28 February 2009

a sense of place

I have been avoiding uploading this work as it simply doesn't photograph well. The blue I have used for the olive trees seems to reflect back too much light.

It is almost finished, and I have a few issues with it. I may repaint this scene, on a different scale or from a different perspective, and crop this one. I don't think I took enough "artistic licence" with the composition.

I really don't enjoy painting "fiddly buildings"... give me room to splash every time!

if walls could talk

Today a friend sent me this link to the New Zealand Herald comment on the Paris exhibition of Voids, a Retrospective. It is an exhibition of ... nothing.

It does raise the question for me, not of the value of such an exhibition, but "what is art?"

Although I "paint for my crust" these days, I don't particularly want to fill galleries with my work. I don't have a need to be famous, to leave a legacy. The work I do now, if not commissioned, must satisfy other criteria known (and unknown) to me. In my own mind, but defying definition, there is something that contributes to making something "art".

I once thought that I previously painted pictures, but had moved on to making art. Once ideas, more than the reproduction of an image, become involved, and I put it into the public arena for critique, I called it art. Now I am not sure any more. I remember debating this with other artists. Did we reach a conclusion? Probably not. I exhibited in Cassino in 2005, but didn't move to Italy until several visits later. At that point I thought that I had "long moved on" from painting landscapes! No more simply painting pictures, now I was making thoughtful art like the Cassino exhibition. Little did I know...

My first Italian exhibition of landscapes (2006), encouraged by my local mentor, was painted to establish my place here. "Kay, you must have an exhibition, before you go back to New Zealand. It must be paintings of here". The works were simple, pretty, colourful, happy works - painted rapidly to meet a deadline. I wasn't particularly proud of them as I thought they were a long way from being my "best" work. However, at the opening of the show, the maestro (former teacher, respected elder of the village) wrote in the visitors book that through my paintings I had given back to the people the love for their village that they had forgotten. After talking with him I began to treat landscape painting with a little more respect.

I wish the maestro, who died last year, could see my new watercolours. They are painted with all the love I now have for this village, this valley. His house and his church are in the first one. They are paintings, and can be called "art". I believe that I put more into them than simply copying, performing a series of techniques. But an empty room, can that be art?

At the Guggenheim in New York (2004) I first experienced this type of exhibition, although it was an installation work using hidden lights. There was, however, nothing to look at. It took me a while to adjust to the space, and at the time I was very conscious of all the other people moving about in the half dark in the busy gallery. But standing in the Tate in London last year, waiting for the runners to run through the otherwise empty gallery, was a different experience altogether. Famous galleries, exhibitions without "objects" to view.

If art is an experience, does there need to be a visual? Music is art. Do you need see it to appreciate the experience of hearing? If, while standing in an empty gallery contemplating "nothing" I have new experiences, new thoughts, does that make the gallery a place of art for me? Or a place of meditation? Can the two be the same?

I have to admit that occasionally I peek into empty rooms in galleries when exhibitions are being changed. Just as I love the blank page, full of potential, I enjoy musing on the history, the potential, and the "something" that is a blank gallery wall.

What is art? I don't know. I would like to think that art encourages contemplation, changes the way one feels, adds something to the world. I hope it is more than "eye candy", decoration for a house. I hope it is something that makes a house an individual home, that raises social issues, that records a period in history.

Empty galleries? Yes, there is a place for such an exhibition. I would like to see it. But I am not sure that I would define it as art. The fact that it is in a gallery brings to it "a story" that links it to art. Can we call it a place of contemplation, in the absence of art?

I think that the curator, Mathieu Copeland, got it right.
"But it is not just a kind of radical, conceptual art. You are also invited to explore, in a physical way, each different space, all of which have a different texture. It is a true experience."
I believe that there are three things in an art experience. The object created with intention, the viewer, and the "gap" between, where the interaction takes place. This is where there is a melding, not controlled by the artist, and not completely controlled by the viewer. Perhaps I have to accept that if there is an artist statement, an intention, a viewer and an experience, then this exhibition too is art.


The Press release:
Vides (voides)

A retrospective

curated by Laurent Le Bon, John Armleder, Mathieu Copeland, Gustav Metzger, Mai-Thu Perret, Clive Phillpot

A quite exceptional event, "Vides" (Voids) is a retrospective of empty exhibitions since that of Yves Klein in 1958. In almost a dozen rooms of the National Museum of Modern Art, it assembles in a totally original manner exhibitions that showed absolutely nothing, leaving empty the space for which they were designed. The idea of exhibiting emptiness is a recurring notion in the history of art over the past fifty or so years, almost to the point of becoming a cliche' in the practice of contemporary art. Since the exhibition by Yves Klein - "The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State of Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility" in Paris in 1958, totally empty exhibitions have been the statement of different conceptions of vacuums.

While for Yves Klein it was a way to point out the sensitive state, by contrast it represents the peak of conceptual and minimal art for Robert Barry with "Some places to which we can come, and for a while 'be free to think about what we are going to do' (Marcuse)" (1970). It may also result from the desire to fudge the understanding of exhibition spaces, as in the work "The Air-Conditioning Show" from Art & Language (1966-1967), or to empty an institution to modify our experience, as in the work by Stanley Brouwn. It also reflects the will to create the experience of the qualities of an exhibition venue, as with Robert Irwin and his exhibition at the ACE Gallery in 1970, or with Maria Nordman at her exhibition in Krefeld in 1984.

