Sunday, February 16, 2014

At Arte Studio Ginestrelle, Assisi, italy, November 1-December 8, 2013

I was in Rome and Assisi, Italy from late October to mid-December, arriving in Assisi at Director Marina Merli's Arte Studio Ginestrelle in the Subasio mountains on November 1, 2013 for five weeks as a resident artist. I returned Rome for my last six days before coming home to a snowstorm in Connecticut.

My project in Assisi was to study the Giotto frescos and respond with acrylic and pastel paintings. The trip was part of my “From Paintings in Proust” art project.

Mary of Magda pastel and acrylic, 24x18 inches

Giotto Circles, acrylic, 24x6 inches

 I’d gone to Paris over the summer to view the paintings in Parisian museums and to visit the Monet Gardens. That inspired a new body of monoprints that I’ll be exhibiting along with the Assisi works at the PMW Gallery, 530 Roxbury Road, Stamford, CT from May 18 to June 29, 2014.

Bindi, monoprint with Chine collé, 10 x 7 7/8 inches

More Than a Circle, monoprint with Chine collé, 36 ¼ x 26 ¼ inches

Wikepedia describes Assisi as “..a town and comune of Italy in the province of Perugia in the Umbria region, on the western flank of Monte Subasio. It was the birthplace of St. Francis who founded the Franciscan religious order in the town in 1208, and St. Clare (Chiara d'Offreducci), the founder of the Poor Sisters, which later became the Order of Poor Clares after her death.”

My three arrival days in Rome were a delight, especially with the weather sunny and warm, and where I enjoyed a lovely day visiting the Borghese Gallery and gardens. 

Assisi’s weather grew colder day-by-day. Despite layers of clothing, by 4 PM, as darkness crept over the mountains and shuttered the studio window views that had enchanted throughout the day and filtered warmth into the studio, my hands grew so cold that I’d stop art making and retreat to my room or the downstairs great room with its fireplace. There I’d sit with my laptop and work on that long postponed memoir requested for the Veteran Feminists of America web site (yes, I am a day-one feminist) and that will finally get on line in a few more months. I also kept reading Proust’s Remembrances de temps perdu. I’m now on volume four. Each one is over 700 pages. The last ones still await me.

Throughout those five weeks, I watched the light play over the sky and mountains. 

The days moved from still green to a gentle autumn, and then came the snow. 

I became at home with the regular pace of days there, starting with a morning breakfast of truffles on sunny side eggs, prosciutto, salami, mozzarella, amazing yoghurt and very, very strong coffee. We artists cooked and shared other meals. I loved the good olive oil, absolutely fresh and amazing ricotta, great varieties of salami, (fatty) prosciutto, the local farmer’s freshest of fresh eggs and his organic wine (with never a bad glass). Resident artists and writers added laughter and tale telling. Some started wine drinking by noon and laughed together throughout the afternoons. The Umbrian wine is very, very good, adding greatly to the general good humor.

Mount Subasio faced the studio windows. The ever-changing sky danced daily in my brain. There were many grey days and the sunny ones were specially prized. Weeks into my stay, a thirteen inch snowstorm that wasn’t supposed to occur in late November holed us up for three days. There are no snowplows in Assisi. We had to wait for snowmelt, something that would never rescue us in Connecticut. One woman was to leave for Rome, but until Marina Merli’s father was able to drive up the mountain’s windy and treacherous path, she was snowbound with the rest of us. 

Assisi, the town of St Francis and St Clare fame was twenty minutes away by car. I studied the superb Giotto frescoes in the church of San Francisco. 

Giotto, fresco, Saint Clare
The preserved town is a mecca for pilgrims and art lovers. I was moved by the reverence of people walking round the tomb of St Francis. The small preserved town is enchanting at dusk. The sunsets dazzle the mind and eye as the air itself seems infused with a spiritual magic. 

Becoming friends with Italian artist Bruno Marcelloni was a great highlight. We’d met on LinkedIn. I messaged him that I was coming to Assisi. He answered that he’d meet me there. He'd grown up in Assisi across from my favorite monument; the Temple of Minerva, beautifully preserved and the façade for an Assisi church. 

