketchbook and pencil, and doing some drawing here and there. Following on from what I noticed about the Fra Angelico paintings the other day, and also as a way to look without being overwhelmed, I decided to draw just noses, starting with early Renaissance honkers by Cimabue:

A couple of galleries later, I arrived at Piero's double portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino, a surprisingly small work. But very big nose on the Duke:

His nose was broken either in a fall or a fight (similarly, the reason he's showing us his left profile is that his right eye went missing after a jousting contest, something you rarely read about these days). Pollaiolo's subject is just a giant hooter (English sense) resulting from centuries of inbreeding. Great shape, though. I'm picturing it on a twenty foot high canvas by someone like Gary Hume.

Another major surprise (only because I haven't read the guidebooks thoroughly, I suppose): the Botticelli room really does have a lot of paintings, large and small, by Botticelli. He's one of those painters, like Renoir, who has suffered as a result of over-reproduction of his most famous paintings, with the hoi polloi and art snobs like me alike mistaking his calm, reasoned emotion for mere sweetness.

Looking at La Primavera, I started with a nose again -- the figure of Winter in the top right, from whom one of Spring's handmaidens is running away into the centre of the painting to escape the cold wind that he's blowing in her direction:

And after I finished, and moved to the other side of the picture to look closely at those V-shaped waves, and the bulrushes sticking up from the lower-left of the frame, the strangest thing happened: I felt myself rather overcome, and tears came to my eyes so quickly that I was unable to choke all of them back, and had to let some moisture escape. Now this hardly ever happens with paintings, much as I love them. Music, yes, all the time. Writing, fairly often, too. Painting, and other forms of art, give me strong emotional responses, but they are almost always much more internal, more dispersed, more aesthetic, I suppose, than emetic. I don't think I'm alone in this. It took me unawares, and I'm still trying to work out why it happened. Perhaps I'm already experiencing the 'art dizziness' that Stendhal talked about when he spent time in Florence, though it seems a little early for that. I think it's 'Botticelli dizziness', due to the realisation that he isn't only a painter for the illustrated lids of chocolate boxes. His conceptions are lovely in the truest sense of the word: they are about love, they express love, they are painted lovingly, they invite love, they are worthy of love. His way of elongating the figures is a mannerism that invites longer looking (I also noticed how green the paintings are, tonally). The longer you look, the more you feel captivated by his view of the universe. You have entered a world of emotional thinking that, unlike Dante's ferocious Christian moralism, is purely positive. He says 'yes' to life.

Leonardo da Vinci's Annunciation was hardly the painting to calm me down, but I manfully kept back the tears long enough to do this drawing, starting with the nose once more, but eventually getting absorbed by the rest of the profile:

I could have gone on a lot longer with this one, but I was getting a crowd who were watching me more than the painting, which I felt was not right, somehow, so I stopped (for now).

It's banal to say that the paintings of 1400s to early 1500s are beautiful, or that they express perfection, or at least the idea of perfection. These are all terms that we assent to, but which contain all manner of meanings once we start to investigate them. I don't per se think that da Vinci's art is more 'beautiful' in an aesthetic sense than Anselm Kiefer's. But I do hope, with the students' help, to start reconsidering why it is that these Florentine paintings have so much that makes us return to them.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

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 like them just as much as 'realistic' drawing. Here are some examples taken from the first few artist-friends whose names sprang to mind:
Stella Untalan. Reasons for liking: pattern, repetition, variation within a chosen vocabulary of marks, apparently using the harmonious balance of the grid, but note the hand-drawn nature of the marks, how they are evidently drawn by a hand and subject to the natural alteration of one shape to the next produced by the fine vibrations of human sinew rather than the fixed movements of the machine.

Deborah Doering. Reasons for liking: fiercely analytical subjection of reality to a mathematical, scientific symbology, yet also hand drawn (stencilled, often), a comforting repetition again, yet with an allowance for improvisation in the placement that results in an organic feeling, like we are watching the movement of waves or leaves.

Ravenna Taylor. Reasons for liking: good balance between light and dark, making the abstract shapes of the 'white' emerge from negative space (not space left blank, but space created by the boundary of contingent forms), an immediate feeling of something truly drawn, by the application of graphite pencil in smooth tonal marks.