Emptiness also represents a form of radicalness, like that created by Laurie Parsons in 1990 at the Lorence-Monk gallery, which announced his renouncement of all artistic practice. For Bethan Huws and his work "Haus Esters Piece" (1993), emptiness means being able to celebrate the museum's architecture, signifying that art is already there on site and there is no need to add works of art. Emptiness assumes almost a sense of economic demand for Maria Eichhorn who, in leaving her exhibition empty at the Kunsthalle Bern in 2001, helped to devote the budget to the building's renovation. With "More Silent than Ever" (2006), Roman Ondák, for his part, had the onlooker believing that there is more than what is just left there to be seen.

Image: Centre pompidou, architectes Renzo Piano et Richard Rogers, photo D.R © Centre Pompidou

Press contact
Head: Isabelle Danto tel +33 (0)1 44784200 fax +33 (0)1 44781340 e-mail isabelle.danto@centrepompidou.fr
assisted by Florian Richaud tel +33 (0)1 44784856 fax +33 (0)1 44781302 e-mail florian.richaud@centrepompidou.fr

Centre Pompidou
Place Georges Pompidou - Paris
11am-9pm, ticket counters closed at 8 p.m.
Rooms closed at 8.50 p.m.
Late night openings for certain exhibitions, as indicated on the website, Thursdays to 11 p.m.
Ticket counters closed at 10 p.m.

27 February 2009

pian piano

Thinking of constructions in NZ I visualised three, maybe four days work for two men, a week at most. How long has it been? On the 19 January work moved outdoors. The job seemed to extend every time I turned around. The retaining walls got the treatment, plants in the way were removed, ground levelled and tidied. Today the lights go in, and the job is complete.

I have succumbed to temptation though, and (after resisting for three years) have bought some weed killer. I will only use it on the top terrace, and feel guilty when I do that, but there are some plants damaging the walls that just have to go. I have warned my friends who harvest the grasses and snails at my place to avoid that part. Once it is fenced in it will be a bit "doggy" for harvesting anyway, which lessens my feelings of guilt.

Overall I am a very happy camper; I know I am really going to enjoy my evenings outdoors. Next project? To build that fence for you-know-who...

Now it's back to work for me, this too is going pian piano...

26 February 2009

incredible but true...

It's official: I work too hard!

True... I was told that today by an officer of the Polizia di Stato. I have been sent home to look after myself better, or more particularly, to take care of my hands!

Today I went to Cassino to my favourite office to renew my documents. Everything was in place. I had done all the paperwork, paid all that needed to be paid. One month ago I had received (at 2am!!!) a text telling me of my appointment. A registered letter arrived confirming the appointment and listing what I needed to bring.

I had the (always terrible) passport photo taken (and no Jan to say it was not me, go and get another one!) I assembled all the documents. I arrived 20 minutes before my appointment to find that I was already well down the queue. I waited over two hours. No nuns today, but Francescan monks still in sandals, one with a scarf and the other a knitted hat. I made it to the correct office all by myself. Things were going well.

Then the absolutely unexpected happened! I put my fingers onto the machine... again, again, again. No results on several digits. My fingers are quite literally worn out! There was not enough tread left on my skin for them to fingerprint me. Several attempts got it all down to one remaining finger... repeated photos... failure! I am "rovinata", ruined, worn out.

I have another appointment for two weeks time. I have been instructed to apply barrier cream several times a day, wear protective gloves and to pamper my hands with nourishing cream at night.

In the meantime...


PS Seems odd that I needed to be fingerprinted a third time, they have me recorded already, as does the office in the provincial capital. Mine not to wonder why...

It was interesting, during that long wait, to watch and monitor energy levels and the type of energy people "emit". Much to think about. More later, maybe.

25 February 2009

lots of interruptions yesterday

Not a lot of "real work" done... but I think I am going to like painting this one a lot. It has a good feel to it so far.
Time does run though, despite me insisting that it shouldn't, and work on the fresco starts next week. If I can finish this one, and the village-scape with hay bales, before Monday I'll be pretty happy with my output for the month.

24 February 2009


OK, tricky part in the painting and I am procrastinating.

I was wondering, after a late night chat some time ago with a friend who struggled to outline what things made them happy, and reading a blog about being kind to oneself, what does being good to me look like?

Really, it is more important to think about what being good to YOU looks like, but maybe a list to react to is useful.

Me being good to me looks a bit like this:

- sitting in a sunbeam without feeling guilty that I am not working
- curling up on the couch with a book, reading purely for pleasure
- savouring cherry brandy chocolates
- just occasionally treating myself to the best quality Earl Grey tea
- staying in bed that extra 20 minutes on cold mornings

and now, back to work. There is no sunbeam today, and being disciplined is probably being good to myself too!

never give up

Once someone passed on to me the drawing of a duck trying to swallow a frog. I am sure you know it. The frog, partly engorged, was clinging to the duck's neck so it couldn't be swallowed. The text said "Never, never give up".

Some things are worth insisting on, worth following up. Friendships come and go, but the value of a person is never diminished.

In my new country I have made friends, and sometimes appeared to have lost friends. But when it comes to reaching out, waiting patiently, or simply accepting change and hoping it is not permanent, I have learnt to "never give up".


Welcome back, cyber friend. We have never met, but you have so much to offer. I am glad you are blogging again. I return to you, with gratitude, the quote you put on your blog less than an hour ago.

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us - Albert Schweitzer
We never really know when another's light is growing dim, we are the masters of disguise. But if we listen to our intuition, take quiet time and respond to all adversity with love and compassion, we DO make a difference in this world.


