Friday, December 09, 2011

ITALY 2011

The reason for the silence around here, is because I've been travelling.  I'm back home now.  It's blowing a gale and the rain is torrential. Working outdoors on my planned cityscape projects, just isn't an option. So instead I'll enjoy remembering some of the wonderful art-time I had in Italy!

I'm sticking just some of my physical art mementoes at the back of one of my sketchbooks. The whole Italian experience, which began as a casual unplanned doodle, seemed to turn into a perfectly balanced and magnificently intuitive work of art.

The only organizing we did, was to reserve hotel rooms for our first and last nights in Pisa, and to pre-hire a car. The rest of the time we just winged it.

After flying into Pisa our first delight, on reaching the hotel, was to be told we'd arrived on a special day.  All museums, galleries and shops were to be open almost all night. There were also street markets and open-air concerts. Unbelievably for us, there was a Picasso exhibition five minutes from the hotel along by the river.
The Palazzo Blu d'Arte e Cultura is an intimate venue, with a labyrinth of galleries. As is usual, we weren't allowed to take photographs.  There was a limited selection of postcards to take away, which had to suffice. The exhibits consisted of etchings, linogravures, tapestries, ceramics, drawings and paintings. It was the first time I'd seen any of Picasso's work, other than in books, television or online, so it felt very special.

One of the first pieces that drew us was an etching, The Frugal Meal. You couldn't help but feel the poverty and misery of existence expressed in the piece. It was created in 1904 during Picasso's Blue period, when he was living as a struggling artist in low-rent accommodation in Montmartre, Paris.
I think the other painting shown here is a self-portrait. So far I haven't been able to find any references online. The probable explanation being that it's normally in private hands. I liked it very much; the intensity of those black eyes; slightly feminine double face; the composition of light negative space that to me conveyed the transfer of creation from his gaze to the canvas and easel. And especially the sensitivity of the fingers holding the brush. I'm sure there's much more to see. If only it were possible to spend more time just looking.
 It was a great privilege to see these paintings from private collections; Still life with guitar 1921 and Seated Nude 1942.

There was an interesting collection of large linogravures, which came from the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. It was possible to follow in detail the process, starting from realistic portraits of his lover Jacqueline, which were then transformed by reworking the linoleum over time.  As a single-minded painter, it almost made me excited at the prospect of studying print-making at some point in the future.

I especially appreciated the drawings. The bull series was a lesson in itself; initially the studies were realistic and gradually became more pared down and abstract until the whole essence of the creature was contained in and around a few perfect lines.

I wish I had an image of the large scale preparatory drawing for theDemoiselles d'Avignon, which was also on show.

So much! I would love to have spent more time there, but we had just one night, and the following day after a very swift walk to the Leaning Tower and Duomo, we drove to San Gimignano.

SanGimignano lived up to all expectations and I could fill pages with our overall experiences; the place, people, food.  But as this is an art blog, you're just going to have to take my word that in other ways we had an amazing time!

We were struck by the way the buildings of the old town and art have been so beautifully conserved; a vast amount of money has been spent. Like with most of the places we visited, it soon became clear we'd picked a good time of year. In the summer the place would have been heaving with tourists and the experience would have been totally different. As it was, we had space and time to wander the streets, galleries, museums and Duomo with the best of autumn weather. And whilst there were obvious signs of modern life, it wasn't too difficult to half-close your eyes and imagine yourself back in time.

My travelling companion and I were happy to spend several hours examining the extensive collection in the Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall), which stands in the central Piazza del Duomo next to the Torre Grossa. Amazingly we were the only visitors. The building itself was originally built between 1289 and 1298 on the remains of an earlier building, with several extensions made during 14th and 15th centuries.

The main building was used as the home of the Podesta, the administrative official, and also the meeting hall for the Town Council. The upper two floors house the Civic Museum with the painting gallery on the third level. We requested some form of written guide, but only a single sheet of photocopied information was available. Nevertheless it was a great experience and we saw some magnificent art of the 13th to 16th centuries. Every bit as good as that at the Ufizzi a few days later and better in a way, because there were no railings and we were able to get up-close and personal.

We stayed in the centre of the town for a number of days. Here's a view from one of our rooms.  Hopefully we'll have the opportunity to return to this beautiful part of the world before too long. Next time to stay for longer and I plan to have my painting suitcase in tow.

And so to Florence. Our hotel was on the north bank of the Arno, facing one of the outdoor copies of the David on the opposite bank. We were determined to see the original at the Galleria del Accademia, but that came later. First the Uffizi.

From all I'd read, the queues most of the year to enter Vasari's Uffizi museum were long and not for the faint-hearted. So imagine our delight when we walked straight in and got our tickets. Our timing was perfect!

There was just so much to absorb.  Too much, in fact, and eventually we had to stop as we were in danger of over-dosing. Even then I was sorry to somehow miss seeing any of Caravaggio's work, which I'm particularly curious about. Plus I came away with the conviction that I will try to return for extended periods, at the appropriate time to study certain areas of art history as part of my degree course.

There were many postcard images I could physically have taken away, but chose just two; a Bronzino portrait of Lucrezia Panchiatichi and a section of Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. Lucrezia because she's portrayed so beautifully and I could study both the technique used on the textiles, and the drawing of the hands for a very long time. And the Venus because of it's connection with Cyprus. The locals are very proud of her. Personally I find the original rather insipid and disappointing. This postcard flatters, I think.
For some reason I don't get excited about classical sculptor; I think in childhood it all got confused with sad cemetery visits and monuments...hard to shake. However, I make an exception in the case of the David. There's nothing dead about him.

I first saw him years ago in London, but at the time, didn't realise he was a copy. My reaction to the real thing was the same this time as then. With the first glimpse of his majestic towering figure high up on his plinth, breath just some how escaped me.  His presence and beauty is almost overpowering.
Getting as close as I could, this time I was immediately struck by the proportions of the legs, hands and head. I think there's some kind of reverse perspective going on, in that Michaelangelo has distorted certain features in order to make him look right as a whole, knowing that the piece was intended to be viewed from below. But to me the right hand, which is lower down, does look too huge in relation to the feet for example. Maybe it's me. I tried to find a decent full-length image, but this one of the fabulous face seduced me instead.

I have other memories from our Italian adventure; Laura the lost poet, Giotto and his man, the soulful Antonio,  waltzing to Piaf, the mysterious citadel, screeching Violetta and sweet Alfreddo, not forgetting the BEST 'greasy spoon' in the whole of Tuscany.......maybe another time.


harry bell said...

Oh, I'm very jealous. I thoroughly enjoyed the tales of your travelling which made me want to get back to Italy soon.

It was good of you to use your time machine and return from 2012 to tell us about it all.

Bee Skelton said...

Ooops! Thanks Harry. Just goes to show, I don't know whether I'm coming or going. Bit of wishful-thinking too... would love to return next year.

Hugs Bee