At Death’s Door in Assisi

DSCN7333The phrase “at death’s door” is synonymous with being seriously ill. When someone is looking really under the weather you’ll often hear, “Oh! he’s at death’s door”. While the meaning is quite obvious, where exactly is this deadly door.

Bad luck

DSCN7329So! during the middle ages and beyond it was considered bad luck to take the corpse from a house using the main entrance. Seriously ill people or the recently departed were laid out in the front parlour. From here, there was a smaller door next to the front door that led into the street. It was through this which the dead person in their coffin could be passed.

Death’s door

These doors of the dead are easy to recognise as they are only half doors and were built with a stone ledge to support the coffin as it was DSCN7343removed from the house. The body could be balanced here while everything was made ready for their last journey.

Ghostly image

I’ve been walking around the many medieval cities of Italy, and most recently, during my research for Assisi. As you explore the town you can make out the ghostly remains of these bricked up doors in the walls of the houses.

Others have been put to use and turned into shop display windows or now form entrances to another part of the building. Looking around I do wonder how many of the people using these entrances or pricing up trinkets realise that daily they pass through death’s door.

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Supersized Assisi

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Sketch of Supersized Assisi

I have been commissioned to paint a supersized version of Assisi. Once framed the picture will measure around 1300 cm x 900 cm.

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A Child’s view

The commission is for a young lady who bears the name of this wonderful city. The intention is to create a painting full of detail with alleyways, gateways, buildings and wooded hideaways where a child can let loose their imagination and make up tales of wonder and mystery.

Assisi’s landscape

Assisi will feature prominently in the centre with vineyards and olive groves filling the foreground. This is pretty much in keeping with the landscape around the town. Field boundaries, copses of trees and little isolated farmhouses will lead up to the start of the town with its gates and walls.

IMG_20180524_0003Assisi background

On the left, sitting low to the horizon, will be the Basilica of San Francesco. The upper slopes of Mount Subasio will then fade off on the right hand side. The sky will be a bright, sunburst, a mixture of yellow, orange, pinks, blue and lilacs perfect for this setting.

I’d also like to fill the picture with secret letters, numbers and images to fire a young person’s imagination and get her to look deeper into the painting. We’ll see how this idea pans out though.

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Towers, steeples and archways

The size of the watercolour will allow plenty of space to paint a fantastic, magical landscape where kids can have fun adventures. The hope is that people can return to it time and time again and discover new things hidden within the picture.

With the paper successfully stretched it’s time to get painting Assisi in all it’s magnificent detail.

Not so Naif Art

One of the ongoing problems I have with exhibiting in public is the number of people who comment by saying “Oh! it’s naive work”. This is frustrating as they often have no idea what they are talking about and are missing the deliberate, subtle games the works play.

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Rousseau – Classic Naive Art

Naive art

So for those of you who profess to be Naive Art experts, here is a lesson on the established rules of Naif Art  and why my work defies or subverts these conventions.

Naïve art is simple, unaffected and unsophisticated – usually specifically refers to art made by artists who have had no formal training in an art school or academy“(taken from the Tate Gallery website).

The last part of the statement is the easiest to dismiss as I spent four years at art college and have a honours degree in the subject. Hardly a case of no formal training. I have studied, researched and practised the art of perspective, colour theory and composition since the age of five and have a complex understanding of the subject.

Naïve art is characterised by childlike simplicity of execution and vision.

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Simone Martini town

As I live on the Umbrian/ Tuscan border in Italy I am surrounded by examples of High Byzantine, Gothic International and Early Renaissance works. These periods are characterised by a rediscovery of realism, perspective and naturalistic painting.

When depicting buildings, vegetation and landscapes the likes of Giotto, Martini and the Lorenzetti brothers played around in a simplistic way. Using these artists as inspiration my work demonstrates the same principles of draftsmanship in my renderings of the Italian countryside.

 

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Winfield – Gubbio

Breaking art rules

This requires a good knowledge of oblique projection, aerial perspective and an ability to interpret the Medieval mindset and style. You need to practice in order to look at a modern scene and visualise it as it would have been seen 700 years ago.

As a one-eyed and colour blind artist I naturally see things from a particular viewpoint. My world is flattened out, like a postcard and has colours that are incredibly muted. Therefore, I explore different ways of deliberately painting three dimensions in flat images. I choose to ignore linear perspective but give depth through overlap, size difference, aerial perspective and tonality.

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Cannan – San Gimignano

Colour blind art

The tenants of Naive art state that colours are unrefined. Whilst my paintings are incredibly bright there is a logic to be had here. Now people with colour vision deficiency (CVD) have certain colours “washed out” from their vision. Knowing this and trying to give CVD viewers a better experience I deliberately use luminous hues and occasionally confuse colours.

For us, red/green, orange/green, pink/grey and the mystical purple are all colours we commonly mix up and we have to take great care when painting with them. Luckily they write the names of the colours on the tubes. Although, if I see a pink sky, why should I paint it grey just because that is the supposed colour.

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Winfield – Assisi

Colourful art

Despite what you might think of colour deficiency we do have some benefits and the sky, especially dawn, dusk and storm clouds give us wonderful experiences. The paintings often reproduce the types of dramatic skies I see with their pinks, purples and pale oranges. Don’t ask us about the two colour rainbow though, very lame, we’re not impressed with them.

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Winfield – IKEA Library

Behind the painting

The  composition uses the principles of golden mean proportions, where ratios and position are carefully calculated to give pleasing relationships. Hey! If it’s good enough for Mother Nature and Vermeer, it’s okay with me.

