Sunday, 10 June 2012

End of academic year

The scholastic year is coming to a close here in the northern hemisphere as summer settles in and the tourists arrive in droves. In fact it seems most schools are already out as of this weekend (I happened across a joyfully noisy and chaotic teenage water fight centered around the fountain in Piazza Santo Spirito today which was presumably a needed release of stress after the high school final exams)... At the Russian Academy we have another week to go and are half way through 2 weeks of our anatomy intensive with Aleksy our guest teacher from Russia. We all seem to be rather lead-footed and ready for the holidays. Looking back over the past year I think (I hope) I've learned a lot since I've been with the Russians, although the more I learn the more I realise there is to learn. I'm planning to come back for another year but meanwhile I need a dose of Australia (and just as importantly I need to not be in Florence for the sweaty mosh-pit of August), so I'm heading home for 3 months, leaving the week after next and counting the sleeps til I'll be off the dreaded long-haul flight with my feet planted safely on the land of kangaroos and eucalyptus trees.

Reflecting on leaving Florence for a bit and how much I take for granted now all the object d'arte I see around me every day I decided to make a pictorial account of my daily trip to school. There are the great and obvious architectural feats and sculptures to behold and then there are the small details like door knockers and street lamps and things which could happily belong in a museum, or on a movie set. Click here to see the pics as well as of our final exhibition and a few other things that have been happening. Lots of love! marnie xxxxx

Monday, 23 April 2012

Spring has sprung a leak

Some few weeks back winter gave way to an eager Spring in full swing, with an army of birds gathered from the four corners to herald the arrival, bright green foliage on barren trees and temps soaring to the mid 20's. And so all was well and very cheery... until spring sprung a leak and it's not stopped (hardly) raining for the past 2 weeks (or so)... see photographic evidence:

The moody cloud-filled skies are spectacular, ranging from the cute and fluffy one minute to the dark and furious moments later and The Umbrella (marvelous invention) and/or The Raincoat (for cyclists) have become essential accessories. (The sunsets have been splendid too I must add). I read in the paper recently that there is (or at least was) a drought in Tuscany, with strict restrictions on water usage in the garden (and/or on the terrace) which is a good move since we've barely had a drop from the sky since I arrived in January last year. But with the swollen Arno River and the ongoing forecast for rain I do suspect the drought is at an end. I don't mind the rain so much, it's the return of "il freddo" (the cold) that I mind a lot and the joy of putting away the woolies has been superceded by the pain of dragging them back out again.

Anyhoo, onwards from the weather report... We've just come to the end of a 2 week break from school and as you will observe from the above weather chart, there was a single sunny day in that time (April 17, I remember it well), which was the day Inga and I were able to venture beyond Florence, with any sort of hope of staying dry, and head west young man. West being where the nearest coast be found. Livorno to be specific, which is a port city where goods come and go as well as cruise-ship loads of tourists. All of whom head for Florence where there is a whole lot more to see and do than in Livorno, except if you're feeling sea-air deprived in which case you might consider the trip in reverse, as we did. It's not a historic or in any way beautiful township but with the sun shining the sea-side Terrazza (terrace) is a sight for sore eyes and refreshing to the soul:

We also visited the Civic Museum which I threw into the itinerary for something to do and unfortunately didn't allow enough time (before it closed for a 3 hour siesta) to fully appreciate the wonderful Italian impressionist paintings we found there. After lunch by the Mediterranean Sea, with the salty breeze in our hairs we headed up the hill to Montenero on the funicular railway to admire Livorno from above. As there's not much to Montenero besides it's stunning view of the sea we took a short stroll and then made our way back to the beloved centre of high culture, an hour and a half train ride from the centre of Livorno. Speaking of Florence being beloved, the rising number of tourists has not been in the slightest deterred by the rain (what are umbrellas for?!). It's becoming daily more difficult to ride a bike through the historic centre, even with the earnest trill of a bell to declare the desire for clear passage. From tomorrow my trip to and from school, which in winter takes in the Ponte Vecchio, Piazza della Repubblica and the Duomo, will necessarily be in a wide arc around these congested venues.

As for the rest of the break, I managed to do a still life in grisaille (one colour and white) but not a great deal otherwise (owing to the weather), other than some watery walks in the Boboli Gardens, an easter luncheon with Inga and Susan, a movie in English with Susan (Marigold Hotel), lunch and a visit to the Palazzo Pitti with the Reads (an Australian family here for 3 months on long service leave), and the carrying out of possibly the most thorough spring clean an apartment was ever subjected to. It's amazing what can be done if one only has the time.

I was also inspired once again by this hour long documentary by Roger Scruton called Why Beauty Matters...

To see the latest pics please click here. I'll sign off with this quote from the Marigold Hotel: "Everything will be alright in the end, and if it isn't, it's not yet the end".

Monday, 13 February 2012

Constructive drawing and Madrid

The first four weeks back at school after christmas we had a guest teacher from Russia who taught us anatomy and constructive drawing. I did my own anatomy study at home as the anatomy component was at night by which point my energy is all spent. However the constructive drawing course in the morning was great. The aim is to see 'through' the object and so to understand the form from every side. Not easy. I learned heaps including how very much more there is to learn. This is the capital I drew (after much sweat and nearly tears)...