PS while looking for the duck and frog image I found this rather lovely story about sweets, marbles, and so much more, posted Feb 13.

I particularly liked
"You come to love not by finding the perfect person, but by seeing an imperfect person perfectly". - Sam Keen
Somehow I want to link this to (29 January post) "The best beloved in my sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see through thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thine neighbour.". (I still want to put this into comtemporary language...)

23 February 2009

monday, lunedi morning

Stage one, ruins above the village.Sometimes when I write a post I wonder who I am writing it for.

Is this a diary? If so, then it is incomplete. Is it for artists? If so, they are often "short-changed". The Zacchi fans sometimes have to wait a while before I feel inclined to write about the ragamuffin. Is it for my family? Yes, and no. It doesn't contain a fraction of the things I would share with them.

I guess, while started to honour a promise, I write the blog for myself. It fills those pauses in my day, when the soup is coming to the boil, when the paint is drying, when I am not ready to sleep but too tired to work or study.

It always surprises me that people read this. But a blogger I like to read has gone quiet, and I miss her quotations and comments. Reading her blog had become a habit. Maybe, for some, I too have become a habit. I rather like that thought!

Today, down below my sleepy village, we have a new speed camera. The speed limit here is 60kms per hour. That is another reason for loving where I live. Time, and people, can be slowed down. Here we have time, time to enjoy.

22 February 2009

just occasionally

Just occasionally you come across something that just seems so right!

I was surfing bridal sites (checking out MOB customs in another culture) and I saw the (UK?) site "Bravissimo". Now that is one very very apt use of the word! Makes you smile in delight really, when someone appropriates the perfect word and lets it work so well.

However, I hope that the owner of the website is Italian, or has Italian connections. Much as I enjoyed the punning, I am a bit possessive about stealing language and customs from other cultures for commercial use, and protested loudly when the haka was used, performed by women, to sell cars here in Italy.

round three...

Round one, Zacchi
Round two, Kay

Round three?

Zacchi knows that boots and hairspray means Mum goes without him. Tonight there was no pleading, no "give mum the guilts" - in fact, there was no Zacchi.

Odd, thought mum, and went looking.

Curled up pretending to be invisible on the mat by the couch was an unresponsive scruffy, hairy object. Very odd, thought Mum, why this unusual behaviour?

Mum went upstairs. Drat, keys not in their usual place. (Don't laugh, you guys, I am MUCH better with keys here!) Back downstairs, clomping round and about until she found the keys (yes, already in my handbag). The little blighter didn't move. Cunning, thought Mum. He's planning ahead, thought Mum, and she took action.

The blankets came off the couch and a towel went on it instead. Mum spoke to the round hairy thing on the mat, but it was still vainly pretending it wasn't there despite all her activity around it. "Don't you dare" she said sternly. It moved its ears, ever so slightly. It's eyes stayed down, under the hair.

She went upstairs. The round hairy thing didn't move. She came back down. It still it believed it was invisible. Patient, cunning, invisible. How dastardly is that?


When I got home Zacchi greeted me, not too enthusiastically, not at the top of the stairs. I smelt a rat... or at least a disobedient dog. I marched over to the couch in my most assertive footsteps manner and pointed at the couch. He cowered. I touched the lovely warm patch where the prickly burr was attached to the towel. "Who was on that?" I demanded? He flattened himself into the floor.

He knew that he was in the wrong. I knew that he would be in the wrong.

I figure that this round was a draw.

21 February 2009

out of danger

When mum is painting and happy she dances and sings and doesn't look where she puts her feet. Yesterday I was well and truly stepped on, and I certainly told her it hurt!It is so much safer to simply disappear and wait for her to come back to the computer. All this avoiding feet wears a guy out... see, I can be good! But only when it suits me! (Today she left her cellphone in the other room, and I came and told her it was ringing. She was impressed!)

And the painting will be finished tomorrow, on target! Just a few shadows and tiny details to add. It will be one week from initial drawing to completion, a lot of hours of work but they were happy ones.

interesting exhibition

Check out the exhibition u r here at The New Zealand Steel Gallery, Franklin - just finished sorry, but great images on the website. (The link may change after the exhibition closes... if so, go to past exhibitions, look for a link on the right hand side of the page, and hope that the images are there).

I did enjoy the descriptor...
Each artist has been allocated a spot within the Franklin District, all recognisable and much loved landmarks. From this site the artist created a piece of artwork that represent their interpretation of
the area. They may not tell you what you think they should, but they will provide you with a fresh perspective.

Right now I am painting "what people think I should" - and, oddly enough, gaining a huge amount of satisfaction from it!

20 February 2009

maybe two more days

It has been a twelve hour day today, with coffee and sunbeam breaks etc., but it feels like progress at last.

I think this will be finished by the end of the weekend.

going too slowly

I have to remind myself of the cheese advertisement; good things take time. This one seems to be progressing very slowly. I don't enjoy the fiddly bits... I will reframe how I think about them, and maybe they will flow better. It could be that I am not playing the best music for it...

