Saturday, February 7, 2009

Questura Italian Immigration Police

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

I wonder if art imitates life, or influences it. And this time by “art”, I mean science fiction writing. During my return trip to the Questura, Italian Immigration Police, I was fingerprinted (each digit on both hands) and they took one of my passport photos. I wondered about this omission of the photo earlier, but in the States, they sometimes reuse the foto in their digital files when one renews a Driver’s License.

While each dito was being scanned, I was thinking of “The Prisoner” TV show (“I am NOT a number.”) and about sci-fi programs in which eyes scanners are used for entry into a secured building or ID-chips were implanted into a person’s neck, just under the skin.

When I was a child, I was frightened by an episode of “Night Gallery.” The story was about an extremely prolific painter who was also business savvy. He kept a huge inventory of paintings in his basement, releasing them periodically on a well-planned schedule. They were not TRULY his, however, until he signed them with his thumbprint.

Unfortunately for him, his wife adhered to the principle of “Everybody’s favorite artist is a dead artist.” and she offed him so that the prices for his art would skyrocket. She was no idiot killer, though. She cut off his thumb and kept it in a jar of formaldehyde for adding those authenticating signatures.

I remember thinking that I would never put my body parts into my artworks because I did not relish the idea of someone thinking that my body was more important to him than it is to me.

Allora, I left the Questura today with a letter stating that my next appointment to receive my Permesso di Soggiorno that expired last September 2008 is in May 2009. Only after this date will I be able to apply for the 2009 renewal. è strano!

The rest of my day went better because I was drawing. My friend Luigo is a co-owner of the High Bar in Florence, Italy. He asked me to come draw portraits tonight at the bar. One of the artworks I created was this short sketched portrait of a new friend Catia. She was a good model despite the raging dance music that made us both not want to sit still. And we only worked for maybe 10 or 15 minutes.

This was fun for me because Catia said that although she works at the famous Uffizi Gallery, she has never had a portrait drawn of her. Despite the short time and the dark lighting, I was pleased with this effort. Pictured here is Catia, with her portrait, me, and Luigo at the High Bar. After the photos, I fixed the inside corner of the eye on the left – lowering it. I wish that I had darkened the neck properly – it does not look as though it tucks into the turtleneck she has on. And changed the angle.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Questura Italian Immigration Police

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Once while I was street painting here in Florence, Italy, I met an actor. He told me that most actors must learn how to express emotions in a dramatic way. However, Italian actors must often struggle to “tone down” their normal behavior in order to be believable.

I thought of this conversation this morning. I live with a couple, Doria and Luca, and they know that I am not fond of being vertical in the early morning. When I emerged from my room ready to leave the house before 8 am, Luca asked me if something was wrong. And Doria, . . . well, Doria’s shocked expression crumbling into confusion and shaking her head in disbelief with appropriate Italian hand gestures was worthy of some kind of award.

It made me smile as I rode my bike over to Via della Fortezza to see the Questura, Italy’s Immigration Police. I was going to need that chuckle. My Permesso di Soggiorno expired in September 2008. I have visited the Questura four times last fall to meet with them as requested. As of 3 November they told me that everything was in order and when my Permesso was ready, they would call me.

I only sought information since I have heard nothing in over three months. I am a little worried because I want to return to Texas to teach a class or two, but am unsure of whether or not I will be able to enter Italy again. One traveling friend was stopped in the aeroporto in England and actually spent the night in jail while police checked on why his documentation was not in order. Siamo in Italia (We are in Italy.) Things are different here. [Or are they? Not having traveled much, I do not really know how it is in other countries if one wants to stay longer than 90 days.]

The Questura is only open from 8:15-9:15 each weekday morning. I was there. The line was short (because of the rain, I suppose. Note to self.) I now understand what probably most people already know: It is better to give the police LESS information than more. When the policeman did not let me enter the building, I thought he needed to understand my dilemma better and said that I would like to leave the country, but without documents I fear I may have trouble returning.

He then told me that I must go see the Questura on Via Zara. I was confused by this, but since the process was different two years ago and my original Permesso application was in this other location, I thought, “Well. Ok.” My mistake was explained to me in this other building. After a phone call, the second policeman told me that the first policeman had misunderstood me and thought I needed a passport. I was told that I must go back to Via della Fortezza because all Permesso and Rinnovo are done at that location. I felt truly frustrated!

