The Alpine Fellowship & Thoughts on Art / Life Balance

Last September I traveled to Switzerland as part of the Alpine Fellowship. Inaugurated in 2013, the fellowship was created by my former teacher, the artist Alan Lawson, bringing together figurative artists and philosophers to discuss beauty and the way in which we work, live, and experience the world. Set in the majestic beauty of the Alps, I along with five other fellows spent three weeks painting nature and receiving lectures by various resident artists and visiting philosophers. The entire experience was filmed by friend and artist/filmmaker Basilio De San Juan Guerrero. We were left to our own devices to paint anything we wanted, whenever we wanted. I still feel as if I cannot fully comprehend and tie a bow around my experience in the Alps; it feels so fragmentary and sensory.

Alan spoke once of the difference between appreciating nature from a distance or a picture and experiencing it firsthand. While a picture of an apple tree can be lovely and beautiful, sitting underneath an apple tree is not always pleasant. With insects, changing temperature, or even apples falling on your head, it can be uncomfortable. There exists a harsh beauty. Part of the purpose of the fellowship was to slow down our pace of life and immerse ourselves in this world - to fully experience it, contemplate it, and thus paint it. 

I stayed quite trapped in my own head much of the time. I felt in a constant battle with myself to "get on with it and paint" and to really feel and experience my surroundings on a deep level. It seems like the two would go hand in hand, but quite often the opposite is true. I suppose that I didn't quite trust that giving myself the space to truly feel and experience this atmosphere and myself in it that I would actually make a painting. (This is still a concern). My favorite memory is finally saying fuck it to this entire mental drama and taking a long walk into the woods alone one evening at dusk, communing with myself and nature, completely at peace. Maybe this isn't as much of a problem for some, but it can be so easy to stay in a goal and task driven state (even or especially while painting) rather than experiencing the awe or beauty or stillness of life. 

Many of these issues are residual from school - the Academy. The Florence Academy of Art (and I speak only of the drawing & painting program in Florence) is the most masculine environment I have ever experienced. It is described by many, quite accurately, as boot camp. It's specific methodology ultimately calls for working in a very intense, linear, repetitive way. But I can't/don't/won't exist in that fashion. I work in a very unpredictable, cyclical, and intuitive way (as is the feminine principle). To others this is seen as erratic and lazy, and I have definitely struggled with being seen as such and "not taking my art seriously" or having a "compromised work ethic." Perhaps I do - but rather, I have decided that this is utter bullshit and choose to honor this about myself. I value my mental, physical, and emotional health, and I live in a way which supports these things - healthy food, exercise, at least 8 hours of sleep, personal fulfillment, community engagement, and relationship. Art is so often segregated from experience, existing as a sole thing that exists independently from every other aspect of life, which could not be further from the truth. There is an unspoken belief that by "focusing only on the art," it will speak volumes and expand and grow. In certain ways, this is true. But all the values I previously mentioned support my ability to create art for the rest of my life, and to enjoy it. Not to mention the fact that it gives life and depth to the art itself, and connects me with intuition and curiosity - all of the intangible things that sparked my desire to make art to begin with.

Zach Kramer, a resident artist from the Fellowship, spoke often about the way he creates art having everything to do with how he wants to live his life - that the process reflects the kind of life experiences he wants to have. This sounds simple enough, but it can be easy to focus only on some imagined ideal of a finished product, doing whatever it takes to get there, rather than savouring and giving equal attention to the process itself. What do you want the process and your daily experience to look and feel like? The product and process can be so utterly divorced from each other, rather than the two being one and the same. Zach and his wife, Kristin truly seem to embody this - living a quiet life in the Swedish forest, growing their own food, him painting as she writes. He reminds me of Andrew Wyeth in embodying his art on such a fundamental level. I aspire to my own version of this, whatever that may be. I only know it involves lots of yoga, nature, community, relationship, and joy. This idea has stuck with me perhaps more than anything else from my entire experience in Switzerland. And of course the nature, the beautiful nature!

Alas, here are several paintings I created whilst in Switzerland.

Lavey-Village, 22x16 cm, Oil on Canvas, 2013.

