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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Choice of Subject

Or, Why I Generally Avoid 19th Century Subjects

Tempietto dell'Acquedotto del Nottolini, Afternoon
I admit, I have a conflict: I generally avoid anything to do with the nineteenth century when I’m painting in Italy, but my paintings are heavily influenced by the plein air painters of the nineteenth century. A problem? First, to clarify: 1. The reason I avoid nineteenth century subjects is my training and conviction that what you spend time looking at, drawing, and painting, works its way into your head and shapes your taste (or call it what you will)—and I think the nineteenth century is when architecture lost its way (actually, maybe beginning in the late eighteenth century, but that’s also why I don’t listen to music after Mozart); 2. nineteenth century plein air painters really perfected what was, until then, a rather improvisational way of working out of doors--and, of course, their subjects were almost never nineteenth century buildings.

So, saying that, maybe it isn’t so conflicted: I paint in a way influenced by some nineteenth century painters (like Corot), but I am not so interested in the architecture of the time, which probably accords with the painters of the time (apart from the Impressionists, but they’re not within the same tradition). All that to justify painting the tempietto at the terminus of Lorenzo Nottolini’s 1820’s aqueduct in Lucca. I made the exception for a variety of reasons (of course), but its overgrown context, scale and austerity give it a Piranesian quality that I hope comes through in the painting.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Morning at the Acqua Paola


Heading up to the American Academy in Rome earlier this week I noticed how brilliantly lit the Acqua Paola was on a mid-summer morning, when at other times of the year it only gets glancing light for a brief while. I came back the next day around 8:30am to watercolor it, with my back to the sun and sitting in the shade. The new horizontal format watercolor block I’d just bought forced me to crop down to the lower register, which forced some interesting compositional issues. Like in my earlier posts about not painting the light, here was a chance again to show the brilliance of the façade by its juxtaposition to saturated trees and some translucent shadows.

But not being fully satisfied with some aspects of the drawing, I went back the next day to try again, but this time, just a little later, I found my bench occupied by someone who didn’t seem ready to leave for a while, so I took another tack: this time, roughly from a symmetrically opposing point of view, I say mostly shadows, and I was in the sun. The result, for all the heat I was feeling personally, is a much cooler image.

I’m a sun person, so I prefer the first iteration. My wife, who likes the cool, preferred the second. De gustibus

Monday, June 26, 2017

What Are You Looking At?


LIVING IN ITALY and surrounded by spectacular beauty, I don’t just plunk myself down anywhere and start painting. I’m looking for a scene with some structure, that will translate into a two-dimensional image with some kind of compositional logic that survives the translation. Finding a good subject is half the battle in making a compelling plein air. Execution is the other half.

On a hot June afternoon I put myself among the tourists and hawkers around the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine to watercolor the latter. The en ressaut columns on the north side were just catching light, while the north façade remained in shade. I didn’t want the clutter of modern tourism to show up in the scene, so I looked southeast to catch the green of the Caelian Hill in the background, the side elevation of the Arch, and just one en ressaut column. It’s so tempting to want to paint everything in your field of vision, but cropping out inessentials is critical to being able to focus on a few simple issues: the light on the Arch, the texture of the weathered marble, the shadows and their values and hues. E basta.