Thursday, June 26, 2014

Back Home and Hungry

Back home now.  Nice to be in Seattle during the Summer, rarely hot, always beautiful, a mosquito is a rarity.  Life is 
good here, wonderful.  But I confess to missing that simple and worn little kitchen.  I always came in from work with a bag of groceries, carried across canals, through narrow stone streets, along the water, through tunnels between buildings, and sometimes on boats making several stops:  produce market outside, grocery market inside, wine place, coffee place, deli, bakery.  When I arrived home I climbed three flights of stairs with the packages.  I went directly into the little kitchen and opened the windows.  There is a music school behind the house, and from over the rooftops I could catch chamber music, opera practice, mixed with the eternal Vivaldi from the front side of the house.  Heaven.   I cooked simple food with simple ingredients.  Vegetables grown out on the island swamps of the lagoon have a kind of mineral flavor, an intensity.  Strawberries were in season and a miraculous, condensed red all the way through. Asparagus is not just one kind of asparagus,  artichokes can be tiny or large, sliced, fried, roasted, in pasta or not, in shades from deep green to light purple, slightly bitter sometimes. 

The apartment was shared with other artists.  Sometimes someone else came home hungry, we pooled our resources,  and there was always enough.  I cooked for energy, for the work I was doing, and for the joy of living in a simple Italian place.  This was the best time of the day.  Other people live close, Venice is crowded but private.  I could hear them talking and could catch the aromas from their kitchens.   People are close even when you don't see them.  It is a comfort. 

Back home I try to keep the spirit.  

My own kitchen is undergoing some improvements, and is nearly done with work slowing down.  I am going to keep doing what I do, but I really miss the late day music of  those people nearby. I am gaining back the ten pounds I lost just by living there. I sometimes eat something without thinking about it, with no pleasure, just to fill up the space, like a lot of Americans do.  Out of some kind of lacking of community.  I love it here, I do. There are some things we can learn from other places though, things you can't get from a week with Rick Steves, or by having a fancier kitchen.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Orto Botanico

After seven weeks of intense work in Venice, and the trip home coming soon, we decided to take a jaunt to Padova, a short train ride.  The idea was to go to the Scroveni Chapel, and on to what is claimed to be the world's oldest botanical garden, (1500's,) the Orto Botanico.   

First stop: the Scroveni:  The small chapel was build by a guy who felt just horrible to be involved in usury, a member of the one per cent of that time.  To make up for being your normal usury guy, he decided to build a chapel and have it painted by Giotto, a great painter, (1305)  who could tell a story on the wall with great finesse.  So he had the thing built.  It had an entrance for the family directly off their palace, and then one for the people, in the front, effectively keeping the other ninety-nine percent in their place while he worked on his salvation.

 After a long while the palace got torn down and the absolutely gorgeous frescoes (with blue sky and stars and the whole of the new testament just laid out in cosmic beauty, and other scary stuff, fitted into a neat jewel box of a chapel) started to come apart from moisture and salt and all.  Anyway, some Italians decided to recognize that this was something, patrimony-wise, so now when you go you can sit in a climate controlled glass room for a about fifteen minutes, while the air gets right, and then you go in with a few people at a time. 

We went in with some handicapped people who loved the place and made us happy just being with them, and their Italian caretakers who loved it too.  They were all good company. It is really so beautiful.  After being in one worn out cathedral after another, to be in a place where, think of it, art is offered as the penance and the redeemer....and it actually works.   Well, you just had to be there. 

Then, after that, right down the street, the oldest botanical garden, a Unesco World Heritage site, with areas of medicinal plants, perfectly and lovingly curated.  

I found again the foxglove, digitalis, that I hope not to miss entirely from this year's bloom when I get home.   A weed of stately manner, an old friend seen once a year reaching into the sky.

