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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Watercoloring Under the Influence

Porta San Donato, Lucca
Old Enough to Be Bold

Between one obligation and another, not to mention unforeseen work distractions, I haven’t been outside working for a while. What oil painting I’ve been doing has been in the studio. As the weather has gotten lovely, and the distractions fade, I’ve been making up for lost time. Watercolor pencils have allowed me to get some of my own work done while on academic travel; they’ve also made watercoloring generally feel less precious. My first plein air oil was done in Rome a couple of weeks ago, and in the last two weeks I’ve drawn and watercolored around Lucca.

I’m sure that my oscillating between art and architecture has been of mutual benefit to each; the same for watercolor and oil painting. But since my introduction to watercolor, and working out of doors generally, was in the context of my architectural studies (under the remarkable Frank Montana), and I’ve developed a body of work rendering my architectural designs (both real and theoretical), I’ve tended to see plein air watercoloring as somehow related to the literalness that rendering demands. Now, as I feel less obliged to see watercolor as an extension of architecture, and my oil painting en plein air has been done in shorter blocks of time, I feel more at liberty to paint in watercolor; a felicitous experience on the Aventine a few years ago opened me up to a Sargent-like manner without imitating him. And maybe I don’t feel as much like each plein air has to be an exhibit-able (or saleable) work. Not to mention that a judicious use of gouache has taken some of the pressure off of not being able to add lights to dark areas of color. So yesterday’s watercolor outside the walls of Lucca was deliberately a more painterly exercise than it might have been several years ago. And while I have some regrets, it was generally more fun than watercolor often was in the past. All of this is part of the upsides of getting older.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


Early Autumn Evening in Lucca

I went out, getting a bit of a late start, to paint around the south edge of the walls of Lucca in early October. By the time I got to the subject, which I had seen brilliantly lit at this time of day over the last couple of days, I really had only about an hour until I would lose the sun. The sky was spectacular, the subject of the Baluardo (Bastion) di S. Regolo appealing for its dense clusters of varied trees, with three isolated trees below silhouetted against the walls. I started painting; then a rainbow arrived, and I though, “Come on! A rainbow?” I mean, how much more beautiful could it get—although painting a rainbow, unless you’re Rubens, can easily slip into kitsch. I reserved the ground for the rainbow, but started by tackling the fugitive sky. I managed to finish, more or less, in just an hour, on a roughly 25x45cm prepared paper with a light siena/ochre ground. I won’t say more, the pictures tell a better story. I’ll post the painting itself when it’s dry.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Cecilia Metella and the Picturesque Landscape

From the Circus of Maxentius

Just off the via Appia, more or less behind the tomb of Cecilia Metella, is the villa of the emperor Maxentius and its enormous Circus. Open to the public—and free of charge—the Villa’s Circus is an evocative place in and of itself, but perhaps the best place from which to see Cecilia in a context that evokes the eighteenth century landscape we know from artists who were enamored of her.

On September 10 at 14:30 I’ll be presenting a talk at the conference Reconsidering Archaeology and Architecture at the Ex Cartiera Latina on the via Appia. I’ll be speaking about what was once a fertile, creative relationship between archaeology and architecture (as it certainly was for Piranesi), about the archaeological landscape as a place of inspiration, and the idea of excavating as a metaphor for the creative process. I tend to consider my plein air work a kind of research, and in this case especially it’s a pleasure to be able to share the fruits of that research with colleagues and friends.

The images below show both my drawing done earlier in the summer, and the process of executing the painting on site. The attendants at the Villa were very accommodating (within limits, of course) of my work, and the magic of the place—arid as it may be in the heat of summer—rewards a visit, but especially rewards the act of careful observation with pencil and brush.