Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Come profondo il mare: a painting holiday in Orvieto, written by David Paskett

Come profondo il mare - how deep the sea - it sounds better in Italian!
 
'Towards San Giovenale' by David Paskett
 
 
This song has been rattling through my head and I hear this week, in Italy, that it's composer Lucio Dalla, known in the UK for his song, Caruso, died recently. I am chewing over variations on his theme - how crisp the pizza, how delectable the gelato, how wet the acquerello, how dark the clouds?!
 
During our week in and around Orvieto, it was a perfect opportunity for the Authentic Adventures watercolour group to experience the technique of painting 'wet into wet'. However, rain only 'stopped play' on a few occasions and, un-phased by the weather, my merry band of thirteen artists worked under umbrellas and market awnings, sheltered in loggias or retreated to museums, churches and wooded thickets until the sun reappeared. One such occasion was the morning of market day, ear marked for some concerted drawing on the street. I have an image of Primrose dragging a plastic fruit crate through the puddles to seat herself in the shelter of an archway. That lunchtime we retreated to the hotel for some mono printing while others sat in the elegant Baroque Church of San Agostino converted into a sculpture court to house rows of dynamic white market 17th century statuary which became our subject matter for the afternoon, then shared a visit to admire the Signorelli frescoes in the cathedral.
 
 
 
The long road rising up to and in the Piazza del Popolo was the setting on the weekend of our arrival for the Palombella ceremonial pageant. Peter Falconer and I ran in front photographing the trumpeters, bowmen and drummers and flags carriers to the piazza where we all watched ceremonial displays, flag tossing and crossbowmanship until the sun went below the tiled roof tops. The streets were decorated with flowers and banners throughout our stay with 'infiorata' displays in the smaller piazzas.
 
Ricardo and I had toured the surrounding countryside in the previous days to find times of day when the magnificent vistas from surrounding hills back towards Orvieto, dominated by towers and the commanding Duomo, could be viewed to full advantage - the sort of views that medieval travellers and pilgrims would have had on their arrival.
 


 
The jagged Rocco Ripensa, a rock rising our of the rolling fields, was such a location on our first day out and must have once provided an ideal lookout and safe hiding place. I imagined Simone Martini or Bellini's Saint John The Baptist sitting by the caves beneath. A 14th or 15th century painter might have seen these incongruous rocks as a wilderness setting in contrast to the undulating fileds and hill towns that pepper the Umbrian landscape. One such small hill town, Civita di Bagnoregio, provided a unique viewing point at one end of a pathway that rose like a viaduct up to the open gateway of buildings stacked above us like an island in a wooded crater. As the sky darkened through the morning it loomed dramatically, like a vision from Gormenghast pointing, on our behalf, accusingly at the approaching rain clouds.
 
In the evenings, as part of our sharing of the days paintings, we looked at some images of Renaissance painters landscape backdrops from Biblical scenes. A strong front of rigorous drawing on the second day, interspersed with patches of sensitive painting, rocketed some on to a new level of image making, which influenced the weeks work and resulted in a fine end of week exhibition.
 
Inspired by the, characteristically Italian, gesticulating hands in the remarkable Signorelli frescoes decorating the Bracci Chapel in the Duomo, I offered a small reward for the most expressive hand drawing. The prize, presented by Simona, our host at the Grand Italia Hotel, was a ceramic fridge magnet of a red vespa - a reminder of my phrase of the week comparing the drawing process to Mohammed Ali's boxing bon mots, "move like a vespa (wasp) and sting like an ape (bee)"
 
Judy in Todi
 
 
The sun shone brightly on the last day for an excursion to Todi when the painters wasted little time in getting started on scenes around the flower stalls gathered in the Piazza at the foot of the Duomo steps. Garibaldi fiercely directing yellow fiats from his plinth into the parking lots delineated in a gentle shade of blue!
 

Ricardo & yellow Fiat
The Todi backdrop of creams, coffees, mustards, and pale foody colours of the architecture contrasted with the darker mushrooms of the Orvieto stone that turns from a Sickert-like range to ochres and oranges when the slanting sun of morning and evening lit up the buildings. The brightly coloured mosaics, statuary and carved stonework on the cathedral façade looked amazing at any time, whatever the weather and demanded ones attention. Before retiring to bed each day, I would stroll down and sit in front of it for a while, almost expecting it to start moving like a medieval drive in movie!
 
For my own part, my free day saw me converting drawing across table tops and fiats to the palazzo beyond into a setting for an annunciations based on Signorelli reproduction that I happened to have in my pocket. I also continued to draw into with it with raw umber, and white paint, chalk and pencil on folded and distressed Chinese paper, started as a demonstration copy of Mary surrounded by angelic putiti. The original, hanging among baroque sculptures, was the cartoon for a series of lost frescoes, drawn on to thin canvas with chalks. My annunciation was made up of pieces of paper stuck together as it grew beyond the edges of my drawing board, and I have an idea that it might end up with the ageing distressed look of a preparatory fresco sketch - we'll see! Watch this space for the Fiatitudes of Pasketti.
 
 
Hugh astounded us throughout the trip with his bold and lyrical trees. Linda came along to assist Ricardo and Cristiano with driving as we were sharing the holiday with a group of walkers.
 
David Paskett will be tutoring  painting holidays in 2014 - dates and locations to be confirmed. Be the first to hear about his forthcoming, and incredibly popular trips, by signing up to our monthly newsletter and joining us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/authenticadventuresholidays

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