Between the Giotto in his spangled fresco panels sparkling across the walls, bringing grace, and healing and forgiveness to a greedy world, and these familiar healing herbs set into stone frames in the ground, so honored and loved....  I felt already at home, redeemed.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Flower, Paper, Scissors

Work Table, Scuola di Grafica, Venezia, 2014.

Been thinking about:  The intention, which leans two directions.  One more dream like and subtle, one more design oriented, and bright.  Where is the sweet spot?  Both.  Venice is both.

Things got going when I began to work horizontal (I was not horizontal mind you, but the work became horizontal.)  Venice seems vertical.  All those tall narrow walled passageways.  But ride the vaporetto to work for a while and watch the Byzantine and the Renaissance and a bit of the glamour of Peggy Guggenheim and Cary Grant go by during tired nights after work...then you have a horizontal story. 

So, working:  Thinking about how to be/get to/the point in work where it happens to us, without so much control.  First:  Have to have enough junk/detrius/failed effort/and broken parts, (all made by getting up and going to work), that eventually chaos becomes something so richly layered that a right-ness emerges through trust.

It is fine to have a firm intention, and better still to have the intention with room for seeing some new thing within the intention, which changes everything.

Without boring us to death, I could say, still that this art story relates to so much more than art. Let's say tango?  Or for any other difficult pursuit.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Some Venetian Gardens

Just some pictures from Venice.  Lots of secret gardens.

The one above is taken at a beautiful Palazzo.  I don't know how the lawn can be so flat, since few things are truly horizontal, vertical, or square...
The wisteria all over Venice is finished up now, but for a week or two it was just gangbusters.   The one above is on a wall about 30 meters?  Or more, on one side.  
 Old houses have stone figures. This one is on the top corner of a garden wall, above a small canal.  She looks like she just stepped out of the bath.
 Not a great picture, but the rose is in shades of terra-cotta and gold with a blush.  I love the way it dances along with the color of the house.
 This tree is fragrant. It is in a small garden.
And some iron work, allowing walkers to see into the rose garden.
 A very humble house, with a shady courtyard.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Musings on Residency

Now I walk a lot, and spring is in full force.  I am finding gardens here.  I don't know why but I remembered a city only of stone, with very few trees or flowers. Now I see gardens everywhere.  Many of them up high on a terrace, but plenty of them in entryways and behind walls or in a courtyard.  I even saw a fairly good sized plant nursery the other day.   The garden yearning probably made me question for only a very brief moment, the meaning of my own journey here.

I woke up thinking about the meaning of the artist's residency.  It seems clear that many of these types of situations are set up by people who have an expensive house in an expensive place, and need to keep the bills paid.  Or they are very elite awards covered by foundations.  Or something in between.  

The Scuola di Grafica is none of the above.  It was born of a personal dream to provide fertile ground for printmaking and book arts. Painters, writers, and filmmakers are present as well. Two artists were working with poets to produce fine limited edition books, with hand set type.  Sometime during these productions some of us took the Correr Museum up on their invitation to visit the book archives.

The studio has full time technical assistance and complete facilities for making art.  No one except the artists define what they will do.   It is up to the artist to make it happen.  Some artists are  unpleasantly surprised when they are not greeted with ego soothing fan fare, and that no one cares what you do.  And maybe they care even less about what you have done in the past. The residency is a gift to the artist.  Not the other way around. All the definitions of one's art, all the familiar practices are gone. It is a little disorienting, but probably in a good way.  

Some of the down side: 

In most cases it would be easier to get work done at home.  I left my nice organized and clematis covered garden studio for a communal space. A gorgeous and well equipped one, but communal is communal.

You come alone, and might miss your family and friends. 

Politics exist everywhere and should be ignored assiduously. 

The first time I was here I felt the pressure from myself to "make good on the opportunity".  It's hard to absorb. But you are given time, and space. In this extended residency there is time to slow down to tidal rhythms, and the loose but definite routines of Venetian life.  Early to work, take a coffee, work, lunch, work, take a coffee, knock off for spritz and snacks, sometimes a gelato stop, friends, market, home, cook, have a light dinner.  And lots of walking and public transport by vaporetto (boat). And going to exhibits of course. Some days laundry, and putting it out to dry (no dryers here).  That fragrance!  All the while, working, however it is defined, and connecting. And somehow a lot of art making happens!  Not rushed, but deeper.