Then we had another week off (the Russians love their holidays) to mark the end of our first term and we start back at school tomorrow which will be the first day of term two. Meanwhile during the week break, to take advantage of the off-season and cheap flights, I made a short visit to Madrid with Susan, a friend of mine from school. She speaks Spanish and is familiar with Madrid which made everything very easy. We stayed in an apartment in the historical centre close to the main museums for a 4 day art extravaganza taking in the Prado, Thyssen, Royal Academy of Art and the Sorolla museum, as well as a day trip to Toledo. Madrid is a beautiful, clean and orderly city (the part we saw at least) which seems to have been plonked in the middle of the desert. I was pretty struck by the dryness of the landscape on the way in from the airport and on our train trip to Toledo. I've been telling everyone that Australia is dry, but it's really only that dry far west and in the desert!

Our 'hood' was a feast of quiet streets lined with quaint shops and cafes. On the first day after dumping our bags at the apartment we started wandering through the back streets towards the main road to find lunch when we came across a macrobiotic restaurant just a few minutes from our apartment. Thrilled! Both of us being very keen on good food, we were extremely pleased by the unexpected discovery and enjoyed a fab lunch. We asked the waitress where we might find a health food shop (for our essential breakfast items) and lo there was one next door.

Susan has a friend in Madrid who she knew worked somewhere around where we were staying. It turns out her office was on the other side of the health food shop! So naturally, we all met at the restaurant again for lunch the next day and we went again the following day. The added bonus to all this being able to use the free wi-fi whenever we passed by the restaurant during our stay. PTL!

The highlight of the trip for me was the house and studio of Sorolla which has been turned into a museum. It took my breath away to enter his studio and see the enormous paintings on the wall, so full of colour and light. I love his work and was captivated to see where he lived and worked and to take in all the objet d'art he collected or commissioned. Even his paint brushes are still there, his old tubes of paint and his great collection of art books. Talk about coveting his studio space, which was in fact 3 huge rooms connected to each other. Oh to have that space!!! And that talent. I was struck by how apparently disorderly his paintings appear until you get some distance back from them, at which point they come together magically and beautifully. Considering the artist has to paint right up at the canvas this is something I have to take more to heart when making my own paintings. To me it really highlights the incredible skill of Sorolla, who (just oh by the way) was evidently paid very well for his hard work and was no starving artist!

Another 'take your breath away' moment for me was visiting the cathedral in Toledo. By now I've seen the inside of a few cathedrals but I don't think any of them compare to the grandeur of this one. I was overwhelmed by the creativity and skill and imagination and resources and sheer man hours that were poured into it all those hundreds of years back. I snapped away on my camera but of course it can't capture the effect of being so tiny in such an awesome space. And that is a job well done when you consider the aim is to have you contemplate the awesomeness of God which is incomparably great compared to the earth, the planets, the entire universe... let alone this 'little' cathedral in a small town in Spain.

I liked the Prado although it's really too big to take it all in in one day. Susan and I split up so we could go at our own pace, and met up for a cuppa and rest half way (like boxers heading to the corner for water and a brow pat between rounds). I ended up swinging by a lot of masterpieces because of overload, a bit like at the Louvre. It was really interesting to see the artists with their easels set up making copies of different works. They gave a fresh view to the original painting which was in every case far superior in colour, subtlety and drawing... It's not as easy as it looks!

The Thyssen museum is a more manageable size, a bit like the Orsay in Paris, and has a great collection of impressionist art which is what I always make a bee-line for (they also had a temporary exhibition of the female impressionist Berthe Morisot). My favourite paintings at the Thyssen were the Sargents, just beautiful. The Royal Academy of art is another great collection of paintings, but the highlight for me was our visit to the basement where they make the gesso casts. Susan is interested in ordering a cast so she used her wonderful Spanish to get us in to see them being made and the collection they have available for purchase. Treat!

The Spanish people were lovely and for both of us it was a great relief to be in a warm apartment for 4 nights and not have to keep rugged up inside. It's really quite cold in Florence at the moment. The past 2 weeks have had top day time temperatures of an average of 2 degrees. It's snowed a bit but only once has it not melted on impact and made some impression of white on the roof tops (see pics)... The trip on the bus out to Pisa airport was pretty special though as it had clearly snowed more out there and the landscape was quite transformed with it's thin blanket of white. You can see latest pics here...

This is a documentary about Russians in Italy and our school was one of the features... It mostly shows the second year students although there's a few moments with some of the first years and also a brief interview with Nadya the director of the school...

Sunday, 29 January 2012

This is an ad...

