Swimming and Painting

There are real affinities between swimming and painting. The first time I considered this in depth was while I was working on a series of paintings about water. These involved the use of an emulsion of castor oil with raw pigments emerged and lodged into the various levels. The pigment, once sifted into the liquid, behaved according to its individual properties of dispersal. It was difficult to control or predict.
The medium had the consistency and color of honey. However its surface oxidised quickly, forming a rubbery skin over the still liquid interior, creating capillaries of liquid oil where pigments moved and merged into colourful patterns. Elements of suspended color, which at a distance took on novel hues and shapes, were events.

La Nuotatrice - detail, 1987, 250 x 185 cm.

As I go for one of the last swims in the sea – a beautiful long swim under an October sun – I think of the portrait of a self then considerably younger than the one swimming along the Amalfi coast today. Creating the painting meant responding to chance with various rhythmic patterns, gliding through time with the purposeful movement of a swimmer.

Dedicated to Virginia

My Hair and My Floor

Roman Mosaic Floor

Whenever the sheep are near my studio, I have a fly problem. It’s even worse on days before a storm. They seem at home in my studio – once the hay barn – but their buzzing and occasional stings are annoying. Since I like to keep my door open, the best solution seems a fly swatter and – now – some sticky flypaper you unwind and hang.

I forgot about the flypaper the other day and when I leaned over to toss out a piece of paper it got completely stuck in my hair. I tried oil, detergent, shampoo, hot water – you name it – but in the end I had to intervene with scissors. The next day I went to Mario’s – a famous hairdresser in Florence -  to have him correct my cut. He looked me over and said “ I bet I know where you got that haircut!”  “Where?” I asked, surprised. He answered immediately, “Paris!”

Along the same line – and after a long rainy winter – I was disappointed to see that a floor I had painted pink a while ago had started to peel from the unusual moisture of the earth below it. The idea of completely repainting it over-whelmed me so I decided to paint over just the damaged spots making details much like some of the Roman mosaic floors where there are debris and mice and fruit. But it didn’t look right so instead I painted areas of broken crockery that somehow looked more natural. As if  someone had tripped over a cat and broken a number of plates. Over-all, it works and it’s a reminder that creativity requires limits, chance and error as much as skill…

Frances' floor 2014 detail

Six legs in clay for a table

Six Legs

Six legs - Clay models

I was just sorting out images and trying to keep up with new resolutions concerning the formation of an archive – one I hoped would save me the excessive time it takes to find documentary evidence of my work – when I came upon a folder tucked away with several images of objects whose existence never was fully realised. It is called “Legs” and contains pictures of a long series of supiports for furniture quickly modelled in the same state of mind and hand used over the history of table-using mankind. They are formed by pinching the clay (or warm wax), stabbing it with a spoon or rolling it to flatten the details.

Two thoughts come to mind. One has to do with the debris (sketches, models, designs, photographs) buried under any finished work of Art…never to see the light of day unless a shimmer catches the attention while looking for something else. (Having an iPhone always at hand means that some evidence of these fragments is at least conceivable however chaotic their distribution.)  The second thought – and one I find comforting – is that the lost work is a necessary precedent for what follows. And it seems to me, although this may be defensive reasoning while I struggle over my archive, that there is something salutary in coming across these while I am meandering through my hard drive.

This may be because I am no longer attached to the work. I can discover it with the same kind of pleasure and even affection I feel while walking with Frankie, my dog, while I stop to pick up a porcupine quill.

Boy, Boar, Bird

Boy, Boar, Bird, bronze, 2014

Inauguration of the sculpture “Boy, Boar, Bird” at the Bosco della Ragnaia, San Giovanni D’Asso, Siena.

This work in bronze, a variation of a similar piece made for the city of Hertoganbosch, Netherlands,  relates to the center panel of a triptych called “The Garden of Earthly Desire” by Hieronymous Bosch.

In an ideal world, man, animal and nature are united in a kind of procession or celebration. That celebration is life.

The sculpture is located in the Bosco at the lowest part of the newly planted area of the park. The Woods are opened daily until sunset.

Hieronymus Bosch; The Garden of Earthly Delights, Prado

Den Bosch Boy

Here is a sculpture for a wonderful setting at Den Bosch, the town that gave the name to one of the most fascinating painters of the Dutch Renaissance, Hieronymus Bosch. The figure recalls one detail in the central panel of his triptych, the Garden of Earthly Desire, the part where a circular procession of men ride a variety of animals, as if on a merry-go-round. Here, at loose in the circular garden of Den Croon, a new building by the Florentine architect, Adolfo Natalini, a she-boar carries a boy while a heron raises him upwards.