So the meaning or reason to be here?  It is different for everyone, but the richness of the environment and the calm that life provides can be powerful.  I am remembering to live well in the inner home.
Rushing around does not make one a better artist and does not make one more productive or important as a creator, or worker of any kind.  This residency provides a fertile earth for artistic growth.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014


There are about fifty thousand people living in Venice.  About half of them are four years old.  With Easter around the next corner, and a sweet shop every few meters, the four year olds are really winding up.  The shop windows are stacked floor to ceiling with gorgeous big baskets wrapped in foil.  China bunnies filled with chocolate, stuffed animals, and mountains of little candy eggs.  

Grandparents here are very involved.  Even handsome and fashionable old Venetian men are proudly manning strollers, and keeping their tailored coat pockets full of sweet bribes.  

This is Thursday of Holy Week and the schedule of services is posted everywhere.  I went into the neighborhood church after work.  I did not go into San Stefano, the big neighborhood church closest to me. I got a little wary after reading that five murders have taken place within the walls over the centuries and they keep having to re-consecrate it.  So even though it is spectacular, and full of great paintings and and is currently without actual bloodshed, I just steered on over to smaller San Luca which is conveniently located next to the grocery store.  

Then, after a moment of peace, I went on in to the market and then back to the apartment.  Some kids were slobbering and smudging up the windows of the sweet shop near my place.  Think of it.  After forty days of only grandpa handing out the sweets, it is going to be a full blown orgy on Sunday.  The confetti from Carnivale is only now disappearing from the cracks between the stone pavers.  It's going to be wild.  I'll be over at San Stefano for the show. 

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Venetian Madonnas

Getting settled somewhat, with enough time to explore the little floating city.  Old and New.  That is what Venice is.  Pretty young teenagers in flocks.  Young adults with babies. Pretty rosy babies.  I miss my family and feel it mostly on Sundays seeing extended families grouped around Campo San Stefano on benches, kids racing around, dripping gelato, screaming, being showered with love.

Finally I visited  Gallerie Dell'Accademia.  It is a short little walk from the apartment.  Here are some of the best examples of Venetian paintings.  Tintoretto, Titian, and some gorgeous Bellini works.  the Madonna thrives here in all of her manifestations.  The young one, the grieving one, the unimaginably beautiful ones.  The color of Venetian painting is saturated, filled with light, often with gold and blue and stars, mists, rocks, and flesh.  I like Bellini (Giovanni) because he seems acquainted with the actual form of the infant human.  Some of these painters seem to have never seen one.  I don't buy the excuse that they were painting a sort of little odd grown-up to suggest the future life of Jesus.  No sir.  These men were familiar in some way with the pink and glowing flesh (but not too fleshy!) of their teen models (some things never change).  But babies, I think some of them had never held one, even though there must have been plenty of them around.

Bellini though, he must have known that warm silk baby velvet, the feathery fuzz-top hair, the squirming effort to escape mother's hold. You (I) can almost catch the baby perfume.  And only people who know it will even understand this.  

Carlo Saraceni is also familiar with the baby form.  In one heart rending painting, the chubby little Jesus has an arm extended unwillingly and some mean looking guy is squeezing it.  The ominous message is clear, and all too human and inevitable.  It made me cry in secret.  These days I don't try to see everything, only something.  But sometimes it is not so easy.

Walking out of there in a daze into the busy small streets of the Venetians, I pass outside the Billa grocery store, in an island of quiet in the bustle, two young women.  One with her tee shirt stretched tight over her neatly pregnant belly.  Both women with heads bowed, each with a graceful manicured hand on the belly, both bathed in light.