I found this strange because most Italians understand me since my vocabulary is limited. It is me who sometimes lacks understanding. I told my second helper that I was worried because it was now after nine and I was not sure they would be open when I arrived. “Non ti preoccupare. Lui aspetta per te.” (Don’t worry. He is waiting for you.)

My original policeman was no longer at the door, but behind a nearby window. He recognized me and called over his colleague, Marco. Marco was also very kind (as they all were, really) and listened to me before explaining that to wait six months is not unusual. He told me that the (outdated) receipts that I have should be enough to re-enter the country, but I was still skeptical.

Then Marco explained that if I still wanted some information, I would have to return tomorrow at 8:15 am, “We are closed now.” Mi uccidono! (They are killing me!)

I know many people living in Florence who are technically illegally here. It is easy to understand why. Here are a couple of shots I have taken during misty Florentine days.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Portrait Painting

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

It is a joy to hear about a person who gives to others with an open heart. I learned of such a man recently when I was commissioned to paint his portrait.

Franklin Barry Gallery owner Don Elliott in Indianapolis sent me two snapshots taken by my American patron of the man I am to paint, “Big” John Henderson. I am not fond of working from photos, especially flash photos, however, sometimes that is all we have with which to work.

“There is nothing so intimidating as a white canvas.” I do not know who originated that quote, perhaps someone who is not a “clean-freak.” In any event, my first step was to apply a light wash of ‘rootbeer color’ on the canvas. Many years ago, I was visiting my friend Rebecca Neef in Bastrop, Texas, and I saw a copy she painted of a work by the late John White Alexander. I immediately fell in love with the rootbeer-colored glaze that Rebecca used on the dress of the figure. Turned out that Rebecca made the paint herself, having studied classic pigment making. She called it ‘asphaltum’, but decided ‘rootbeer’ was a more romantic name. I bought the paint from her straight away. I love this juicy color!

Winsor and Newton (W and N) now makes a similar hue called “Transparent Brown Oxide” and Rebecca said she stopped making asphaltum after she discovered this. So, having used up most of Rebecca’s pigments, I now use WandN.

Next, I posted my printouts of the images I received via e-mail and figured out my design of shapes on another sheet of paper. I later transferred my final portrait design to the canvas.

The transfer (vs. directly painting on the canvas) allows me to play with my design without ruining the background color, not having decided how much of I want to keep. It also allows me to move the figure around until I am pleased with where he sits in the composition.

Now for the goodie: Don Elliott asked me to continue my portrait special and so, I will. Here is the basic information on this offer:

From your photographs or from life, when possible:
You may choose:
Half life-size or smaller in pencil: $300 per head/person
Life-size (approx.) in charcoal: $500 per head/person
Life-size oil painting – monochromatic (sepia): $700 per head/person
If you prefer color, a life-size pastel drawing: $600 per head/person, life-size
Plus, FREE SHIPPING from Florence, Italy.

Contact me for details (just respond to this blog or visit my site).
Please let me know if this is a gift or if you are having another deadline (such as an anniversary party or wedding) so that I can make sure you receive your original art on time. All submitted photographs must be accompanied by permission from the copyright holder for a one-time use to create a painting from the photograph. And of course, if you were here in Florence, Italy, I would love to make a drawing of you from life.

Thank you for your continued interest and support. More to come . . .

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Florence Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

The other night my friend Rita and I took a giro (tour) around her neighborhood in central Florence, Italy. We started out viewing an art exhibit in a cute little shop on Via Cavour. While I thought the art looked a little too much like psychedelic stains on fabric, some blood-colored at that, which turned me off, I was amused at the architecture. No two spaces are ever alike here in Florence, but I have seen a few of these “Stairways to Nowhere” like this one I share with you here.
Perhaps these are food storage areas? Non lo so.

We passed the famous Medicee Chapel which houses some Michelangelo sculptures close enough to touch (and is where he hid in the basement when the Medicees were under attack). And Rita and I walked down Via Faenza. This street was under construction for a while as the stones in the road were replaced.

It is quite comfortably smooth now, with no change in height for a sidewalk. I share with you here an image I took of a hotel hallway and a restaurant window. You can see that many restaurants in Italy put tables and chairs out in the streets when the weather is kind. And you can see this new street is still patterned after the old.

Always seeking patterns of shadow and light, I took this next image on our way home, again not too far from the Cappelle Medicee and Mercato Centrale. This square is called Piazze di Madonna Degli Aldobrandini and I love the cast shadows!

And finally, I leave you with a glimpse of a charcoal drawing I have been trying to finish. I have been having some fun and confusion as I figure out how to create compositions that work for me.