Temple of Minerva, note the shadows from the columns in the photo above.

Bruno was a chosen artist at the 2011 Venice Biennial in 2011. His studio is in a nearby town. I visited him on two occasions. In return, he came to the residency and the opening of the group show where I performed Job’s Wife with a paper mask. 

Bruno and I graciously exchanged artworks. The one he chose for me reminds me of the shadows from the columns of the Temple of Minerva (as a child, he rode his tricycle in it’s plaza). I believe its magic flows in this artwork. Furthermore, in a certain light, the artwork reveals a mysterious apse of a church in the background. The many layers of his abstract artwork taught me to more fully appreciate the particular beauty of the ever-changing Umbrian mountains and clouds, the ancient stone walkways and walls, arches, and the endless silhouettes. Much as Cezanne and Van Gogh informed my sense of the French countryside on my first visit as a 19 year old an art student, his work reveals what's alive in the present from that ancient historical world. 

 Bruno Marcelloni and Suzanne Benton

Bruno Marcelloni, Acrylic, Luca


I returned to Ridgefield, Connecticut  in mid-December with the new artworks I'd created, two by Bruno, a bottle of olive oil pressed from Marina’s father  olive grove and a recipe for pasta carbonara from her mother Adria to ever after share with friends. 

Nash Hyon and I exchanged artworks soon after I came home. Hers is a beautiful encaustic of our Wilton/Ridgefield trees. It's hanging in my bedroom alongside Bruno’s. These multi-layered artworks, one from Assisi, Italy and the other from Connecticut, USA fill me with a sense of life refreshed. Please visit my show at the PMW Gallery this Spring and enjoy the works I've created as a result of this yearlong Proust inspired project.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

First night in Rome and the waiter at my dinner plied me with free glasses of Proseco. Another waiter sang. Delicious food too. Got lost on my way back to the B&B, and finally figured it out. Would I ever find that restaurant again?

Next day: took the city bus today to see the sights, a two hour ride and you can keep getting off and on. I did at the last stop near the Borghese Gardens. The Vatican from the bus seems a total zoo of people, no way to even try to enter.  I'm so glad I went in 1955 when there were hardly any people touristing in those days. Got a sense of the city from the bus and enjoyed the views. Next day - to the Borghese Museums and then Assisi on Friday. Got my train tickets and enjoyed talking with the fellow at the tourist counter. It's true, the Romans are very friendly. Rome is an easy city to get around in and to feel quickly at home. My B&B is very well located. I actually walked there from the Termini station with my heavy suitcase and carry on.

 I found the restaurant again for lunch the next day. They remembered me/where I sat. How nice. Had a nice talk with a Russian banker at the table next to mine. He'd been trained as an aeronautical engineer. When he graduated there were no jobs, so he went into banking! Tells you about the world.
Now, the Borghese Gallery. I'd gotten a ticket form the tour bus and I hardly had to wait before going in. The collection is both stupendous and repetitious with many sculpture works with missing parts added without the depth or magnificence of the real thing, especially the heads. The ceiling are truly extraordinary, especially in the Egyptian room. I felt the famous Bernini sculptures while astonishing, the pursuing males would have had a better chance if both their feet had been places on the ground. I supposed it was an aesthetic decision to emphasize the flow.
Pics from the Borghese Gallery and Gardens. Beautiful trees. A haven and pleasure spot away form the city bustle and for all to enjoy. (They don't let you photograph inside the Gallery - alas).

Here in Assisi at the artist residency Arte Studio Ginestrelle. For pics of the residency, please look it up on line though I'll ply you with some of what I've taken in Assisi, and hooray the already new artworks.

 Arrived in the dark to find inside a totally lovely and comfortable, tasteful and aesthetic residency. The studio situation is working fine. Marina Merli, the Director is marvelously helpful and considerate. Besides myself, we are just four: Jenny, a writer/actress from Australia, Marvel, a film maker from Sweden and Gail, another artist from the DC USA area.