Lavey-Village Valley, Oil on Canvas, 2013.

Wandering Cows, 22x16 cm, Oil on Canvas, 2013.

Ben & two cups of tea, naturally. Oil on Canvas. 2013.

Cow Sketch. Oil on Canvas. 2013.

Before the Storm, Oil on Canvas, 2013.

The Old House, Oil on Canvas, 2013.

Drawings, Winter / Spring 2013

"Cellini Cast" Charcoal on Paper, 2013

Maria Virginia, Charcoal & White Chalk, 2013

"Anna Rosa" Charcoal and White Chalk on Toned Paper, 2013

Faun Cast Drawing in Progress

"Maria Virginia" Pencil on Paper, 2013

Giulia Sketch, 2013

The drawing of Anna Rosa, I am happy to announce, was awarded Figure Drawing of the Year. Anna Rosa is such an incredible model, so absolutely present and still. I really loved drawing her. She is also a burlesque dancer and has a great blog of what it is like from the models side of the equation. I recommend reading it:

I have officially "finished" the Drawing Program of the Florence Academy of Art (though it is silly to think I have finished learning anything, but I understand the sentiment). I began painting the figure in late March whilst continuing working on cast drawings in charcoal. The final cast shown of the Faun is not quite finished due to the unforeseen passing of my grandfather that required my coming back to the US of A a bit earlier than expected. 

I included two pencil sketches. One of the sketches is of Maria Virginia, one of my favorite models. She has such a big heart. The charcoal portrait is also of her, and in my final trimester I worked on a painting of her. The painting was unfinished due to an incredibly challenging setup, in which I ended up spending 3/4 of the time on the transfer drawing. I learned a hell of a lot though and was forced to adapt a new way of recording information in my brain - so in that sense, it was a success. Isn't that the point of all this study?

All for now!

Hudson Valley

High Valley, Oil on Canvas, 2012.

I have recently arrived back in Italy, school has begun, and I am into the full swing of things. I thought I'd post some of the art I made while being back in upstate New York for the summer. I did a fair amount of plein air painting. My favorite way to experience nature is to be sitting in silence with it (as opposed to moving or hiking through it) and to be able to paint this experience and create something from that is a blessing. I love it. I experienced some beautiful places this summer. The last painting I did of the summer was a particularly memorable experience painted at High Valley in Clinton Corners. It  is the home to one of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Cunningham, and she allowed me to paint on her property just at the change of the season to fall. It was such a peaceful piece of earth and the people there as well seem so in communion with it, swimming nude through the lake as I painted and so forth. There is something so magical about Clinton Corners and I have often found myself somehow driving through and getting lost, mesmerized by the trees changing colors (seriously one of the most beautiful places in the world to experience fall foliage). Anyway, I also began a charcoal and white chalk portrait of my Grandpa. I didn't get many sittings in with him and it is unfinished, but you can get the gist of it.

Noxon, Oil on Canvas, 2012.

Lawrence Farm, Oil on Canvas, 2012.

Peach Hill, Oil on Canvas, 2012.

Vanderbilt, Oil on Linen, 2012.

Poppy, Charcoal & White Chalk, 2012.

I was very inspired by Andrew Wyeth this summer and took a tour of his studio at the Brandywine Museum over the summer. I always had a book of his next to me while working on this portrait of my grandpa at his kitchen table with the light coming through the window. Andrew Wyeth was a master of depicting light and light cast on form. I decided to do a more formal portrait of my Grandpa this summer as opposed to the quick sketches I always find myself doing of him. He has always been one of my favorite subjects. I approached it initially as a formal commission with the idea of a specific end in mind, being very obsessive, trying to plan everything and think about it all too much. When I plan things too much I don't ever seem to do actually do them, which is what happened with this portrait. (We also had a habit of going to the diner before beginning a drawing session which may have not been the best precursor to me wanting to draw or having the energy for it...) During the last week of the summer, upon realizing I had barely touched the drawing I did about 90 percent of it in our last sitting. It is unfinished and I would have loved to keep working with it but this is what I have and the basic idea is there.

