October 30, 2015

New Studio in Florence

So here it is people, my new studio in Florence: spacious, well lit, and designed with a painter in mind. And right in the downtown. Dreamy, dreamy.

It's the former studio of Andrea Gennari, a renowned realist painter and professor at the Florence Accademia di Belle Arti, who sadly passed away a few years ago. I'm still reading about him but he had shown all over the world, alongside the likes of Warhol and just about every important postwar Italian artist. I feel both honoured and of course the pressure of having big shoes to fill.

The view from one end, tidied up and ready to go. Note the amazing skylights.

The view from the other end, with a wash-up area.

I'm only going to be using a third or so of the 250 m2, but here's the rest of the space.

The studio is here, on Via San Zanobi, about a 10 min. walk to the Duomo and City Hall, inside the old city walls.

A street or two over, snapped on my way to the nearest bus stop back home.


Here's the street we've so far become most accustomed to in our brief time in Florence, or at least a short stretch of it that runs downhill from our apartment to the kids' school and the amenities of the Le Cure neighbourhood, closer to downtown Florence.

23.6" x 27.5" (60cm x 70cm)
Mixed media on panel

The Via Faentina is a long winding road which connects Faenza, through the Apennine Mountains and a few dozen towns, to Florence. Compared to other streets, it isn't the sexiest but it is historic. It was the northern pilgrimage route through the mountains into Florence, and so it's dotted with religious shelters and refuges, some going as far back as a thousand years.

The street is irregular and narrow, seemingly untouched by the rationalizing forces of modern city planning, making it a bottleneck for traffic and just barely passable by buses at some points, which all makes for a daily adventure of transporting the kids to school

Because they are so much of the experience, it was important for me to depict the vehicles in the piece, and hopefully bring out some of the action and angst.

October 25, 2015

Piazza della Passera, to be nice about it

Piazza della Passera is a small square on the south side of the Arno River in the Oltrarno, in downtown Florence.

Apparently it's had other more whitewashed names but the "inconvenient" Passera is the one that has stuck.

Passera means sparrow but is also a euphemism for the female genitalia.

According to the wiki entry in Italian, the sparrow version originated in a story about some kids who found a dying sparrow in the square in 1348. They tried to save it but it turned out the bird was infected with the plague that wound up killing almost half of Florence's citizens in those dark days.

The genitalia version, on the other hand, stemmed from the fact that the area was a bit of Red Light district and frequented by johns as high ranking as Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany.

Anyway, who knows which theory is correct. To me in any place or location, whether the subject of art or a spot to live, it's the mystery and pretext for storytelling that should count more.

"Piazza della Passera, to be nice about it"
Mixed media on panel
23.6" x 27.5" (60cm x 70cm)

October 20, 2015

Omaggio al Ponte alle Riffe

"If you spend your life avoiding conflict, you don't develop the skills to navigate it."
- Debbie Irving, author of Waking up White, And Finding Myself In The Story Of Race, in the October 18, 2015 PRI podcast Check Your Privilege

The Mugnone ravine cuts down from the hills behind our apartment and tapers off at the Arno River in the heart Florence. Here's a shot on an overcast day, which I stole from the internet:

I don't get the impression there's much love for the ravine, either among Florentines or tourists: in the photograph those are the butts of homes that front it, you don't find many tourists cracking out their cameras, and I've overheard oodles of comments about the dirty carp or the beaver-like creatures called nutrias in it.

A nutria in action

But of course, that's what I find so appealing.

At one point a bridge called the Ponte alle Riffe crosses it. I take the bridge just about every day. Riffe in Tuscan Italian means "arguments" and supposedly it was given that name, the Bridge of Arguments, because it was a bottleneck for farmers crossing into the city with their wares to sell and because it was especially narrow, leading to a "great theatre of arguments," as one source put it.

I love that, and so in tribute to all the expressers and the opiniated today and throughout time, who speak their minds and can take it when others do the same, who don't care much for politeness (civility may just require impoliteness at times), here's my depiction of the view from the Ponte alle Riffe.

"Omaggio al Ponte alle Riffe"
Mixed media on panel
23.6" x 27.5" (60cm x 70cm)

October 7, 2015

Alla ricerca della vita vernacolare

Well, it's been a long time coming but here's my first in a series of paintings I hope to complete over the course of a year in Italy.

It may not be my strongest work but that's because I was using materials I'm not used to, including an Italian-made weave of canvas that drove me nuts (I know, anal), and because as a total newbie to Florence my visual map of the city is still weak.

In any event, the scene came from our first venture south of the Arno River, into the "Oltrarno" where historically the craftsmen worked and the crowds were harder to manage. We were in search of the Fierucola, a farmer's market that focuses on local, organic produce and small handmade objects.

The translation of the title of the painting is "In search of vernacular life," which is a concept I took from a brochure on the Fierucola and which this fairly banal streetscape of the Oltrarno (for Florentine standards) could just represent.  

"Alla ricerca della vita vernacolare"
Acrylic mixed media on canvas
23.6" x 27.5" (60cm x 70cm)