The second work has a lot of VERY fiddly bits coming up......and I am sitting at the computer, soaking up a sunbeam, procrastinating because of that!

spoilt little beastie

I have been hearing from Zacchi's New Zealand fans that he really is just misunderstood, not wickedly naughty. I disagree. Just look at him! Craftiness written all over him! His fans say that I should be nicer to him! I quote
Z fan: Zacchi huh, C... will sort out who's boss of your house for you. It's Zacchi btw in case you're wondering, ha ha
me: yes, he is quick as lightning when the gate is open but I won last night, shut him in my room so he couldn't go on the couch
Z fan: poor little Z :-(
me: spoilt little brat!!!!!
Z fan: poor misunderstood little Z!
me: (on exporting Zacchi to NZ)... so Zacchi could look all pathetic and win you over in a trice!
Z fan: He has won me over already, job done. It's you he needs to work on now!
me: no show, I have no heart...
The spoilt little beastie has "Zacchi minders" coming from New Zealand and Australia this year, so that he can stay at home and not fret when I am away. What other Italian dog is so lucky?

19 February 2009

walking colour

The three watercolours underway are quite different, not something I recommend, but that is what I have to paint next. When painting more than one at a time I try to use the same palette for all of them - and certainly the same medium, alhough even that isn't always possible!.

I used a different yellow, not my favourite aureolin, as an under wash for these works. New Gamboge. I like it, but, particularly when mixed with the precocious alizarin crimson, it walks. While I slept it merged from the edge of a building with a clear blue sky. These happy accidents are part of the joy of watercolour. Today the sky, which I thought had dried a little too pale, has had a new wash over it. With the later wash the buildings have all softened around the edges, and the starkness has gone from the trees and foliage. Happy accidents almost invariably improve the paintings. But the next time I use New Gamboge at night I will be staying up, on guard...

round one to zacchi

It's Thursday morning. I woke late, nearly 7. There was no tugging at the blankets, no whimperings from the floor. Odd.

I went out to look for him. Surely I didn't shut Zacchi out in the night. I don't remember him waking me.

He was not on any of the mats. I opened the door, checking anxiously for a frozen body outside. Nothing.

I turned, and out of the corner of my eye I saw...

yes, curled up, sound asleep, on the pillows and blankets on the couch.

He didn't even stir. I lifted the warm block - now growling but still curled in a ball - up from the blankets and deposited it firmly on the cold cement outside.

Round one to Zacchi, darn it!

18 February 2009

absolutely not!

Today there was a little more snow. OK, so it was 4 degrees, the snow was coming off the mountain behind and not making it to the ground, but still it was snow. My floors are very cold. I am tempted to put down wooden floors, or at least terracotta tiles. Zacchi has 7 mats at various posts around the house.

Tonight I went out, spending the evening with friends. On Saturday night Zacchi had tried jumping onto the couch beside me and got "short shrift". Tonight, to keep warm in my absence, he claimed the couch with its two Scottish blankets and pile of pillows.

No, Zacchi. Absolutely not permitted! I reprimanded him severely, and turned his favourite heater on...

I'm not so good at this "tough love" stuff!


I have probably said it before, I am not a shopper. Bookshops and art supply shops are the only places I enjoy spending time, now that I am over (yes, I think I am) my antique furniture fetish.

This morning I went to the market, just to join in a sense of community. It is good to belong. The market was empty, few stalls, fewer shoppers.

As I believe that fear and caution actually adds to the economic crisis, I chose to shop. A little here, a little there. I came home with gifts for four people, mats I don't really need but can use quite happily for the entry and my room, vegetables to add to my already well-stocked fridge, pink pyjamas with tiny sprigs of flowers on them, not to my taste, probably to be given away, a traditional ring of bread to give to a friend, and a handbag for me.

I stopped to look at a handbag that might possibly match the MOB outfit, but moved on, saying that I would think about it further as I didn't think the colour was quite what I wanted. The vendor said "You always say that, but you never buy!" He was right, a lot of the bags on his stall are eye-catching but are what once might have been called "cheap and nasty". I don't buy them. He does have some good things too, but out of my "casual shopping" price range. I came back down the street again, feeling a little sorry that I didn't want the bag, but it was a colour that wouldn't quite match, and the quality was... well, on closer inspection, depending on the mood of the viewer, it could qualify for the previous description. I stopped, apologised, pointed out the flaw that, along with my doubt about the colour, prevented me from taking it even at his much reduced price, and listened to his sales pitch once more.

He did, however, have a well made bag that my frugal self could justify buying. It was exactly what I need when travelling, but far too expensive. He offered it to me as "a gift at under half price", probably it's true value in this region. I bought it. He didn't have the 5 euros change I required. He stuffed the bag I didn't want into my shopping bag, saying I could have it for 5 euros.

Does anyone want a handbag of indeterminate colour with a slight mark on the front of it? I wont even charge you 5 euros...


Odd but true.

A couple of weeks ago I phoned a friend in America. I was feeling a bit lonely, and knew that she would understand that I didn't want sympathy, just to chat to a good friend in a similar situation, particularly someone who knows this village and my language barriers here.

We chatted a while, and she offered to send me a book she was reading, one that she found encouraging and uplifting. I thanked her, then got busy painting and thought very little more about it.

Today there was a parcel in my letter box, with an Auckland, New Zealand postal ticket on it. A NZ friend had also said that she was sending a book to me, so no surprise. The surprise was the contents - the book, published in America, was the gift from my American friend and had come to me from New Zealand via amazon.com.

Some days I shake my head in wonder at this world!


PS The advertised price of indeterminately coloured handbag was 25 euros. He offered it to me at 15. I said no and walked away. He dropped it to ten. He gave it to me for five. I wonder what he paid for it?

17 February 2009

my street day one

blue cheese

No, not gorgonzola, nor blue vein, but possibly breaking point?

I have been painting in my kitchen. The kitchen that used to be a studio after it was a kitchen. In all the house renovations it became a kitchen/living room again, and in the 'mid-progress moving' my large table moved into the future dining room which is still to be enclosed, and a large couch took its place in front of the fire.

