Thursday, May 14, 2009

Street Painting Caravaggio in Florence Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

I went chalking yesterday with colleagues Giovanni (Brasil) and Johnny (Ireland). Gabrielle showed up and said she had too much to do to prepare for our upcoming street painting competition in the south of Italy, so . . . we decided to tackle an image with fewer figures than in our original plan. Giovanni was undecided between a Bouguereau or a Caravaggio, images I had with me in my madonnara backpack. The Italian won out. Cool. I had tried to recreate “St. John the Baptist as a Youth” last spring, but was rained out.

With our new situation with the Comune (City Government) of Florence, Italy, the madonnari no longer wash our street paintings each night. Last week, we washed our space in the morning and began to draw once the street was dry enough. However, another madonnaro came over the weekend and just drew another Botticelli over ours. I wonder what it looked like when he was finished? Here I include images of what we saw days later and after a few street cleaners had passed over her.

Do you see the pentemente – an art term that basically means that the “mistakes” of the past come back to haunt you. Usually this means that underpaintings or the original drawings on the canvas start showing through because oil paint becomes more transparent with age. I find these interesting because it shows the thought processes of the artist and what changes he has made in his composition. In this case, parts of our original Botticelli’s “Madonna of the Eucharest” show through to the overlying “Venus” by Botticelli. You can see the baby’s leg at the bottom and I hope that you can make out the face of the Madonna to which I drew red arrows.

While I began to draw the face and body, Giovanni created the frame, sketched out the basic proportions of the rest of the composition and started to darken the background. This helps the public see what it is that we are trying to accomplish, in case they want to check out our progress later in the day, as many do. [Johnny arrived later and drew a wonderful ram.] I actually liked the colorful patterns in the legs and tried to talk the guys into “modernizing” a Caravaggio. Unsuccessful, that was.

And here is the street painting just before midnight. The guys will work a little bit more on it today, but I am beat and want to prepare for Friday’s adventure, as well as attend the opening of the Angel Academy of Art annual exhibit (in which two of my works were selected). I also want to head over to Charles Cecil’s art history lecture tonight and try to be asleep before midnight.

So, about this competition I have hinted about lately: Nocera Superiore is a cittalina in south of Italy, not too far from the Amalfi Coast. Each May they have a huge street painting festival in which madonnari from all over Italy attend. This year’s theme is “La Vita di San Paolo” (“The Life of Saint Paul”)

I will be taking the train south on Friday morning at an hour in which I rarely enjoy being vertical. Something like 80 artists (per the Web site) will start to draw at 6 p.m. Friday evening. We will draw all night long and we must finish by noon on Saturday or we do not get paid. The festival lasts for days, but people are coming to see the drawings, so we work in the night! I am a little bit nervous about this and chose something relatively easy to do – I hope! My first Rembrandt, a portrait of St. Paul, and I will add a window with bars to represent the second time Paul was imprisoned.

This will be one 24 hours I hope that it does not rain!

For more information on this concorso, check out (in Italian, sorry):

If you like what you read, enjoy the photos, and would like to help support this blog(ger) / artist, click here . . .

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Street Painting in Florence Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Last Wednesday and Thursday I participated in my first group street painting from scratch. We actually had to wash the street first, dry it with newspaper and wait for the sun to do the rest before beginning a new drawing.

Street painters are called madonnari in Italy, a reference to the fact that we often paint images of the Madonna. I madonnari in Florence, Italy, have been working without a tessera (permit) since December 2008. Those who follow this blog may remember that I reported that last year, the Comune di Firenze (City Hall) wanted to have a competition of madonnari to determine who would get a limited number of yearly permits.

Since their ideas would eliminate half of the artists in our organization, we decided as a group to ignore this request and kept working with (and paying for) our permits to try to earn money as street performers. We felt that is was better for the artists and for Florence if the organization fills the spaces because we have more flexibility when things like illness and vacation time come up for individual artists. We can contact each other to have another artist fill our spaces for the day(s) as needed.

Another concern was the standard one: how is a government entity going to judge artists? By someone’s idea of quality; by money (tips) earned; by nationality (i madonnari a firenze is composed of artists worldwide)? Since the art of street painting is learned on the street from other madonnari, how will new artists ever be able to work and learn?

Later the Comune changed the competition idea to a different set of rules, proving how little they understand about how we work. For example, one rule was that one artist could not work more than six hours per day. Normally one artist works from 10 am to midnight, stopping as needed for meals. It takes time to make a drawing and earn enough to pay for the work done. Also, the Comune wanted one artist to start from about 9 am and work until 3 pm. and then wash the street for the next artist to work in the evening. This is horrible because the morning time is for starting the drawing. Most tips are received later in the day. Also, once the street is wet, pastels and chalks cannot be added.

Last November we protested these ideas by paying to have our questions heard. No response in all of these months, other than the one in December: the Comune chose to stop issuing permits. So, under rules of the Italian Constitution, we can work under laws of manifestazione (protest), creating only one drawing per day, although it can be larger than our usual space (10 sq. meters now). We have more than seven artists, so now we work in groups.

I took this image of my colleagues at work on Sandro Botticelli’s “Madonna of the Eucharist”. From left to right are Gabrielle (USA), Johnny (Ireland), and Giovanni (Brasil). Gabrielle created the face of the madonna, Johnny arrived after lunch and began the baby, I chose the male figure on the left, while Giovanni did the background and architecture and later, the frame.