C. J. Nye. Reasons for liking: the presence of the hand, the contrast between line drawing and tonal areas, the variation in tone from white through greys to black, the rhythm of the shapes, which seem to struggle against each other as they fight their way to each side of the picture plane, the feeling it creates of the artist's eye moving up and down and around and back and forth, adding a mark here and a mark there, searching for something, seeking out the destination without knowing where it is in advance, erasing, pressing harder, pushing some shapes forward and pressing others a little further back.

All of them (us) are using drawing as a way to see something better, whether that is something we see in front of us, or something we see in our minds, or something that we see only when the act of putting some material to paper begins. There are many other purposes for drawing, but this at least, I think, is at the root of drawing in different 'styles', and different epochs.

Friday, July 5, 2013

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!

The Annunciation, Fra Angelico, mid 1400s
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 works as a teenage art and art history student. My experience is a little like seeing images of New York City, and reading about the place for years in advance, and having the strange duality of being overwhelmed at the first true sight of the skyscrapers, at the same time as you are simultaneously aware of everything you already think you know about them.

I'm just going to go with some quick impressions:
  • Fra Angelico is completely interested in faces, almost certainly drawn from life or memory of looking at his contemporaries.
  • Noses: they are all different, and uniquely identify things like status, age, gender, etc.
  • Hands, except for Christ's and a few others', are somewhat boneless and cartoonish. He's not like painters of the High renaissance, where even the hands are painted by observing every sinew, cord, tendon, etc.
  • His drawing is clean, smooth, direct, no rococo flourishes. 
  • The chiaroscuro realism of shade and light on the faces is extraordinary, and moving. Moving because of the moment of recognition you feel when you see them: the stories of Christ's last hours are conventional enough, and the attitudes and stances of the figures fall into patterns that we know from preceding centuries of tradition, except that the faces have a realism is revolutionary in the context of their time. They look like they have stepped off the street and into the picture, or perhaps from the picture and into our street-space. 
  • Perhaps they've been restored, because they look like they were painted yesterday.
  • The wings on the angel in The Annunciation have pieces of some material that actually glitter. This does not come across in photos, and it took my completely by surprise.
  • Things like areas of grass in the Annunciation fresco, or the stations of the cross frescoes, are painted flat, slightly out of perspective, like you would see  in earlier, icon-like painting, but they are also painted within these sharply delineated areas of the picture with great attention to pattern and detail.
  • The blood dripping from Christ's feet to the ground below the cross looks as solid as strips of ribbon, or icing." I have kissed your mouth, John the Baptist, and it tasted of blood, it tasted of love" - (Oscar Wilde, Salome).
  • Gestures, body positions, also look like they must have been done from observation, eg, the apostle writhing to escape the centurion who is cutting off his ear in the garden of Gethsemane.

Just down the street is the Accademia, where Michelangelo's David is housed. With our museum pass, we were able to walk right past the crowds and into the room housing the statue within minutes. The first sight of David, towering over the crowds and lit from a domed skylight directly above, is moving beyond words, my friends. Dumbfounding. Astonishing. The size of the statue, the simplicity of it (believe it or not), the solidity of the parts are unmatched by anything I have read or heard about it. I had my sketchbook with me, but I could hardly even draw it at first, I was so intimidated by the presence of it, and my awareness of my whole artistic history beginning with life drawing, and drawing from copies of Michelangelo's statues, and studying the life and poetry of Michelangelo. Honestly, I felt like the starstruck fan of a movie goddess who was meeting the object of his adoration for the first time. With roses in his hand. And planning to ask her out on a date. While realising that he had just spilled tomato sauce all over his clothes. Metaphorically speaking.

So for the first little while I just drew the crowds looking at the David, only including glimpses of his feet. (One thing I noticed about those feet: the marble is so smooth in the rest of the statue to convey the sensation of skin and flesh, but parts of the toes look as if they are rough, unpolished marble, to give the impression of callouses on these bare feet). Eventually I plucked up the courage to draw the legs from the side, and then the right hand. 

Maybe when I go back I will be able to tackle the entire figure, or build up a picture by drawing it in parts. And I will go back, to both locations.

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