I work on a small wooden table tucked behind the couch. That's OK, maybe, for small paintings and tidy artists. Unfortunately neither of those qualifiers apply. Things have become increasingly crowded. Tonight parmigiano got into the cobalt wash, followed rapidly by the cracker biscuits. I struggled to find my sense of humour.


I am about to change it all again. I will set up my painting table and lamps in the room with the best light. And finally, a contemplation shelf for paintings that are "works in progress". That will be much safer than being propped up on the mantelpiece above a roaring fire!

office time

I occasionally review all my bookmarks, and delete a few. They accumulate far too fast.

Here is one I never quite manage to delete. I enjoy it anew, every time I come across it. This is another where I enjoy looking at the process.

The artist is William Whitaker. His portraits are fabulous, very real, but it is the raw structure and process that I enjoy so much in the files I have marked.

And if you are an artist, or generally just interested in this artist, check out his Notes on his website. I like it when I get a sense of a person from their website.

suddenly it's lunchtime

When my hands became too frozen to move any more I looked at the clock. The morning has gone. I have been still for far too long, quietly working on three pieces for the June-July exhibition. The hours were tranquil, my solitude broken only by two phone calls and a little music.

The whistling from my steps blends with the background noises and I only just remember to make coffee for the worker. Usually there are two men working, and their laughter, disputes and constant interruptions break my days. This morning there is only one, the whistler, so I work on largely oblivious of my company outside. The big decision this morning was the colour of the cement used in the mix to place the split rock on the concrete steps. I must take full responsibility here as my workers did not agree on which is most appropriate, and called me to adjudicate. Drat, I was enjoying leaving all the decisions to them! Which way do I go? Light or dark? Does it really matter? Initially my preference was for the lighter mix, blending with the rock colour more, but I opted to continue with the dark, rather than have two day's work tossed out and re-done. I think it looks more natural, more earthy, as it has little flecks of colour through it. The lighter cement was all the one colour. The bottom step will remain lighter, and as it is smaller that's OK with me. In the dappled sunlight you can hardly see the difference. My main concern is that the remaining steps are all the one colour.
And, dare I hope? The guy who is to make my kitchen doors came back to re-measure this morning. I have been waiting since September; I placed the original order last June or July. Double glazing and security glass is on its way!

Now to spend a little time in the sun, and maybe be nice to Zacchi who is wondering how long this imprisonment will last.

There was a very light frost this morning, down on the terraces under the trees but not by the house. I don't know why I am complaining of the cold when it is no colder than anywhere else I have lived. It could be that I am missing my electric blanket and the large eucalyptus logs on the NZ fire that didn't go out all winter.

I'm off to make some soup; that always makes things feel warmer, and I'll sit outside in the sun for a while.

16 February 2009


Zacchi has done it this time! He has to be fenced in. He has taken to trying to get the neighbour's dog to come out to play by barking under his window. Also, unfortunately, as we were here first, Zacchi thinks that the neighbour's property is his territory too, and marks his spots regularly. It mightn't be such a problem except that the little blighter wont come back when I call him. He knows the beef jerky is finished, methinks.

Darn it, more expense on an ungrateful little mutt. Right now he is curled up beside me as if to say "I'm sorry", but I know very well that the next time there is something exciting out there he will be off, ignoring me again.

It's one thing to be a free spirit, but quite another to upset the neighbour. Tough love again Zacchi, and it's all of your own making.


It is Monday already; Sunday simply disappeared!

The first battlefield tour for the year reminded me that my memory for detail is not good. I will take my notes next time, but as this was a short overview tour with a good friend all was ok. What year was the defensive building on Rocca Janula, Monte Cassino built? I simply don't remember dates! The view above is from the entry to the Abbey on Monte Cassino. The day started with a glorious blue sky but clouded over. It was 9 degrees, and colder on the mountain top.

And now, although it is a glorious morning and Zacchi would love an early walk, it is back to the drawing board (literally) for me!

14 February 2009

st valentino

Today I woke to a crisp clear view of the frost down below. It was -3.5 degrees down there. My friends by the gorge scrape frost off their cars in the morning. Either I don't go out early enough, or we are well above the frost line here. The snow is down to 200-300 metres across the valley and behind us, but our microclimate continues to protect us from ice.

Today is one of those beautiful days when you really can't believe it isn't spring. The birds are singing, the spring flowers filling the air with their scent. The blossoms against the sky are begging to be painted. The bulbs in my cantina are turning green, wanting to come out to the light.

It might officially still be winter, but today for me is the beginning of spring!

Happy Valentines Day!

PS: Magical mid afternoon.........we had SNOW!!!!! Tiny, gentle, floating pieces of whimsy that disappeared as soon as they touched. It's not so cold outside now.

I was as excited as the first time I saw snow... (mmmm... was it THAT many years ago? Surely not!)

in my reading today

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am for myself only, what am I?
If not now - when?

Talmudic saying, Mishnah, Abot

This evening I started reading a book I bought more than a year ago. It is Erich Fromm's "The Fear of Freedom". The quotation above is on one of the introductory pages. I am looking forward to delving further.

13 February 2009

basta, enough, stop!

One of the first Italian words I learned was "basta", enough. A child was being reprimanded, and the word sounded terrible to me. Later I discovered it to be an incredibly useful word when, senza la lingua, I could point to what I wanted to buy then say "basta" when the quantity was sufficient.

