… my residency lockdown

There is so much to be grateful for my experiences in Florence. What started out to be a three month self-residency turned into a five month stay with a little help from the Corona Virus. During my time there I was well aware that I was living through an important part of history, not only for the world, but for myself as well. Italy was the first European country to experience the wrath of COVID 19. A few weeks into my residency all of Florence was on lockdown. Just one day before the official lockdown orders, news of the virus had spread. The streets were eerily quiet with the exception of ambulances and first responders. I’ve never seen or experienced the Duomo in all it’s glory without the usual mass of tourists. This was truly historical.

Fortunately, the Villa Il Palmerino where I was staying was a Florentine paradise. Once owned by British author Vernon Lee, this renaissance villa was lush with olive groves, grape vines and other vegetation that had been groomed since Medieval times.  With several buildings spread throughout the property, every morning  I had the pleasure of a long walk through the gardens  to my studio. Over 5 months it was incredible to watch the change of seasons is such in such a nature rich environment. It was like being locked away in a Italian paradise and I couldn’t have asked for more.

Here is just a glimpse into the world of Palmerino.

During this time of lockdown, I had no choice but to do my work. There were no museums to visit, no restaurants to explore, no plaza hopping, just the opportunity to confront myself and the work. Indeed this was a significant time.

Before I set out on the residency I spent some time thinking and preparing for a direction I wanted to explore, the use of texture and paint to convey the duality of the human condition. I wasn’t sure what this was supposed to look like, but I knew I had a fascination with texture and materials. My hope was to find success learning how to incorporate them successfully into my work. I worked almost every day and often came home disappointed. I was trying to do something completely new and I had no examples to follow. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was searching for but I recognized that I felt trapped in my old ways of thinking.

  • Why does my process have to be so complicated?
  • Nothing is working
  • My visual interpretation doesn’t align with my intentions
  • Why can’t I find my way?
  • I’m such a failure
  • I will have nothing to show for this residency
  • Using these materials is just too hard and strange

It was quite difficult to be working day after day without any positive results. Eventually I abandoned my focus on trying to break into something new. I decided on a new set of goals.

  • Attempt two larger two (companion) pieces – (32″ x 48″)
  • Work on better integrating the fabric and materials into the piece
  • Be still and listen to myself and my intuition
  • Use texture as one of the formal elements of design, just like color, shape, line etc.

Once I resolved to head in this direction, I felt some of the pressure was released and I could work with less anxiety and expectations.

I decided to use a limited palette with this group of work so the texture could have more voice. It was suggested to me by Mark Eanes to visit the color palettes of Giorgio Morandi for inspiration. It was a good approach and it got me moving. Not every piece I finished was what I wanted it to be, but I knew I was learning. Every mis-step was a win in getting closer to my intention.

One of the biggest shifts in my thinking came while working on the two big companion pieces, “Beauty” and “The Beast.”  “The Beast” began as an expression about my feelings and the feelings of others around me regarding the virus. It was fully under control and I had to put my emotions into the work. Once I could unleash all of the fear, anger and unrest, I realized that in the end I wanted the feeling of victory over the virus.  This resulted in my moving between a state of chaos and control. It was a dialogue back and forth, over and over, until I reached a balance between the two. It was great to not only be able to move within this back and forth mindset, but to be aware of it while it was happening. The painting “Beauty” followed the same process, my desire to project the idea that beauty is not always perfection, but in fact there is beauty in imperfection.

Here are the two pieces I considered as a breakthrough for me:

I guess I won’t know the real impact of my time spent in Palmerino until I’m back home and working in my own studio. I have heard it said many times that in order to improve your art, you just have to do the work, there are no shortcuts. In this respect I can honestly say that this residency provided me with the time and attention to do the work. I’m so grateful to have this time to not only make art, but to learn more about myself. It was a historic period in time for Italy and especially for me.

Here is a little slideshow of all of the work that was completed at my stay at Palmerino:

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