In the spring of 2022, I was accepted to the ACI Artists and Writers Residency in Corciano, Italy- in the heart of Umbria. The works in this room are from that residency. Below is an excerpt from my journal from the residency which took place in July.
12 July 2022
Sometimes, I think there is nothing more stationary than an artist. They need to have their own workspace. Portability, for some artists, is not that easy. They have their tools and materials nearby in a very familiar space.
As I write this, I am working at an artist residency in Corciano, Italy in the region of Umbria. I am glad I was accepted and it has been two weeks of concentrated art making along with seeing works by Giotto, Perugino, and Piero della Francesca. I also saw a monumental sculpture done by Beverly Pepper in Assisi which was one of her later works.
Like any sojourn, it is not about what transpires during that time but also what happens before and after it.
Before this trip to Europe, I spent weeks preparing myself. I purchased supplies like paint, a plastic pallet, some extra brushes, etc. As I reflect, I think I packed too many supplies. When I arrived at Corciano and set up my studio space, I felt like I was required to focus like a laser on my work. It was difficult. However, I came to the realization that I did not have to exclusively create work between the beginning and ending date of the residency. I am here to have conversations with other artists and see work by ancient masters. I am keeping a small journal and found much of the artwork I am creating is to develop new ideas for the future.
In my journal, I wrote that I should travel like I’m still on the Camino. I walked the entire French route of the Camino De Santiago in 2012- 500 miles in 30 days all on foot. I think the point is one must travel light. Many times I fail to do that. I am finding that it is easier to create this artwork with much less than what I brought both materially and mentally.
My studio door faces the east. It is underneath a large villa and country house on a hill in Umbria. This summer, due to climate change, it is unseasonably hot but the studio, being in this underground vault which opens out onto a hillside, is rather cool. I have to get to work early in the morning and be diligent for most of the day because the natural light after 5 PM begins to wane. As soon as I took over the space, spiders, beetles, hornets, and most of all mosquitoes decided to join me. As long as I kept the door closed, I can keep them out. As you exit the studio, there are fig trees to the left on the hillside.
It is a temporary workspace but I’m able to work out some ideas. I am able to incorporate things that I have been seeing for the past few weeks on this European trip. Before I arrived here, I was in Portugal and Spain. Observing the Umbrian landscape, looking at work by Piero della Francesca, Perugino, and most of all the frescoes by Giotto in Assisi have an effect on my subconscious. They sneak their way into my artwork.
Also, I am also fascinated by architectural forms, particularly the arch. It is interesting to see how the aforementioned artists contained their subject matter, mostly human figures, within architecture instead of the natural world. Giotto used axial perspective where are the converging lines touch a vertical axis rather than a vanishing point. Although they are not correct in terms of what I know about linear perspective, they are really interesting pictorially. Perhaps my observations require more research. After my trip to Portugal and Spain with my wife in 2019, I studied various arches because they are so many different styles, especially in Spain. The architecture I am observing in Italy is a little different but the arch serves the same purpose in creating space using stone. It is interesting to see how various buildings are engineered. However, I am not integrating the arch into any of my work while I am here. I guess I must search for something new.
Tomorrow, I begin to pack up things in my studio in Corciano. As I said, it is not about what happens on the first day or the last day but what happens before, during, and after this residency. I will spend my last three days in Umbria creating some watercolors and staying a few days in Perugia creating sketches from the plaster casts at Accademia di Belle Arti and some of the local architecture. I always like sketching architecture because it requires work in linear perspective- creating space on a two dimensional surface.
A few days ago, my wife Brooke and I went to a performance by Christian McBride at the Umbria Jazz Festival. I hear jazz as creating around a structure- in other words, improvisation. When I look at the work by the ancient masters, I wonder how much improvisation they tried to incorporate. Everything seems so academic with a penchant for correctness. At least, that is what I see. Being in Umbria, reveals such a sharp contrast between the ancient and the modern- jazz musicians playing in antique structures or on streets that were laid out by the Etruscans and Romans. The modern and ancient colliding.
What I am gaining is more experience whether good or bad, whether it is too hot or too cold, whether there are mosquitoes in my studio or not. . . Returning to California will be arduous during this hot European summer with airlines and airports in a quandary. I know when I get home I’ll miss being in Europe. But California is my home. It is where I work and where I am stationary. I have two upcoming exhibitions and there is a lot of work to do. As they said on the Camino- the Camino starts when you finish it. However, I know we will be back with less luggage both in our heads and on our backs.
In 1869 Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…”