Landscapes from Italy

This past summer I taught a landscape painting course for Boston University as part of their Study Abroad program. It was located on an farm/estate called Capitignano, in the Mugello Valley in Tuscany, a few miles outside of a little provincial town, Borgo San Lorenzo. Capitignano was extremely beautiful, and quite isolated. My students were a great group of 16 girls (not a single guy!), who bore up pretty well despite enduring weeks of unseasonal rain, which put a serious damper (ha) on our landscape painting. It's basically impossible to paint en plein air in the pouring rain. We did a lot of field trips, as there's obviously no shortage of amazing art close at hand, but we were all pretty psyched when the sun finally came out, bringing with it 90 degree days, lots of lizards, and a short two and a half weeks into which we tried to cram what was supposed to have been 6 full weeks of painting. They did their best, and I managed to get a little painting in, too. 

Unripe Apples (6" x 7.5")

This was the first painting I made there. A side note:  fruit trees thrill me. I have made other paintings en plein air of apple trees, and will make more, as I find them to be among the most beautiful and evocative things on earth, and the whole cycle from leaf to flower to fruit the most romantic spin through the seasons. To me, orchard is a word to conjure with.

Capitignano (5" x 7")

The view of Capitignano as you come up the long driveway with the grapevines to your left. My first try at painting buildings. I have to say, I've never been the slightest bit interested in painting buildings, but I'm discovering that many of the things I say I'll never do . . . I eventually try, and find interesting. Along that note, I had also decided some years ago that I hated painting on board, and would never do it again. And yet for practical reasons, because I had to transport all my painting gear from Oregon to Italy without damage, I brought a bunch of small boards to paint on (more durable and packable than stretched canvases), and found them to be amenable. It's a very different experience from painting on the linen I love, but one I can now enjoy. 

Country Road (8" x 10")

Painted between 8am and noon, although the sweet time for those long blue shadows was the hour between 10 and 11. Painting alone in the remote Italian countryside was a funny experience. Periodically people would drive by, and they would often stop, get out and come look at my painting & talk to me. Italians have less sense of personal space than Americans, and often would come straight up to me and stick their faces right into my easel. One guy rapped on the back of the panel I was working on, as though to test its soundness. Luckily, it was duct-taped to the easel so it couldn't blow off. (Duct tape is a great friend to landscape painters in the field.) Once I had a conversation about the American presidential election with two older gentlemen (they started it). He asked me who I was supporting, and I said proudly, "Obama." He was dubious, because he didn't think Americans would elect a black man president; he really wanted the Republicans out of the white house, and he thought Hillary would have been a safer ticket (I'm pretty sure this is what he was saying). I tried to assure him that Americans weren't that racist, but I could tell he wasn't buying it. It was a funny conversation to be having in broken Italian on a dirt road, surrounded by hale bales and sheep. And as I remember it now, biting my nails and spending way too much time surfing political blogs, waiting and praying for the election to just be over already, for Obama to have won and McCain/Palin to go away, I sure hope that I was right.

Telephone Wires (5" x 7")

I got really interested in the telephone wires here, how they carved up the sky into little chunks while receding into the distance. Again, not a subject I ever thought I'd be interested in but which I ended up loving.

Pool Vista (6" x 6")

This was a one hit painting. I meant to go back into the tree to modulate the green, but never did. The pool there was fabulous: constructed right at the top of the hill, so that the far side of it had a 10 foot drop down to a slope covered with olive trees. Because the drop was so severe, you didn't see anything in the near distance beyond the pool but miles of empty air and the far vista of the opposing hills, and then even farther away, the valley floor with Borgo San Lorenzo looking like toy houses, and farther still, the pale violet hills behind Borgo, which you see in this painting.

Parasol Pines (10" x 8")

The back view of the great house at Capitignano, which apparently has bits dating back to the 12th century, and one of the outbuildings, the Stalla, where students lived, and which was once indeed a stall for animals.

I never finished this to my satisfaction, as I ran out of time, unfortunately. But I did love those fabulous umbrella shaped pine trees. And the dark cypresses were marvellous vertical punctuation throughout the landscape. One of those things that's both a visual cliche when one thinks of Tuscany, and also just true.