The importance of animals in Bosch’s paintings and their interaction with man have to do with a very special way of looking at the world. It brings to mind some issues concerning the role of animals in the world today. The primatologist, Frans De Waal, from the same town as Bosch, has written about empathy and its evolution in animals. (A good book on the theme is “Primates and Philosophers” by Frans De Waal).

However, the subject of this small work can be narrowed down to… joy.

Den Bosch Boy, cm.94x75x25, Bronze, 2012

Crete Senesi Table

Crete Senesi (table) cm. 100x30x35, bronze 2011

Crete Senesi (table) cm. 100x30x35, bronze 2011

A small bronze table dedicated to a new archeological site in the Crete Senesi, just outside San Giovanni d’Asso tells its own story about what is going on underground. Above ground, a tree is coming to life in time for Easter, housing beneath her a family of foxes.
You are invited to see this sculpture at Frilli Gallery in Florence on Via dei Fossi 26r!

Faun table

Faun Table study in clay 90cm.x 140cm. x35 cm.

Here is a table I made commissioned by a friend who lives in the Crete Senese.
The fundamental idea of project was to make an object that could have a role in every day life that would show individuality, warmth and affection. We decided on bronze because it is a medium, which has a very long life and also represents a tie to ancient art found in this territory.

Etruscan settlers are always treated as mysterious figures but one thing about them we definitely know from the artifacts found in Etruria is that they had a warm, witty and sensual connection to the rituals of daily life. Pots, candelabra, bowls, mirrors, furniture are decorated with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures in playful narratives.

There are five hares distributed on the table because they are attributes of Pan. They have to do with fertility (of imagination), of the senses, of individuals caught up in the dance of nature. They also may represent the eager willingness of five diverse individuals to converge in delight and lighthearted pleasure. (I imagined a child searching for the hares and having trouble finding the last one hidden in the back where he listens from his burrow.)

The structure of the table, made with the hollow canes used since Etruscan times for venting during a process of lost wax, have been merged using bees’ wax and the joints reflect the finger position at the time of putting it together – before fusion in bronze. I think this is the warmest sign that can exist in sculpture, that is the print of a hand. It has to do with time, foreseeing by thousands of years the moment in photography when light from one millisecond is captured permanently on a silver surface so that it becomes the absolute authentication of a moment of light. In this case, a moment of touch.

It is hard to tell if the nymph is listening to the faun in a dream or if she is awake. This is not too different from how we feel about music or art when we are moved by it. However, the music of the faun requires a listener in order for it to exist – and it may not be important whether she is awake or dreaming.

I think for the table to be complete it requires a carafe of wine and a few fluted glasses slightly wobbling on the meadow of its surface.

The Art of Collecting

Dwarf collection

Dwarf collection

Artists have a natural affinity for collectors. This isn’t just for obvious reasons, that the collector plays an essential role in getting the work of art out of the studio where it can take on a life of its own. There is something even more basic that the two have in common. The artist is a spontaneous collector; in his everyday life he constantly accumulates and arranges things that for some particular reason resonate for him.

By “collector”, I don’t mean someone who merely amasses a great number of objects within a specific category.  I know there are so-called collectors who, through various agents are able to fill entire warehouses with valuable pieces.  There are men and women (but mostly men) who seek to increase their worth, either financially or socially, by purchasing works of art whose futures look bright in the art market.  In a few years they will be able to make a profit.

The true collector has a different sense of time. He is interested in a continued present tense. His collection is defined by what he has been able to put together of a diffuse past. He is a protagonist; his motivations have more to do with the process of discovering a piece and the eventual steps in acquisition or accumulation than investment concerns.

Red Bird and book

Spontaneous collection

The story of discovering  and finally possessing something becomes an important part of the piece’s identity. The collector’s insight can be exciting, his ability to see curious similarities between ideas and objects adds new meaning, new directions to explore. This kind of collector is a poet. His relationship to everyday life is intense and direct. From earliest childhood he (or she) has developed the habit of picking up things and putting them in his pocket.

Gathering certain items is away to materialize memory The basic value of an object derives from how it fits into the collector’s personal system of reference, his memory and his associations. In the end, the true collection is, in itself, a work of art.   Its character is closely entwined with the personality of its creator -  his consciousness, his decisions, his ordering of limited sets, repetitions and an (often imagined) system of representation in space.

Bathroom collection

Bathroom collection

Linus Pauling said that you aren’t going to have good ideas unless you start with a lot of ideas and some sort of principal of selection. What results from this reordering may be a fresh narrative for the past, an insight into the story of art as a fertile territory. What the collector knows better than the art specialist, historian, critic, is that a written version is only part of the account. A rich and vibrant story can be told by the retrieved objects themselves.