There are strong diagonals and the vanishing points are all placed so as to draw the eye to particular points. If you divide the pictures up into thirds or fifths you’ll see that certain landmarks and features are placed at these junctures.

If these works should be called anything then Gothic Nouveau, Bosso Nova Byzantine or Faux Early Renaissance would be more appropriate. However, it would be naive to think of them purely as Naif Art.

Artisti al Monte 2018

Artisti2018 (2)May 26th and 27th saw Artisti al Monte in full swing this year. It was great to join in and be given the opportunity to show off some new watercolours from the last 12 months.

Art in the community

It’s a time when the artistic community, around the village of Monte Santa Maria Tiberina, come together to raise money for the local infant school. This year there were 24 artists, craftspeople and artisans who, at various venues, put on displays for the public and then encouraged the public to come along and have a look.

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Art helping locally

I joined Daniele at Claudio and Patrizia’s house at Lama Vecchia in the hills above Marcignano.  It’s a beautiful, tranquil location with Claudio and Patrizia’s works scattered around the grounds.

Throughout the two days a good number of people made their way up into the hills in the shadow of Monte to see our works. Along with the artworks, Patrizia had layed on a delicious spread of cakes, tarts and drinks for our guests.

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Idyllic day

The weather was gorgeous, a warm sunny Saturday and a cooler, cloudy and somewhat humid Sunday. Sat in the shade of the trees meant this was the perfect spot to spend the weekend.

The peace between visitors gave me a chance to sketch, simple drawings of the things in my line of sight. A tree, bird box, large wine bottles.

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Great views, lovely people

Lama Vecchia is high up in the hills, on a narrow, white road. Not inaccessible but people had to make an effort to see us. However, they were rewarded with breathtaking views once they arrived.

There was no WiFi signal, no internet and no phone calls, so it was an undisturbed afternoon of sketching, eating and talking to people. What more could you want on a sunny day in central Italy?

A perfect weekend.

 

Read about last years event here.

Painting the Ponte Rialto, Venice

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Ponte Rialto, Venezia – watercolour & ink. 60cm x 40cm (For Sale)

Painting in Venice

The next set of paintings sees a trip to northern Italy, to the watery city of Venice. This is a wonderful city full of magic and wonder. There are no cars on the islands and all transport is done on either the vaporetti and gondolas or you can take a traghetto across the Grand Canal and of course you can travel along the canals by foot.

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Rialto Bridge, Venice

The first painting, in the set, is the famous Ponte Rialto, which has stood since 1591. A popular attraction with visitors it spans the 48 metres of the Grand Canal and has shops built into the bridge. One of only four such bridges in the world today.

Watercolor on the Grand Canal

This picture uses three different view points, from the centre of the Grand Canal, looking directly at the bridge, and on either bank to achieve the flat perspective. The feeling of depth is created by over lapping the buildings and piers as well as diminishing object size with difference.

The painting makes use of aerial perspective and dark shadow to give added depth. The idea is to show how a completely flat painting can still exhibit three dimensions and create a visual puzzle for the viewer.

Gubbio – The Saint, The Wolf and a Race

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Gubbio – The Saint, The Wolf and a Race, watercolor and ink. 36 cm x 68 cm (For Sale)

Gubbio is a fascinating town in Umbria, said to be one of Noah’s first twelve cities, it is also the place where St Francis spoke to a wolf, who was terrorising the residents. Each May there is a famous mountain race where three teams carry 25 foot totems to the basilica above.

Gubbio landmarks

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Ceri dei Gubbio

The main landmarks around Gubbio are depicted including the ancient Roman amphitheater, the churches of saints Francesco, Ubaldo and Pietro as well as the magnificent Palazzo dei Consoli.

The painting is a sister to the one of Assisi with the sky following from one to the other. It is painted with a lack of linear perspective as a way of exploring differing ways of depicting depth.

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Palazzo dei Consoli

The style is a modern interpretation of the Medieval Gothic work of such artists as Giotto and Martini who were both active in this region over 700 years ago. Great examples of their works are shown in Assisi.

Medieval pallet

The painting employs a pallet typical of the era. With earthy tones and the occasional splash of colour thrown in. Ultramarine was especially reserved for depictions of the Madonna and so a cerulean blue is used instead for the sky.

The greens are mainly viridian, sap and terra verde with titanium and Chinese whites providing the highlights. As always vermilion is used for the bright red roof tiles.

Painting Gubbio – St Francis and the Wolf

Town in Umbria, Italy

Gubbio progress

Gubbio was one of the first 12 cities created, by Noah, after the biblical flood. It is also where St Francis talked a wolf out of terrorising the residents. The painting shows the main landmarks and obvious points of reference around the town.

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Cable car view of Gubbio

Perched on the mountain top is the Monastery of St Ubaldo that can be reached by cable car. It is here that they light the famous giant Christmas tree each year. In the foreground is the ancient Roman amphitheater, which is still in use today, along with the Palazzo dei Consoli and the churches of St Francis and St Peter.

Gubbio’s streets

Halfway up the hillside the remains of the town’s defenses poke out of the olive groves and scrub, with the crumbling towers and debris clearly visible as you approach the town. Gubbio itself is a maze of narrow cobbled streets and interesting buildings, fountains, piazzas and shops.

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Giotto’s trees in Assisi

At present the painting starts to capture the grey and tan stonework that have been used in the town’s construction. These are played off against the trees and bushes that are scattered around Gubbio’s streets.

Giotto trees

The large trees pay homage to Giotto di Bondone, who worked around Umbria 900 years ago and a collection of his frescoes can be seen in Assisi.

A little more work and we’re there.