Today is "finish the two watercolours" day. The painting of the church was first. There were a few tiny lines to lift off, some terracotta tiles to soften, some window frames to subdue. And then, expecting to being strengthening shadows and contrasts, I decided to walk away from it. It is finished. My work with it is over. It has a character of its own, painted by me but with a slightly different, softer hand. The work is more mellow, gentle. It doesn't need the strong contrasts of the New Zealand landscape.

Maybe, finally, I have internalised the different light that Europe offers. The gentle mauves, the pastel pinks, the wonderful warm terracotta (literally, cooked earth) and the lazy warmth of the sun on ancient stones.

I have been contemplating the work for a few days now, expecting each day to see something that must be corrected, altered, strengthened or softened. There was almost nothing. Each time I looked at the work I saw it as a storybook illustration, not as my work.

It is time to let it go, to walk away.

12 February 2009

happiness and life

Last night I went with friends to a restaurant in another town not too far from home, very reasonably priced, with great food. I have been there before, and have never been disappointed. From there we went to a bar in another town, for a "digestive" and a coffee with other friends. Home, not too late, with jazz music playing as we sped through the dark on tiny country roads. Well... travelled with care with some relative speed, watching the temperature (it was 1 degree) and being aware that there could be ice. We talked about philosophy, about life, about how we each came to be living so far from where we once called home. It was an unexpected invitation, so the pleasure was perhaps even greater.

Today I reflect on it, and think how different my life is here. This blog was going to be about restaurants, and how good it would be if we could share these lovely "hard to find" spots with travellers, but how sad it would be if the places then changed. But I think the blog is about life.

Life certainly has its ups and downs, but when I hit speed bumps I am more likely to take time to think about them, and monitor how and why I react in certain ways. Tonight I read a little Chopra, and was drawn to the notion that we all have happiness inside us, it is a natural state, not something we should be looking for elsewhere. So often our happiness is hidden, just as the clouds hide the sun. Happiness from within is a natural state which cannot be taken from us. Happiness dependent on external things can be taken away.

Yesterday another friend had given me something unexpected to think about, and I was feeling a bit down. I went out for a while, doing errands, and as I drove along the valley I caught sight of my village on the hillside. Once again I experienced that physical sensation of happiness that I get every time I come home to Italy. Happiness, under the philosophy above, probably can't be a place. But once more I remember the poem by Fleur Adcock, and I read it again with fresh eyes.

My face catches the wind
from the snow line
and flushes with a flush
that will never wholly settle.
Well, that was a metropolitan vanity,
wanting to look young forever, to pass.
I was never a pre-Raphaelite beauty
and only pretty enough to be seen
with a man who wanted to be seen
with a passable woman.

But now that I am in love
with a place that doesn't care
how I look and if I am happy,
happy is how I look and that's all.
My hair will grow grey in any case,
my nails chip and flake,
my waist thicken, and the years
work all their usual changes.

If my face is to be weather beaten as well,
it's little enough lost
for a year among the lakes and vales
where simply to look out my window
at the high pass
makes me indifferent to mirrors
and to what my soul may wear
over its new complexion.

~ Fleur Adcock ~

11 February 2009

original photo

and painting at the "more thinking" stage.
The photo of the painting is taken with a flash, which tends to flatten out the colour a little. The work "in the real" has more depth and more strength in the foreground.

I think I will paint this one again, rather than alter what I have here. I love a dramatic, washy sky, but this work took on a life of its own with a focus on the house and the valley. More thinking to do... wash over boldly, or paint again with a different focus? The latter, I think. Still deciding.

Once I have the work in progress I put away my reference photos and concentrate on the painting as a whole. It was somewhere in that latter stage that I lost sight of the power of the sky, and didn't go back to strengthen the colours there. I believe that the sky controls the mood of the whole work, which is why this is more tranquil, less moody than it might have been if I had painted it when I first took the reference photo. I think that the mood of this was influenced by the first painting of the church, which I am still contemplating, rather than the reference photo.

10 February 2009


The top photo has an artificial light shining on it. I do like the extra glow! More basic wash colour under the blue next painting.

not just a number

I have subscribed to a language programme that is a lot of fun... when I make time to study. Part of my subscription was a free package of lessons, available to download from the web. I couldn't download it in the required time, it was too big a file. I wrote to the company who promised to send the DVDs to my physical address. The communication about this had Chinesepod written on it. I wrote to clarify that I really would be getting the Italian version. Yes, that was correct, wrote Ross.

Between the interesting personality of the Italian postal service, the vague nature of the "third party" origin of the order I was receiving, and my genuine belief that some things just don't turn out the way you hope they will and that is simply a part of living, I didn't really expect to see my two DVDs of Italian lessons.

The package arrived yesterday, much sooner than I expected. It had a United States customs declaration form on it. I rushed to the computer. The sound of the resonating gongs confirmed my fears. I now have 100 lessons in Chinese to study.

I searched for the original email, and last night I wrote "Dear Ross, I was so excited to get my package today... but alas, it is Chinese, complete with gongs and things I am sure wont help me to survive here in Italy! Please can you send me the Italian version? Thankyou!"

A reply with an apology came in the early hours of this morning, from Galum in China, asking for my address to send the Italian version to. I sent it. Within minutes an email came back, simply saying "Done!"

Suddenly I realised that at the other end of this correspondence was real person, someone with thoughts, emotions, another life. I replied "Grazie! Lovely to get a human response... have a great day!" And in my inbox now sits the reply "You too!"