In memory of Giovanni


Burn field, 45x30 cm., ink wash, 1976

Burn field, 45x30 cm., ink wash, 1976

Recently I have been sorting out my notebooks. The earliest of these date to childhood when my mother gave us empty notebooks – actually the agendas given at Christmas by Insurance companies and banks – to draw in and, every now and then, an enormous book of expired wall paper samples donated to her by a local home decorator’s shop.

Arno Fall, 45x35cm., pastel, 1990

Arno Fall, 45x35cm., pastel, 1990

These latter volumes were at least 50 cm. wide and you had the choice of the cream colored back side of each page where only a serial number disturbed the space or the pattered front side. Here, you could use larger crayons, pastels or tempera while we usually used pencils or pens in the smaller books.

Tommaso, 13x20 cm, ink, 2005

Tommaso, 13x20 cm, ink, 1995

The only order to our work was chronological, a date on the page at the lower right hand corner. Everything else about the drawings was anarchic. There was no real subject or clear theme. Or, if there were, it had to do with the mysterious relationship that objects and places have to you before functional values become part of the equation, the way you renew your existence.

Yates Violin, 13x20 cm., ink, 1982

Yates Violin, 13x20 cm., ink, 1982

There was a child went forth every day;

And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;

And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain

part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

(Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass)

White Street, 45x32cm., pastel, 2002

White Street, 45x32cm., pastel, 2002

An artist’s sketchbook has a more immediate connection to his life than is true of work prepared for exhibition.  In its purest state its contents are like children’s drawings, tied to existential factors that have little to do with style, and even less with intention or communication directed to the outside world.

Monica, 24x16cm., ink, 1996

Monica, 24x16cm., ink, 1996

There is a kind of paradox here because the value of drawings like this lies in their very lack of material worth or importance. Even a discussion of quality is irrelevant here. A sketchbook may be – ought to be – chaotic in theme and style because whatever else it may seem to be about, the main subject is the going forth every day of its author.

Dolci di Erice, 25x16cm., water color, 1996

Dolci di Erice, 25x16cm., water color, 1996

In the Studio

In the Studio

My studio

My studio

I am going to clear out my studio today. I promise. It has just started raining, a gentle spring shower that will keep me in and undistracted by what is going on in the garden. I have just finished a painting or think I have finished it…but the total disorder that only now disturbs me – as if I were a different person than the one who left the floor strewn with rags, dripped wax all over the place, scattered capless tubes of pigment, and left books open face down – is a distraction that won’t let me see what my efforts look like. I move back, the same way I did while I was working a few minutes ago, but now it is even harder to see.

Studio door

Studio door

Part of the problem is the process I use. Wax is melted in a double boiler used by restaurants for preparing pasta and contained in stainless steel pots that I alternate while painting. Everything takes place very quickly before the wax hardens. I use wooden panels and a good part of my painting takes place on the floor. When I see an image appear, I prop the painting on an easel. That way I can move freely away to see if it looks right from a distance or move very close to see if it has a the surface qualities I like. Very often, while I am waiting for the wax to heat, I pick up a something to read or start modeling a figure or working on a drawing, but everything is dropped once the wax is ready.

Sun on my desk in the studio

Sun on my desk in the studio

This makes me think. The process an artist uses is by no means a matter of efficiency or technical ability alone. Not even both factors together would explain what goes on in the studio, which always remains somewhat unpenetrable, and at the same time uniquely itself. For example, there are the movements required for stepping over instead of into the painting, the music that supports this dance, the wax harvested from the bees in the garden, the rare pigment found in a restorer’s shop in Rome. The friends you were thinking of while you were working.

Studio wall, sinkAnd this last thought. In the real world you live in a specific place. But in your studio you can inhabit – you must inhabit – many different worlds, invoke a variety of companions without regard for time or distance. While this might not be the point in painting, it must be at least one of the reasons people make art. Not long ago I stood in front of a work of mine I hadn’t seen for twenty years and there they were: some fragments of Scarlatti played by Glen Gould, a meeting with a son’s teacher, an abandoned kitten, and some lines by Wallace Stevens:

Soldier, there is a war between the mind

And sky, between thought and day and night. It is

For that the poet is always in the sun,

Patches the moon together in his room

to his Virgilian cadences, up down,

Up down. It is a war that never ends.

(Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction; Cummington Press, 1942).

Now while I try to create order in the disparate objects distributed over every horizontal plane, a new source of confusion invades the space. Outside, the sun has just emerged through a hole in the dark grey sky.  Inside, rays of light penetrate the darkness making a golden mosaic of everything and, into this new opus, my painting has completely disappeared.

Frankie in studio

Frankie in studio