Went into the beautiful medieval town of Assisi last two days. Saw the Giotto frescoes at the Church of San Fransisco, my main aim in coming here besides the mountains. Not too touristy during the week this time of year. We're 20 minutes away by car  in the mountain, up a dirt and windy road. It's hypnotic and incredibly peaceful here. There are great views from every angle and every window. It's been mostly cloudy and Autumn's regalia is still subtle though the sun came out briefly around noon today and I had to move away from the window with the piece I was working on. The autumn colors will pick up in the coming weeks.

Working away just fine. Now for some pics starting with the Nov. 4 PARADE in honor of the end of WWI:

 and then, some views from downtown Assisi:

 Shadow of Roman columns

 Can you spot me?

 On the way to see the Giotto frescoes at the Church of San Fransisco

Just along the walk!

 From my studio window
 and first works:

 Giotto, it is said could draw a perfect circle, and I?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

In Paris 2013,-studying paintings in Proust for my "From Paintings in Proust" artwork series.

It's been a complete delight to have spent such a fine time in Paris (not without a few wrinkles though). The apartment I rented  has some space for me to do a little artwork, very little with all else to see and travel the Metro for - ah and of course the Monet's Gardens. On this, my last day, and with it being too hot to go out (92 degrees at the moment and getting hotter by the hour), I'm about to work on a small piece on Mona Lisa's eyes (of course one never knows and it may turn out to be something completely different). It's my starting point. I'll also look over the other small pieces I've done and the looking over will add to my gestation on the flight home.I feel very grounded in my project having successfully tracked down the works I've been especially interested in with my Proustian theme, and spent days going about the Paris streets and seeing the flavor of current street life.

 Monet and his Gardens may well be my turning point. I plan to tackle something (audacious of me for sure as one can never compare to Monet) from my many garden pics (350!). With also having gone to the Monet museum yesterday and seen (beside the artworks) that short film connecting his then revolutionary approach in his art to the  violence of WWI (and as we saw at the grave, he'd lost a son in the debacle). Surely for him, and then exaggerated with WWII, old parameters became iconic and passe for upcoming artists, too fixed to be continued. After we saw the resident artists' open studio exhibits at the Gverny Terra Foundation, I've been thinking that the emphasis is still on tearing things apart. Maybe it's time to put things together. That is in a new way of course, and for me isn't that what my project is about? Yes it is.

When daughter Janet and i came back from our year around the world in 1977 (yes, way back then), traveling to 11 countries and with my having created welded masks, mask tale performances, led workshops, etc., my then mentor, Peggy Billings said I had to "become myself in a new way". Seems to be an ongoing process with my going here and there, being here and there, and all for long enough to impact my art.

So, PARIS! I didn't expect to come but Peter Scharf, a childhood friend of my son Dan was here and when his mother told me he likes company, I began to explore the possibility and realized that I had to come for my From Paintings in Proust art-making project. Friend Jennifer Donnelly (from our 2006 time together in Taos at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation's artist res) lives n Paris (now married with a two year old), I felt I'd have good company. It turned out I had lots of companionship. Dick Janney whose family I've felt a part of since his eldest (now grown) was a baby visited for a few days for traipsing through museums with me, and Alak Roy, sculptor friend from Chittagong, Bangladesh is here as a resident artist at the Cite des Artistes. I discovered that Alak was in Paris after I sent him a link to the film made by German TV in 1983 of me in the Koln scrap yard, welding masks, and  doing performance demos.
He then emailed me a reply that he was going to show it to his students at the university but at present was in Paris. We've spent good time together walking about in the Hotel de Ville area, the Seine, and Notre Dame. Dear Jennifer eased the way for Peter, Alak and I to visit the Monet Gardens as she works at the Terra Foundation artist residency where we were invited to visit the current artists' open studios.