Was it Ross? Was it Galum? Maybe someone else altogether, someone who doesn't need to sign their name. I don't know. But whoever they are, working so efficiently - who knows where in the world - I really do hope that they have a great day!

9 February 2009

liri valley

A work in progress.

today was sunny

My neighbour shook his head and said that my steps should be anchored with iron rods. He predicts that in two years they will have collapsed down onto the next terrace...

8 February 2009

buona domenica

Zacchi is still recovering from the shock! This morning we had our first walk together since late October. My cough has gone, the chill is (temporarily) gone from the air, the sun is shining and the weather forecast terrible!

We took the rubbish and recycling up to the skip bins. We visited the neighbour's lovely old dog. And then, with no coughs, no rain, and a hopeful, obedient little Zacchi, we went for a short walk to the next little village.

Zacchi was so surprised and delighted that he behaved perfectly! Neighbours said "Da quanto tempo!" (Haven't seen you for ages!)
French cyclists called out their "Bonjour Madame"s as they sped by. Other walkers exchanged conversation bytes... we even managed some banter about who was smarter, men or women!

It is good to be back in the world!

7 February 2009

watching paint dry...

The expression "like watching paint dry" takes on a whole new meaning when you are a watercolourist.

I use a lot of water when I paint, probably more than most would use. I love dropping the pigment into puddles of water on my paper, watching where the pigments run. Some scamper rapidly to the edge of the water bubble. Some settle, reluctant to swim. Some swirl about, wondering which of the other pigments to dance with, to blend with, to settle with. (A bit like young folk at a party, really). Some are rogue pigments, and will get under the surface of the paper, travelling in the night, unseen. I wake in the morning and approach the work with excitement, wondering if there will be any "happy accidents" to challenge me.

I really do watch paint dry, monitoring the sheen on the surface, dropping clean water or more pigment in, softening off edges where I don't want lines to form.

I am writing this post because paint is drying very slowly today; it is a damp dull day, and I can't trust myself not to fiddle with the puddles of water as the pigment settles.A couple of days away from this, then some adjusting and finishing off to do. It came together much faster than I expected, but I didn't let myself get tied up in the details on the buildings. As it is I think it has a slight fairy-tale quality to it.

Happy Waitangi Weekend

It was Waitangi Day yesterday. I did think about it but I was painting... I guess I was indulging in another history. I do wonder, though, what life would have been like if Hobson hadn't done his job, if the French had colonised New Zealand instead of the British. I enjoy Akaroa, New Zealand's little piece of France.

Mmmmm... growing up with French cuisine instead of English/Scottish... but then I remember the late 1960s and French testing in the Pacific, particularly at Mururoa, and then the 1985 sinking in Auckland of the Rainbow Warrior when it was not so good having a French surname, and I am happy to just be Kay or Katie of no fixed heritage or abode!

But oh how the mind jumps about! From Waitangi Day to the song about a yellow polka dot bikini... I can't think about weapons and nuclear testing in the Pacific without including the Marshall Islands and Bikini Atoll... and the itsy bitsy teeny weeny... (nostalgia warning: if you click on the song, listen to the static, watch the arm of the record player and drift back 40 years!)

Last year I shunned the thought of perpetual summer, living between two hemispheres, believing that I need all seasons and therefore no more Waitangi Day holidays for me. Thinking of the holiday weekend in the New Zealand summer as I add yet another layer of woollen clothing to keep warm I do wonder at my sanity a little!

The house I live in is older than the nation where I grew up. Sometimes such concepts mess with my brain a little.

Here is the Wikipedia version of Waitangi Day, but personally I prefer the quiet dignity of the history link above. It encourages more reflection, perhaps?

6 February 2009


As I type this the bells are ringing in the church above. Unfortunately this time it is a funeral, but often they are for weddings as people come from far and wide to be married in this pretty village. I used to go up to the piazza to see the brides; now I am more concerned about the lack of parking than what the bride is wearing on these occasions! Does that make me a local?

PS, This is "day one plus a little bit more this morning" in the painting above. It will probably take about three weeks with lots of reflective time before I get it finished, as it has to fit around other things. I forgot to notice how many hours I have spent on it so far. Drawing took a while as I have had to move a few buildings to get the view of the church that I wanted... what you see is real, but from this viewpoint there should be a solid wall obscuring the view to the right.


And this afternoon...

This evening...
and tomorrow the fun part, strengthening and adding all the darks...
(Colour is true in the afternoon photo, it looks a little too yellow in the photo taken with flash).

5 February 2009

another way of thinking

Have you ever wondered why, with very few exceptions, ancient Italian houses survive big earthquakes?

I asked my two workers to use the rubble from my cantina to extend my steps. Efficient and useful disposal, I thought. I had done the calculations: there was plenty of "fill" and I thought there were just enough rocks to form a splendid natural set of steps where, at the end of a working day, I could ease my aching bones, sip on a glass of wine, and be out of view from passers-by.

I was partly right. There was plenty of fill. There is now too much, in fact. Disposal problem remains.

My workers have grown up in these ancient houses, and know how they are constructed. Apparently steps are constructed the same way. I defy ANY earthquake to even shake my new steps.

Now where am I going to find another 50 large rocks?


PS: It made me think of our French exchange student daughter from Alsace. As we drove home to the Waikato through outer Auckland she asked "Where are the people's permanent houses?" Timber and corrugated iron a holiday home makes! New Zealand housing looked far too temporary in her eyes. Now, from my ancient house (the cantina and my ground floor apartment is late medieval) with its indestructible steps, I see what she meant.

