July 31, 2017

Cannons and canvas

Another bustling weekend, this time in Catalonia, a few hours by car north of our base in Valencia.

In the 1930s before World War II, Spain fought a civil war that pitted fascists/aristocrats (called Nationalists) against anarchists/socialists (called Republicans). The war was long, bloody, and irregular in many ways (the first and only time anarchists as an organized collective rose up, for example). The fascists won and ushered in almost 40 years of dictatorship. And today, still, the war is a sore spot verging on taboo to discuss in Spain.

The longest, largest, most decisive battle of the Spanish Civil War took place in the valley and surrounding mountains of the Ebro River. The Battle of the Ebro, as it was called, lasted for 115 days and according to one sign in an "interpretation centre," close to 300,000 combatants participated, including "international volunteers" on the Republican side.

Thanks to Germany and Italy, fascist in those days, but also countries like France and Britain which refused to intervene, the Nationalists were stocked with more heavy firepower over the course of the fighting and the Republicans, though supported by the Soviet Union, suffered casualties two to three times as high as did the fascists, depending on the sources.

Among the reasons for wanting to see the Ebro was that family on my spouse's side died in the war, not in this battle per se but in the buildup to it, fighting for the Republican cause.

The small town of Corbera d'Ebre goes back to pre-Roman times. It was completely destroyed during the battle. We poked through the ruins. The new Corbera that was rebuilt nearby has left the old town as it was as a reminder of the war.
Trenches are still visible all over.
A map installed by the International Brigade Memorial Trust, showing the locations of the British Battalion, the American Lincoln-Washington Battalion, and the Canadian Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion. These soldiers were not conscripts as in WWII, but volunteers who went to fight fascism before it was was official or even acceptable to do so. Many faced persecution when they returned home.
If you haven't seen Ken Loach's Land and Freedom, it's a great starting point

The next day, we made our way to a town on the coast called Vila-seca, where a "pintura rápida" contest was scheduled to take place. Was it ever a different world.

The town was celebrating its festes majors, its patron saint, and was in full party mood, despite insane heat.
We pulled in late and because the best spots had already been claimed, I was forced to work in the open sun, and in what turned out to be a funeral path, which meant I had to move elsewhere after an hour and freestyle from memory. Then a lot of drunk people were out earlier than is healthy and they threw beer at me. So, it was a frustrating experience and I didn't want  to hand in the half-finished work when it was due at 1pm.
But I did, just in case the jury was into a combination of naif and minimalism.
But no, they weren't. This got a prize.
And this, I believe, got the top prize.
Next weekend, if all goes well, I should be out at another contest and I'm already thinking about how to make it better. It will take me longer to recuperate before seeing more battle sites.

As always, check out www.ivanostocco.com for the latest.

July 24, 2017

Two nighttime painting contests, Spanish style

Until this weekend, I hadn't done a plein air painting contest—Spanish style, in the heat, under the influence of many fermented beverages—in six years. I was creaky but happy to get out and see old friends, and find that the contests haven't changed much, for the better.

We rented a car and drove out to the heart of Quixote country, Castilla-La Mancha, with two standard 100x81cm panels (40x32in., the smallest you can get away with and still hope to win a prize) and all my old paints, tools, and renowned ironing board that I found in a dumpster years ago and has become the butt of many jokes, even if it is awesome for holding a palette.

The first contest was in Alcázar de San Juan. It started at 10pm and finished at 2am, the only time you can do anything at this time of the year, on account of the generalized sauna. For painting, for sure, working in the dark presents certain challenges.

Here I am. An hour ago it would've been impossible to work out here with the sheer quantity of pedestrians, but the stores have closed and the bars have opened, shifting people elsewhere.

In four hours, including time to set up, clean up the painting for presentation, varnish, and run the work back to the registration point, this was what I managed to poop out. Only at the end, in proper light again, did I realize just how dark and Transylvanian it was. 

The showroom was packed and the smell of solvents and varnish hurt my head, but here were a few highlights I managed to snap. If you ask me, these people should be locked up for being so damn good.

The second contest, the next day, was in another mouthful, Villafranca de los Caballeros. Seems the smaller the town, the bigger the name in this part of Spain.

