Thursday, 28 September 2017

JSS Civita 2017 - My experience

Its about time I posted about my time with JSS in Civita 2017, it was such an intense experience its taken a while to process it all. It has also taken a while to adjust back to 'normal' life, whatever that is. I spent seven weeks in total with the program and it was all I'd hoped it would be and a whole lot more. I chose it because it says on the website that its hard work and for serious artists.  I didn’t want an art themed holiday with a bit of painting thrown in.  I read the small print.

The Weather - The thing I was most trepidatious about was the heat as I dont work well in it so of course this was the year there was a record breaking heatwave. It was OK though, sensible people listen to advice and work around it and quite frankly in the end it was kind of empowering, if I can survive and function on days that hit up to 108f I can do anything.

The Art - What I wanted from the experience was a process, disciplines and a clearer artistic direction because without having had any formal training I get a bit overwhelmed at times. Now I have parameters and boundaries to work within, some of which I will no doubt push against or disregard later, but for now they will help me work in a more structured and organised way.  I worked for three weeks with Sigal Tsabari and I cannot praise her highly enough as a teacher, an artist and a human being. She is uncompromising with her materials, methods and practices, her work ethic and discipline is solid and her knowledge deep and broad.  I turns out I am a long time admirer of her work, copies of her exquisite drawings and paintings are in my cyber inspiration file. The founder of the school Israel Hershberg directed me towards tuition with Sigal rather than going straight into the Master Class and he was absolutely right. With hardly any experience of the landscape I would have been completely out of my depth going straight into it but armed with Sigals instruction and an introduction to the artistic language of the school I at least knew how to approach it. Civita Castellana is a wonderful base, there is a wide variety of different motifs available all within easy reach. Having said that plein air is very challenging, my figure work in no way prepared me for all that one has to deal with in 'the nature' despite Corots viewpoint; 'The study of the nude is the best lesson that a landscape painter can have and that if someone knows how to get down a figure, he is able to make a landscape.' So like all the students I worked really hard, living and breathing art all day every day. The sense of dissatisfaction and frustration with my work is pretty normal for me (and totally justified) but I learned so much and each day started full of excitement, hope and anticipation and I loved every moment of the challenge of learning and growing. Whats not to love about pushing paint around all day in the company of likeminded souls.

Mealtimes - For those on the meal plan lunch and dinners were large group events and that is one of the extracurricular benefits of the school, the discussions, the advice and shared experiences were hugely helpful. it was very conducive to be in such a fertile environment. I have met so many wonderful people from all over the world, artists from all different backgrounds, training, ages and abilities and many fine teachers.  We all helped and supported each other and many friendships were formed.

Weekly excursions - A major highlight of the week and we had a presentation the prior evening to help us get the most out of them.  For me by far the most significant and inspiring were the frescos in Rome and Naples, particularly the painted garden in Livia's Villa at Palazzo Massimo in Rome. Online picture don’t really do them justice, they have to been seen and experienced in person. They are nothing less than astonishing in my opinion. 

The crits - The clue is in the title, they are not called the The Praises for a reason and as a major part of the Master program the weekly crit was a nerve wracking affair for many. Its quite amazing how quickly your inner nervous child comes to the surface. The presentation of a weeks hard graft, put before the experts (and fellow students) for scrutiny and feedback felt hugely exposing but for all those students whose only feedback from family and friends is 'thats nice', its key to development. Every now and then though someone's work would hit the sweet spot and get a glowing review, those were really good moments. I wanted the guidance and not necessarily the audience but we all learned from each others crits - they were always constructive and applied to us all. I was also struck by what an incredible eye Israel has, he seems to have preternatural insights, quite amazing and a bit spooky.  He also has very strong opinions but I never heard anything said to a student I didnt agree with.

The revelation - Sigal introduced monotypes to the group, I remember thinking as she prepared the demo that I was going to love them and I wasnt wrong. The idea was that they give us an opportunity to do a small quick study of the motif using a printers plate, some oil paint leftovers and a spoon. They work a bit like notan or a thumb nail sketch but are much more satisfying and versatile and pieces of art in their own right. I dont quite understand why I couldnt mentally translate the simplification process to an actual painting but I am still working on that. I see so many possibilities and experiments with this technique I have already incorporated it into my regular habits.

The effects -  I have new eyes, I see more and I see differently and I look really carefully now.  I have new artists to study and a new aesthetic to consider.  My new knowledge is the tip of the iceberg but some of my loose ends have been tied up, things I thought were conflicts and unrelated are in fact connected.  Its all good but this summer is just part 1, I need to go back…..