June '09 Residency,
Rome, NY
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View of North James Street was done on my first morning in town, after a late breakfast at the Forget-Me-Not Cafe. Sandy, the office manager at RACC had recommended the Forget-Me-Not, only a few blocks away. Almost everything in Rome is within walking distance - one of the many things that appeal to me about the place. The city also has a slightly run down feel, which I identify with. I'd never spent time there before, but for reasons I can't fully explain, I really liked being in Rome.

This scene caught my eye as I headed back from the restaurant. I made a quick sketch with the notation: "make traffic lights yellow" - somehow that mattered - and then hurried back for my paints and my car. The car was so I could sit in the shade for the necessary 2 ½ hours. Plus the vantage point from the parking lane was better than from the sidewalk.

It was a 1-hour parking space, but nobody bothered me, perhaps because an article in the local paper had prepared the populace for my arrival. "If you see him painting around town, say hi." What a great reception for an Itinerant Artist whose ambition is to get art and everyday life on more familiar terms! No one ever did come up and say hi, but at least I didn't get ticketed.

The residency was for the first week of June, with an Itinerant Artist Project (IAP) exhibit opening on the 5th and staying up for the month. My primary goal for the week was to get two paintings of local scenes done in time to include them in the exhibit (i.e., on the forst day or so). That, too, had been announced in the paper, so the pressure was on.

For some reason it took me over an hour - almost half of the painting time - for me to get the street line and horizon to "sit" right. I can't recall ever making so many adjustments and readjustments to basic compositional elements in one of my small paintings. The most challenging part of the session, however, was at the end – getting up the nerve to scrape the lines (wires) across what turned out to be a very prettily painted sky. They might have ruined it, but (as someone at the RACC kindly noted) they made it a more honest and interesting painting.

Technical note: the wires were simply and swiftly scraped away with a pointy-ended brush handle. Using a panel primed with dark gray (black + white) gesso made the effect possible.

Luckily the muse visited me again as I was shopping at the grocery store that evening. I started The P&C Parking Lot immediately after depositing my groceries in the back seat of my car. Painting in low light can be fun. Unexpected things can happen - like using Prussian Blue instead of Ultramarine Blue by mistake and ending up with slightly more exciting colors and less restrained effects than I would normally allow myself.

I finished the painting back in the RACC apartment kitchen, around midnight and relying on a combination of memory, sketches and the tiny monitor on the back of my digital camera.

It was my first full day in town, and I was pleased to have two paintings for the exhibit. As it turned out, I needed the rest of the time (and more) for preparing the exhibit, giving presentations, and getting to know some of the interesting people and places around town.

The painting of the Italian Bakery was done on my return visit, to give a gallery talk and take down the exhibit, at the end of the month.

I was supposed to meet with the mayor at that time, but a business delegation form China somehow displaced me on his schedule. He did call, though, and sent me a handsome medal from the City of Rome. It features, on one side, historic Fort Stanwix - the excavation of which apparently thrilled Revolutionary War buffs and destroyed the old downtown (according to some long-time residnets I talked with). On the flip side of the medal is the Pledge of Allegiance - written, I gather, in Rome. In 5th grade my best friend and I stopped saying the Pledge and wrote to President Nixon saying we wouldn't until there really was "liberty and justice for all." Still, I will treasure my coppery keepsake from Rome.

Of special note are the people who welcomed me with dinner and homemade wine the night before – Mary (maryfragapane.com), Chad, Anita, and Tom (the winemaker). The friendly support and nourishment certainly helped to fuel an unusually good day of painting. Thanks also to Joan (jebarrett.com) and Martha (marthademing.com) for good ideas and dinner at the end of the exhibit. And to Lauren and the staff at RACC for making it work.

Being able to experience community away from home (sometimes, in fact, to a greater degree) is one of the great benefits of pursuing my Itinerant Artist Project. I find that the combination of an unfamiliar setting with social support tends to stimulate creativity.

To learn more about the IAP, my project presentations, or to participate as a host in 2008 or 2009, check out the Itinerant Artist Project section of this site.

detail of P&C Parking Lot


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