4 February 2009

a strong portrait

One of the few things I miss from NZ is working with other artists. Well, if I stop and think about it, I miss it. Last night when researching on the web I found the blog of Silvina Day. Something drew me into this work, Michael, published on her blog on Jan 6. I was interested in what she and others had written about it.
I tried cropping it, and sent her the image. This morning in reply to her email I wrote more. This is published with Silvina's permission. The problem remains, if you don't like the squat shape of the cropped version, how do you deal with the composition? I wonder if full figure might have been better, but I didn't see the model. I had said that I thought she had a "mix" in the work, and following this is my later explanation.

For all my comments, imagine that I have said “I think that…” or “In my opinion….” Mix: you have a mix of useful and distracting information in the painting, and of finished and unfinished painting.

Reducing the space above his head gives him more strength, he is controlling the whole space with his energy. It makes him more powerful.

Giving just a glimpse of his shoulders is enough. It gives a “raw” feeling without the distraction of looking at his muscles and torso. Unless you are telling his story, feeding the viewer information, then it is better to let the viewer have more space to imagine. I think his story is in his face, not his body. I would either have focused on his torso or cropped heavily.

You have painted his face so beautifully! I wish I had painted it! The colours, the moulding of the features,. Just perfect! In the cropped version, background and features come together with both painterly brush marks and colour. In the un-cropped version the strength of the face and shoulders is bled out, diluted, by the unfinished or more loosely impressionist section. He looks a little hunted, anxious, even slightly vulnerable, arm ready to defend. If this is what you wanted, then more should be made of his arms. He is a watcher, but in the cropped version he is also a thinker.

The unfinished torso distracts (I am aware of the painting in life classes or with model and time constraints) because it is unnecessary, too much or not enough information, and weakens the work. It gives the impression that “Today I have this size canvas, I might as well fill it” or “Drat, not enough time, never mind, I’ll just get the basics down” – in that situation I would probably mark out on the canvas where I wanted to paint to, then paint a little further so that I could crop if necessary.

If his torso is important then it needs to be developed to the extent his face is developed, but in that case you could have two focal points, broken by the grey and red clothing. For this to work well (difficult, I think) then the drape would possibly provide a link, and would need to be worked more in form and colour (leaning more towards chiaroscuro painting) to link the whole painting.

When cropping I always look at the bit about to be cut off (family photos etc, I crop them a lot) by covering the rest, and asking myself “am I about to lose any information that adds to this memory”. If the answer is “No” then almost invariably I end up with a better image. The left edge I cropped a little because your lighter, brighter colour mid-way down the canvas suggests a slightly different light source than is on his face.

Having decided to crop your image I did it intuitively. Later I asked why I had chosen those edges. The interesting lower edge on his clothing gives information that confuses or intrigues, but I think it distracts too much from the wonderful treatment of his face.

Friday morning: I wondered why I chose to put this portrait on my blog. I think it is because Silvana paints in a manner that has always eluded me. I have been criticised, however kindly, for not having a distinctive style. I disagree. I think that no matter what medium I am using, apart from the Cassino series based on photographic images, my "stamp" is very firmly on my work. I can look at another's work and say "I wish I could do that", knowing that something in me makes my work my own, despite my intention to emulate another. When I do "do that", in another style, I don't feel that the work is mine. And if it lacks that integrity, I am not happy with it.

I have on my computer a collection of portraits by other artists painted in that lovely, painterly manner with rich colour and strong brushstrokes. But when I paint, even when they start out like that, I have to smooth, to tidy, to blend, and my portraits end up looking as though ... yes, as though *I* have painted them. Funny that!

OK, rant over. Back to pushing colour around...

3 February 2009


Sometimes establishing who you are (if it is important to you) is a matter of working out who you are not.

I find myself repeatedly having to come back to what is my "core business", that is, a painter, teacher and sometimes writer, and pull myself out of distractions.

I keep seeing other ways to earn a living, but know in my heart that they are not really me. I like helping other people make their dreams come true; I just have to stop trying to spread myself too thin and let other aspects go.

This morning I prepared the paper for my next exhibition... this time watercolour, and only of my local village. It will be evening painting work, done in artificial light. The days are spoken for already. I made a promise that my next show here would be 100% local... that is, VERY local. I have a sneaking suspicion that it might only be a few months away.

One of the biggest blocks to my creativity is having to prepare my materials. It is time to reclaim my studio... it has been a kitchen for too many months now! Or shall I choose the other room, it has better light but no water...

mmm... decisions!

Stop getting distracted, back to work!

2 February 2009

a beautiful new project

I have been entrusted with the restoration and reconstruction of a ruined fresco on a vaulted ceiling. Today I climbed up to have a closer look at the techniques used, and have decided to use secco fresco, tempera with a binding glue or egg tempera painted into a thin wash of lime. I am 99% certain that is how it was painted originally. I will be working on scaffolding; this time it is I who will have the sore neck and back, not my workers here!

This is the under-drawing, in traditional red; who knows what colour the original fresco was? Now for some research and quizzing the more senior folk who might remember...
So exciting!

1 February 2009

two down...

This morning I finished two paintings on canvas that have been on the "back burner" far too long. One was acrylic, one oil. You have seen them both on the blog before. They are portraits that I wasn't entirely happy with, and now that they have had their "fine tuning" I will call their new owners and invite inspection.

Now on with the next two... they are acrylic on paper.

Sorry, no time for photos, I can't break the roll I am on. (Isn't the English language strange?)