It's been a very active time! As soon as I arrived, I was prepared with a list of artworks from "Paintings in Proust" in the Louvre and the Musee d'Orsay. But first, I'd an appointment to visit the American Embassy and see my Susan B. Anthony sculpture that was donated by collector David Mishkin years back.  I was graciously welcomed. The sculpture now resides in the Counselor of Cultural Affairs, Jennifer Rasamimanana's office at the American Embassy. A proper base is being created and the work is scheduled for a prominent spot. The words on Susan B. Anthony's skirt are "Educate all women to do precisely as I have done, rebel."
From there I walked to the Musee d'Orsay, stayed six hours finding all but one of the artworks on my list of about 12 for that museum. Of course I also went through the entire museum, something not possible at the Louvre. I went back a few days later for three hours to review and found the elusive one that their web site said were not being shown ( two others are on loan in Venice). The d'Orsay doesn't let you take pics but here's  La Source, by Ingres from Wikepedia. The painting remains in the Canon of studied art. Ingres epitomizes the idealized male view of womanly beauty (and where I ask is her pubic hair?). Stunning nevertheless, I enjoyed looking at it for a half hour. My notes say:

Bland face, vacant eyes, on second look wistful and sad, face as a mask, nice shadow on side of outstretched hand. Her left breast nipple points to the water. The sexy pouring water is like rope or string. Her feet are mirrored in the water. Strong arms. All is serene save for the pouring water. She is in the light, all else is dark. There's a highlight on the vessel the color of her skin as above her left eye (right of pic). Note her round belly. So young and already pregnant! Hmm.

The next day I spent seven hours at the Louvre:

Suzanne in front of the I M Pei - at the Louvre.
Here's a detail from a Veronese in the same room as the Mona Lisa. As you probably know, there's always a crowd in front of Mona with hardly anybody looking at the other masterpieces. The Wedding Feast at Cana is absolutely huge, covering the entire opposite wall form Mona. And on..

I came back the next day for three hours at the Louvre and then three at L'Orangerie. Dick arrived from Munich and we went to the Moderne (for the Keith Haring show and the permanent collection) and to the Pompidou. The artwork is magnificently hung everywhere, and always in proximity of artworks to make a joint statement. I noted how the French artists who ushered in the modern movements continued to paint the same subjects in the same poses. Something I'll expect address in my own series.

After being totally immersed in the artworks in the museums, as I spent a day at the Monet Gardens wit Peter and Alak. Here are excerpts from an email I wrote soon after coming back from the Gardens that also gives some backtracking about my time in this remarkable city:

Paris has been of course wonderful though in some ways difficult - mainly because of computer/IPhone log on issues, and then my emails were  hacked. I've had hours and hours away from my painting focus to stay on the phone through Skype and then getting to sleep at 2AM because that's when the offices are still open. Through it all, sounds and chatter in the courtyard remind me where I am. It's also been  hot. Today seems so far  wonderfully cool, and yesterday at the Monet Gardens we were mostly comfortable weather-wise throughout the day.

I've had happy days and days at the museums, seeing the paintings there that are referenced in Proust's novel, and of course endlessly more. Seeing the paintings has been a main focus as planned. Yesterday friends and I were at Monet's Gardens - so extraordinary, giving new undertandings. The insights that the Gardens give us into Monet's mind, even more than the paintings - which I love. They, and the gardens as a whole speak of this  being a huge legacy, a still living work of art, completely unique. It clearly was created out of  the his artist's mind. His joining of nature's natural ways with his selected plantings for color and texture is utterly superb. Everyone who goes there is deeply impacted. It's a must do! Especially for artists.

Naturally, I took endless photos yesterday (350). I'll aim to honor the remarkable beauty of the gardens with "response" paintings I've yet to create (daunting though that may be considering what Monet has done). And to think, it was generous funding by our Lila Acheson - widow/heir to the Reader's Digest fortune that made its restoration possible. As an aside, I've also learned that the restoration of Versailles was made possible after WWI by John D. Rockefeller. Hmm.

That's the news for now - now to that little artwork and the final packing. Getting up at 5AM tomorrow for the journey to Ridgefield, CT,  my home base since 1965!

The first ones are of Ariel who we met on the train. She's from Brazil, in France for a month and studying law in Brazil. The rest are from the Monet Gardens. That's Peter towards the bottom. Enjoy!!