Monthly Archives: February 2015

Red Green Intolerance in Tuscany

Tuscan landscape

Montecucco Tuscany
Watercolour and ink, 35 cm x 70 cm (Sold)

Paul and myself spent New Year in Tuscany discussing the relative merits of being red/green intolerant. We both have a red green dietary deficiency where these two colours are concerned and it was fun to talk over our relative experiences together. Tuscan sunsetTherefore this painting has several inconsistencies in his honour and serves as a celebration of all things colourfully alternative. Colour blindness isn’t something to worry about (unless you’re a pilot or electrician) but something to be celebrated and enjoyed. It’s just a different way of looking at the world. Or that’s my life long take on the issue. So this painting features a tree full of invisible, red berries, purple and pink clouds and an orange grassy hillside. All par for the course in the colour blind person’s daily routine. Who says we see the world through a mute palette?

Giotto and St Francis

Giotto’s Oak Tree

Paul is a tree surgeon, therefore it features many different styles of foliage and pays homage to the trees of Giotto and Gozzoli as found in their own representations of the landscape. What I loved most about this landscape was the gorgeous hill top villages scattered across the horizon. Castello Verdano, Amiata, Castelnuovo and Montenero are all clearly visible. Tuscany too, with its varied produce, fields of olive groves, orchards of fruit trees and endless vineyards. The landscape is a patchwork of crops.

Gozzoli painting

Gozzoli’s Procession

The little farmhouse at Montecucco most definitely has a wonderful view, set in peaceful, luscious surroundings.  If any Renaissance artists found themselves in the area today I’m sure it hasn’t changed that much over the centuries. Check it out for yourself.

Which Artists Made it to the Cinema?;

With the release over the last twelve months of two films revealing the lives of artists and the 2015 Oscars ceremony just around the corner, I thought it might be fun to look into artists who have previously attracted the attentions of the silver screen.

Artists of the Year

JMW Turner film Poster

Mr Turner 2014

In 2014 we saw “Mr Turner” and “Big Eyes” hitting our cinemas with both receiving nominations and awards. Timothy Spall plays the bizarre life of J.M.W. Turner, the famous eccentric landscape painter. While the other film “Big Eyes” tells the tale of Margaret Keane, who, during the 1960s, created a series of doe-eye images of children, women and animals.

There are some obvious films that everyone will have heard of on this list. Such as “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” a fictional tale about the work and life of Johannes Vermeer. “The Agony and the Ecstasy” a 1965 movie featuring Charlton Heston as Michelangelo. And perhaps Selma Hayek as the volatile, monobrowed Frida Kahlo in the 2002 film “Frida”.

The weird and the wonderful

Considering the tendency for artists to lead weird, obsessive and dysfunctional lives, it is surprising that more stories behind the many wonderful paintings we see on the walls of galleries and churches haven’t made it into film. Although there does seem to be an increasing trend to tell their tales, with at least 12 art movies being made in the last ten years.


2007 Caravaggio Film Poster

Rabble rousing 

One of the natural candidates for inclusion is Caravaggio, twice. The first time directed by Derek Jarman in 1986 and then again in 2007 an Italian production by Angelo Longoni. But then again his cavalier lifestyle, the violent, drunken brawls and his incredible talent were always going to be a cocktail for adventure.

Similarly Amodeo Modigliani, famous for his turn of the century drinking and painting has also attracted the attentions of film makers. Gli Amore di Montparnasse in 1958 and the simply titled “Modigliani” in 2004 tell his tale. He was similarly a talented individual who toured the bars and cafes of Paris in a drug induced haze, eventually dying at the age of 35 in 1920.

Crazed lunatics

Sex, drugs, alcohol abuse and violence are all to often big box office draws and the hedonistic life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, the rape of female Renaissance artist, Artemisia Gentileschi and “Surviving Picasso” all dwell on the darker side of human nature. Along with Van Gogh chopping off his ear (allegedly) and Dali’s often recorded insane outbursts, have made their way onto film.

Frida Kahlo Poster

Frida Kahlo Poster

This is probably because, like in any sphere, sedate images of plein air painting and tantrum free sessions in the studio do not make for good cinema. Not many artist are members of the Temperance Society or those who just said “No” to drugs feature on the cutting room floor.

Although I’ve not seen many of these films, Munch screaming, Pollock madly thrashing around with his brushes and Gaugiun’s syphalitic escapades around the world seem to set the trend for artist movies. And it is for this reason I will never feature in a Hollywood script.

Artist Film List

The list of artist films as I’ve managed to dig out so far stands like this. However, I am more than happy to be notified of any I have over looked or the names of artists you deem to have lived an interesting life and worthy of a film.

  • Mr Turner – J.W.M. Turner 2014
  • Big Eyes – Margaret Keane 2014
  • Renior – Pierre Auguste Renior 2012
  • The Mill and the Cross – Pieter Bruegel 2011
  • Little Ashes – Salvador Dali 2008
  • Caravaggio – Caravaggio 2007
  • Nightwatching – Rembrandt Van Rijn 2007
  • El Greco – El Greco 2007
  • Goya’s Ghost – Francisco Goya 2006
  • Klimt – Gustov Klimt 2006
  • Modigliani – Amodeo Modigliani 2004
  • Girl with a Peal Earring – Johannes Vermeer 2003
  • Frida – Frida Kahlo 2002
  • Pollock – Jackson Pollock 2000
  • Goya – Francisco Goya 1999
  • Love is the Devil – Francis Bacon 1998
  • Artemisia – Artemisa Gentileschi 1997
  • Surviving Picasso – Pablo Picasso 1996
  • Carrington – Dora Carrington 1995
  • Dali – Salvador Dali 1991
  • Vincent and Theo – Vincent Van Gogh 1990
  • Caravaggio – Caravaggio 1986
  • Ovin – Paul Gauguin 1986
  • Edvard Munch – Edvard Munch 1974
  • The Agony and the Ecstasy – Michelangelo 1965
  • Gli Amori di Montparnasse – Amedeo Modigliani 1958
  • Lust for Life – Vincent Van Gogh 1956
  • Moulin Rouge – Toulouse Lautrec 1952

50 Shades of Tuscany

When it comes to painting Tuscany I’m presented with a dilemma. I’m more used to the verdant mountains of the Umbrian landscape as opposed to the bronzed hills of Tuscany. This means I’ve had to sit down and set out my palette with a little more thought than normal.