It was a good day, but the next morning, the street cleaners passed over the drawing, as is usual and no big deal really (the streets need to be clean!). They do not use water when they pass over our work, they only lightly brush away debris. I did a horrible job on the face, with the guy looking quite drunk. So, I laughed when I saw the tire marks over his face since he already looked as though he had gotten run over!

Part of my problem was in making blue eyes – since I could not see detail in my reference material. The lighter color emphasized that I had my shapes wrong. I had a lot of shapes wrong. Too exaggerated, as I often do. This next image shows Giovanni demonstrating to me how he would approach the face. And I think it was fun for him to do something other than background. It always amazes me how each artist can make a copy look like their own voice.

These last two images were taken later in the day after I worked on the basket and more details all around were put in.

And now, I am off for my next day of street painting. We will recreate part of Botticelli’s “Primavera” today.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Villa Panico A Different Part of Florence Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

My friend and fellow madonnara Gabrielle invited me to an artist’s party recently. She found affordable studio space here in Florence, Italy, and I was absolutely curious as to how she managed that! Turns out it was not far from where I currently live, so this past Sunday afternoon, I just rode my bike over the railroad tracks into the zona di Campo di Marte and with Gabrielle’s help on the phone, I found the place.

The artists who have taken over this abandoned property have dubbed it the “Villa Panico” in honor of its sordid past. The building used to be a hospital of sorts, but was really a place for the mentally ill to be housed away from others. Gabrielle told me that the hospital became abandoned (MANY years ago) after laws changed and it was considered illegal to treat people with mental illness in this way.

The building is in obvious decay, with some parts being very dangerous. Those have been marked off. If you are familiar with economist Richard Florida’s book “The Creative Class,” you might already have an idea of what is going on here. While these young and rather free-spirited artists are finding inexpensive housing, they are also turning the place around.

They are cleaning up the inside, removing debris, painting walls, and creating “community spaces” such as a kitchen and living rooms. The balcony (with protective bars well above human height) sports potted flowers that I have never even seen before. These artists might look a little rough on the edges, a few with piercings and tattoos galore, but these are no idiots or bums. They take care of one another and share a lot of things. They work hard.

They also have a computer room in which they have gotten themselves Internet access, using discarded computers found in the trash bins around Florence. They have repaired many of these using their intelligence and education. Although the grounds look a bit wild still, there is a garden in the back that looks very promising. While I was there, one young Frenchman was hanging electric spotlights in the trees to brighten up the place at night.

Given enough time, these artists could turn “Villa Panico” into a place that others will eventually deprive them of!

Remember Vida, the model for my pastel and charcoal drawing “Il Dono” (The Gift)? Well, he is Gabrielle’s boyfriend and muse, and we decided to try something new for all of us. As figure artists, we rarely draw en plein aire as many landscape artists do. Gabrielle and I got to understand just how quickly the sun (and shadows) move. We ended up moving our model about three times in the course of less than 2 hours.

For our upcoming street painting festival and competition (which I will write about tomorrow), Gabrielle and I will be among about 15 street painters from Florence creating chalk drawings under the theme of “The Life of Saint Paul.” So Gabrielle wanted to do a figure study of the man after he fell from his horse and was converted to Christianity. These last two images (posted with permission) are from our afternoon session. I was so happy to get to use my little paintbox that John and I created from a metal “slide library” box for my first trip to Italy in 2004.

Happy Birthday, Vicky!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bare Brush Nude Art Calendar Award

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

One of my white-pastel-on-black-paper figure drawings recently won an art award on
"Mauro in White - 2008 June 18" measures 16" x 10" -- and he is in America and available!

While a judge selected a favored nude artwork for each day in May (my day being 25 May), the site says “Winners determined by a statistical combination of the curators and popular votes. Results announced June 1st. Cash prizes.”

So, if you would like to help me win this award, please vote here:
Voting ends “shortly before the end of the month.”

Here is part of the letter from Barebrush:

“Congratulations, you're a winner! Your art has been selected for the barebrush N*des-of-the-Month May 2009 calendar by Sarah Hardesty, artist, assistant director of a well-established Chelsea gallery, and independent curator. The calendar . . .goes 'live' to the public on May 1. The tag line of this calendar is Intense Diversions. Sarah's selections consistently push edges of the genre and format. I think you'll find this calendar very special -- and not just because you're in it!

…If you haven't taken the opportunity to tell your contacts about barebrush, now is the time! They can vote for your calendar art at the website . . . Oversized postcards for the [month of] May are on order from VistaPrint. We had a website problem displaying the April postcards, so we have plenty left, if you’re interested. If you want several from different months, let me know. For each postcard, the calendar is on the front and the list of artists on the reverse.
And here is the answer to the burning question, "So, Ilene, get to the point! When is My Day?"
Drum roll, please: Monday, May 25
Thank you so much for participating. Be on the lookout for the "It's Your Day" message from barebrush and be ready to pass it along to special friends, colleagues and collectors.
Best regards,
Ilene Skeen
ILS Designs, LLC
372 Fifth Avenue, Suite 7D
New York, NY 10018
Tel: 917-806-7992
dedicated to the art of the nude “

This voting is easy and fast. Just click on the link below:

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!