Third Trimester Drawings

Here are various pieces of work from my third trimester at school. Below are my final two long poses of Giovanni and Sylvia and an accompanying value study for each. Sylvia, I regret to inform, is unfinished. I have posted a small sampling of pencil drawings as well as my final two bargue drawings of both the leg and the Belvedere Torso.

Giovanni, Charcoal, 2012. 

Sylvia, Charcoal, 2012.


Bargue Leg Lithograph Copy, Charcoal, 2012

Bargue Belvedere Torso Lithograph Copy , Charcoal on Paper, 2012.

So, above are my final two bargue drawings, while below I thought I would post this cast drawing I did of the Belvedere Torso two years ago under Andrew Lattimore's instruction. To repeat, bargue drawings are copied from drawings (2D) rather than from a physical three dimensional object (such as a cast). It is strange to see the Belvedere cast drawing side by side the bargue drawing. I don't think I even knew what a "bargue" was at the time of drawing from the cast, let alone that I placed it in virtually the same position. Anyway I have acquired enough of a relationship with the Belvedere Torso for this lifetime and I am ready to move onto casts again this upcoming year. I'll be changing studios and I am also enrolled in an evening sculpture course twice a week, so lots of change coming up!

Belvedere Cast Study, Charcoal, 2010.

Tuscan Plein Air Painting

The following is some plein air painting I did during my third trimester. It was all done in a workshop I took with three of our FAA instructors - Daniela Astone, Zach Kramer, and Per Elof Nilsson Ricklund, lasting three weekends during May and June.

We went to three sites around Florence - Due Strade - property on the outskirts of Florence with beautiful views of mountains & hills, Stibbert Park - a park attached to a museum with smaller more intimate scenes & quirky constructs such as Egyptian temples, and alongside the Arno river with a view of the city. In our time alongside the Arno (during the final weekend) I simply drew. Most of the paintings below take place at the property I first mentioned. I did two paintings a day that weekend and completely overspent my energy, rising at 6 and getting home between 7 and 9. I learned the lesson the following weekend in school to conserve my energy a bit... During the time at Stibbert Park I used a limited palette consisting of ivory black, vermillion, cadmium yellow, yellow ochre, and titanium white. (My normal palette for landscape painting would be ivory black, ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, (possibly) cerulean blue, alizarin crimson, cadmium red, cadmium yellow, yellow ochre, and titanium white.) It was a completely backwards method of thinking for me. Rather than using higher chroma colors and muting them, we used muted colors (except for the cad yellow) and made them more chromatic in the ways we mixed them and related them with each other. I quite possibly learned more from this than anything else on the course. It surely taught me to appreciate color (and value) more! All in all, a great experience.

Stibbert Park

Lovely half box french easel purchased from a graduating student for just 25 euros! Though absolutely insane to carry through Florence with a backpack full of materials and canvases… all on my bike!

First Trimester

Hello all, Here my blog is up and running again. I am now in my third trimester (Spring) at the Florence Academy of Art. Here is some of my work from my first trimester of Fall 2011.








So these above are just some samplings of figure/portraiture pencil studies. They were done in a 1-2 hour time frame.

Alessio, Charcoal on Paper, 2011

Giovanni, Charcoal on Paper, 2011.

The two above were my first two long poses in charcoal. Both were worked on three hours a day, five days a week, for four weeks. Add another week for pencil studies of the pose.

Bargue Ankle Lithograph Copy, Pencil on Paper, 2011.

Dante Bargue Lithograph Copy, Pencil on Paper, 2011.

The two above are my first two bargue drawings. "Bargues" as we call them, are basically a series of lithographs of casts developed by artist Charles Bargue alongside artist Jean-Léon Gérôme. There are some hundred or so in the series and are designed to be copied as a whole by art students to train them in technical studies before they begin more formal studies of casts and the figure, etc. Here at FAA though, we only complete six bargues (three pencil and three charcoal) and work on them meticulously and to the smallest degree and spend countless hours perfecting them. They are absolutely tedious and time consuming and drive most people here mad. Our days here are split between working on our bargues for half of the day and from the model for the other half. Once we finish our bargue drawings we will then move onto casts in charcoal and onward to painting and other projects. But for now drawing will consume the greater part of my life for a while.