Montecuccio in colour

Montecuccio in colour

Tuscan hues

The Tuscan landscape is full of tones of orange, terracotta and of course it’s own ubiquitous burnt sienna. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its fair share of greenery.

The fields and hills around Montecucco are full of trees, bushes and scrub-land but there’s a little more formality to the Tuscan plan. The fields around the farmhouse have a regimented feel to them, a sort  of quilted comfort of olive groves, vineyards and orchards.

Gorge at Amiata

Gorge at Amiata

Earthy tones

There is a natural earthiness to the landscape, with the green of the various agricultural landmarks under pinned by the rich sienna soil. The painting features the bright luscious grasses in the foreground, freshly tilled fields and sap green wooded copses.

The colours also tip a nod to the Early Renaissance painters who walked the area, painting their subjects. There is the presence of the lapis blue commonly found in the skies of the grand masters, as are the ruby reds and florescent purples. Although these tend to be reserved for the garments of the religious figures depicted in the frescoes.

DSCN3931Drama at sunset

In this case the cool blue sky is enhanced with a dramatic sunset, when the Tuscan sky comes to life with a rainbow of colour. The horizon burns bright with fiery yellows, gorgeous oranges and pastel pinks, fringed with the purples and violets of nights on set.

The natural hues of the Tuscan hills is constantly accented by an array of brightly painted buildings. The greens and browns are highlighted with subtle shades of mustard in the villages, golden brown churches and yellowed palaces. There are dark, rusting farm out houses and strange distant towers, all adding splashes of intensity to the winter shades.

Montecuccio Oak

Montecucco Oak

Colourful Tuscany

Fifty shades of Tuscany is not without its stories and one look across the vista and you can see that this is a land that, if it spoke, could shock and arouse you. A walk down the winding lanes, over the ancient bridges and through the musty woods is all you need to feel its history. This is anything but grey.

Sketching Montecuccio

Detail of Montenero

Detail of Montenero

In painting Montecucco I realised that I would have to edit the landscape. There were over 240 degrees of interest, too much for a canvas measuring 70 cm.  To convey the sheer wonder of the landscape would require some creative thinking and considerable compressing of the horizon.

Castelnuovo sketches

Castelnuovo sketches

Triptych landscape

However, there was plenty left to create an interesting painting. I decided have a triptych landscape and to divide the canvas up into three. Separating each section with two iconic trees that were on the property.

The left hand side and the centre panel would be split with the magnificent oak that stands outside the farmhouse. Then a little down the track is a tall, thin tree, poking out between the rocks.

Renaissance painters

I also continued to paint the large trees in styles that pay homage to the early Renaissance painters who worked the area some 600 years ago. Therefore the oak resembles a similar tree in Giotto’s painting of  “St Francis Preaching to the Birds”.  The second tree  is reminiscent of Gozzoli’s ones in the “Parade” fresco in Florence.

Amiata designs

Amiata designs

Tuscan buildings

The buildings differ immensely too. There is the monolithic Castello di Valona, the narrow street of Amiata and the hillside sprawl of Montenero. Castelnuovo, like the others, is out of proportion, a larger than life representation of the village. Geometric patterns in the landscape that nestle between the hills and are liberally decorated with trees. All of this goes into creating an interesting composition, full of little surprises and deft touches.

Touring Tuscany

Over the New Year’s I had the pleasure of staying at a wonderful farmhouse in the shadow of Montecucco in Tuscany. It was a gorgeous old building with fabulous vistas of the surrounding countryside.

Castello di Velona

Castello di Velona

Tuscan Hills

The rolling Tuscan hills with the villages of Castelnuovo,  Amiata and Montenero, and a skyline dominated by the rebuilt ruins of Castello di Velona, now an exclusive spa resort.

The hillsides are full of typical Tuscan patterns, olive groves,  cyprus lined avenues that lead up to lovely old villas and being wine country there are  plenty of vineyards.

DSCN3974Wines of Tuscany

This, after all, is the land of  Montalcino and Chianti.  During the winter months the countryside is also patchwork of freshly ploughed, sienna fields, just waiting on the arrival of spring and the sowing of the crops.

The landscape around Montecucco is straight out of a Lorenzetti or Gozzoli fresco. Along the roadside it is full of tall, oddly shaped  trees, large formidable rock formations and neatly furrowed slopes.  All you needed to complete the picture was a parade of sixteenth century, Medici dukes on horseback.

Sunset over Montenero

Sunset over Montenero

Tuscan sunset

The weather, for the middle of winter, was also spectacular, clear sunny days, with breath taking sunsets. A collage of yellows, pinks, oranges and purples, or at least to me they were anyway. The sun as it set silhouetted perfectly the hillside scramble of buildings that make up Montenero. Vague outlines of the olive groves and little lights of the village buildings as darkness enveloped the landscape.