I recently stumbled across Mastering Color by Richard Robinson in New Zealand, which is a great video painting course for any painting medium - oils, acrylic, watercolor etc - it's all about how to see color properly and translate it to canvas. It covers lots of in-depth material in a way that's really easy to understand. I totally recommend this for all painters who need better control of their color - and lets face it, most of us do! Here's the link to the website: Mastering Color DVD Oh, here's the chapter list too: 1. Color Theory 2. Seeing Color 3. Describing Color 4. Value 5. Mixing Color 6. Manipulating Color 7. Color Harmony 8. Light Effects You can watch the first chapter for free on the site: Mastering Color DVD

(ps. marnie here... 20% off the price if you put this ad on your website which is why it's here)

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Tanti auguri!

No snow to report, in fact it's been a (relatively) 'warm' winter. These are some of the lovely trees in the Boboli Gardens on a clear morning this week. One of the entrances to the gardens is a 30 second walk from my apartment and I can go in for free now that I have a residency of Florence (last year I bought a pass - it's normally 9 euro a visit, which tends to be a good thing as it deters some of the masses who otherwise might pop in for a jaunty). This part of the gardens is a new discovery as I usually head up the hill where there's a magnificent outlook to the west. However if you head in the other direction there's a significant area that's flat, full of beautifully designed open spaces with statues and water features as well as almost bush-like tracks that positively ooze with oxygenated fresh air. There's plenty of invisible but chirpy birds and once I even spied a squirrel which was pretty thrilling since there's a distinct lack of wildlife of any kind in Florence (no bugs, spiders, lizards or anything in the house and pretty much only pigeons outside of it). Since the gardens close at 4.30 in winter I've been taking advantage of being on holidays... if only one could bottle that air! (Which I say because if it's not cars and buses and motorbikes stealing your oxygen (and your tranquility), it's the people who smoke ciggies which for all intents and purposes must surely be the vast majority of Italians). Hence the Pitti people or whoever came up with the Boboli Gardens are to be thanked from the bottom of the heart for the oasis they have created in a (granted beautiful but) somewhat frenetic city.

Christmas and New Year have come and gone in a festive blur. We had an entertaining Christmas feast at my church on the friday night before Christmas. I knew it was going to be a long night when there were 3 courses of the 7 course meal still to come by 10pm. Didn't quite manage to hold out for the entire meal but it was an experience I'm glad not to have missed. Christmas day I peddled over to spend my third ever northern hemisphere Christmas with Sarah and Andrew and the kids. We played games and ate an abundant roast dinner to warm the heart on a cold winters night. It's great spending Christmas with kids, they are so bouncy and bright eyed with new treasures and yummy food, it reminds me of the olden days when I was bright eyed and bouncy with the Christmas festivities.

I've been painting and drawing in the cosiness of my (very small) apartment and pottering and doing who-knows-what else but it's somehow filled the days. A few times my friend Susan and I have gone to the museums to draw and check out the masterpieces. Susan lent me the entire series of The Tudors (four seasons which I've just finished) about the reign of Henry VIII and his 6 wives. History is brought to life in all it's colour and lust for power... costumes, palaces, jewels, intrigue, betrayal, greed, passion and plenty of rolling heads. It's certainly expanded my vision of English royalty!. I've also taken up writing poetry again... will paste one of my poems in below... Tomorrow I'm taking myself off to the old city of Lucca since it's on my Must Do list and the forecast predicts another clear day. School goes back on Wednesday so a few more days left to sleep in before routine reclaims the days.

Love and hugs!
(You can check out latest pics here)...

The prodigal

There once were two sons of a man of some standing,
They may have lived not far from here.
The elder bowed knees to parental demanding
He laboured to please without cheer.

Son number two was exploding with life,
He dreamed dreams and forged a grand plot.
Snorting at every suggestion of wife,
He stood tall and announced he could not...

Dwell any longer in such sameness and drear,
When the whole world is there for the taking,
Allot me my share of all you hold dear,
I’ll be off in the morn upon waking.

With wealth and a whistle he made his depart,
And braved himself not to glance back,
At the man of some standing with a sob in his heart,
As his son disappeared down the track.

The metropolis beckoned with clutch wide and broad,
Leaving no stone unturned in his quest,
For every diversion that he could afford,
And any fair dame that impressed.

Here lies a true life of liberty from care,
He mused with amusement arising,
Well after noon and without clue of where,
The way he had chosen a prizing.

Then one day he realised, it came as a blow,
He’d squandered his fortune entirely.
He was wanton and wanting employment and so,
Went in to make an inquiry.

He worked like a dog on a farm feeding swine,
Growing ill, only he to condemn,
The servants live grandly in the home that was mine,
Might father let me be one of them?

The road back was long but he kept up a pace
‘Til he nearly came to arrive,
The father espied him, oh the joy on his face,
It’s my son, my son is alive!

He ran to embrace him and kiss his hot brow,
Forgive me father I was wrong,
Make a feast! Bring fine clothes! Shh.. all will be well now,
Let’s celebrate! Rejoice with a song!

Older son ceased his work when he heard all the noise
Outraged at the sight of his brother
How dare you forgive that wretch and his ploys
Loving him above every other!

My son you are mine and I am yours
All I have for you here does abound,
But now we must celebrate, you see there’s great cause
My dead son, he was lost, now he’s found!
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