At almost 8pm, it was still 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit), so nice and warm.

This time, I was careful to chose a spot with better lighting, but my sense for these things is rotten and it quickly got way dimmer than I'd anticipated. Fortunately, someone gave me a headlamp, like a coal miner.

Here we await the verdict with the whole town, kids, old timers, and all, at 2am. People are bats in Villafranca.

They asked the artists to get up on the stage for the drum roll, which was kind of weird and embarrassing, but, hey, whatever. Here are two good friends, Jose and Pilar.

And... I ended up winning 2nd prize, good for a few hundred euros. Sad to say, this was the only shot I got of the winning work.

I'll be doing more "pintura rápida" while in Spain. Stay tuned.

For my regular stream of imagery, swing by www.ivanostocco.com.

July 20, 2017

Sottopasso Le Cure

"Sottopasso Le Cure," 18x24in., collage, spray, acrylic, and oil on birch panel

Still stuck on this punk-rock neighbourhood in Florence where I did my shopping and through which I cycled en route to my studio all last year, and recently revisited.

This entrance into a pedestrian underpass (sottopasso) square in the middle of Le Cure stopped me in my tracks every time: the liveliness of it, the colour and way the light falls over it, the mystery and anticipation of the darkened tunnel at the end. The everydayness.

Apart from the graffiti, poets stuck their latest scribbles on the walls and taking in the lines would keep my mind engaged for enough time to get where I was going.

For this painting and works like it, check out my website, www.ivanostocco.com.

July 17, 2017

Mini in the Mail #71: "Pillars of Le Cure"

"Pillars of Le Cure," 5x5in., oil on masonite

I'm a big fan of minimalism, whether it's in music, cartooning, cuisine, or hairstyling. It's just I can't seem to do it myself (well, the hair, ok), even when I use my fingers, impose a time limit, or choose simple subject matter, as in this pier of an old bridge in the Mugnone River in Florence.

For this mini painting and other Baroque works, check out www.ivanostocco.com.

July 11, 2017

Mini in the Mail #70: "Rooftops of Le Cure"

"Rooftops of Le Cure," 5x5in., oil on masonite

I don't always have a strong reason for painting something, other than a certain spot, object, or condition of light made an impression and stuck, and generated in me the need to regurgitate it back out on a 2D plane.

This is a typical view of the neighbourhood in Florence in which I lived last year and recently had the chance to revisit.

And this is an excerpt from Timothy Steele's 1986 poem "Rooftop," which meshes nicely:

The roof shows other rooftops, their plateaus
Marked with antennas from which lines are tied
And strung with water beads or hung with clothes.
And here and there a pigeon comes to peck
At opaque puddles, its stiff walk supplied
By herky-jerky motions of its neck...

And it's as if the roofs' breeze-freshened shelves
...are themselves
A measure of the intermediate worth
Of all the stories to the morning star
And all the stories to the morning earth.

For this mini painting and others, visit www.ivanostocco.com.

July 6, 2017

Mini in the Mail #69: "Galleria"

"Galleria," 5x5in., oil on masonite

The word "galleria" in Italian has a much wider use than the equivalent "gallery" in English. It still means a place where you hang art but it's also a specific architectural feature of a church, the part of an ear, the part of a boat, and most curiously the generic word for "tunnel."

According to the Italian dictionary Treccani, the word probably comes from the medieval Latin "galilaea," meaning the portico or main entrance way of a church.

If you visit Florence, definitely do check out the Uffizi, Bargello, and other official museums, but for something closer to the street head to the pedestrian underpass in Le Cure.  It's free and its collection of graffiti, poetry, posters, and collage is constantly changing up and staying fresh.  It sometimes has music, you can cycle or skateboard through it, and it has its own live-in security, Salvatore, "the angel of the underpass."  At one end, on the outside, you have a daily market, so you can stock up on cheese and fruits.  And don't forget Cavini, one of the best and cheapest gelaterie in Florence.

Sure, it may flood every now again, but what in Florence hasn't experienced a bit of flooding, even the Uffizi?

For photos of the Le Cure sottopassaggio, check out the shots on Google.

For this mini painting and others, check out www.ivanostocco.com.