16, October 2013 § 1 Comment
As another Italy session continues on Paros, I am still surprised to find myself a part of it. After a year away from the Aegean Center, I am back in the darkroom and digital darkroom with John Pack, putting together a final portfolio and helping out in the digital lab. A new semester means a new group of eager classmates and more time to focus on the technical aspects of fine art photography.
When the opportunity to return this semester came about during a difficult moment of transition for me, I felt my return to the Center was a necessary step before moving on with my education. It is not only the wisdom and passion of the teachers here that make this school so unique, but their desire to share it and to inspire their students in all aspects of art and life. My decision to return to Paros was not based on my love of the gentle Parian hillsides, the striking Greek light, or the Aegean Sea that shimmers and transforms itself endlessly, but instead on the Aegean Center community and the possibility of once again benefiting from the insight of the teachers and students here. Paros is an inspiring place but it is John, Jane, and the school that create a profound experience that the environment only enriches.
3, October 2013 § 1 Comment
Learning the secrets of perspective drawing takes on special significance when we are concurrently learning about the art of the Renaissance. Leon Battista Alberti, the great Renaissance artist, architect and scholar detailed the methodology of mathematical perspective in 1435 when he published his book, ‘De Pintura’, in Florence. The knowledge soon spread to every part of Europe as artists adopted one point perspective to project their figures into space and create a window into an imagined world. This method assumes a single view point for the observer. The reduction of scale and overlapping of forms combine to work the magical transformation of a flat plane into a representation of three dimensions.
Students at the Aegean Center learn to use one and two point perspective using simple exercises and then apply this knowledge to direct observation. Once this is understood and absorbed then the drawing of rooms, buildings and furniture is a simple matter and more complex forms of designing space can be utilised.
5, September 2013 § 3 Comments
When one first sees the piazza of the Duomo of Florence it is too immense and textured to take in. Many tourists experience the city just this way, as a blur of color and moving masses of people. With our knowledgeable guide and teacher, Jeffrey Carson, we strive to go beyond the superficial and delve into the individual elements that make up this wondrous architectural monument. Students are invited to compare the three doors of the Baptistery, understand the Byzantine mosaic interior, feel the historical significance of the dome and understand the origin of the patterning on the exterior surfaces. Lunch at one of the many cafes gives us energy to continue and then sculpture and architecture are once again our concerns.
2, September 2013 § 3 Comments
The Aegean Center Fall 2013 Italy Session is just beginning as the summer winds down and the school children ready themselves for another year of study. Twenty four students will arrive in the next few days to join the five faculty in a three week stay in the Villa Rospigliosi in Pistoia, Italy. We are excited to view our favourite art works, to taste the creamy gelato and to wander the medieval streets of places like Siena and Pisa. Of course the food at the villa never fails to please us and the garden is enchanted once again as John connects the pump and the stone fountain flows musically into the pond. We have a special treat coming up as the Accademia in Venice is hosting an exhibition of Leonardo drawings. It has been thirty years since some of these drawings have been shown to the public. We look forward to welcoming the new group and having them share the experience.
30, January 2013 § 3 Comments
by Jane Morris Pack
If we are suffering illness, poverty, or misfortune, we think we shall be satisfied on the day it ceases. But there too, we know it is false; so soon as one has got used to not suffering one wants something else.
– Simone Weil
Illness is a clumsy attempt to arrive at health: we must come to nature’s aid with intellect.
Lying in bed with the winter flu gives one too much time to think. Browsing all the news articles on the brutality of our species adds to the depression. For a brighter view I glance at the happenings in the tech world and also feel overwhelmed. My mind struggles to find a place to be at rest. I ache to be back in the studio and yet I am ambivalent as well. If I’m honest I never really settled this battle, this score with the creative process . Every winter I once again pick up my brushes to try to find a new artistic expression that I so long for when I am away from it, and then I struggle with the “why”. Why am I doing this? Why do I occupy so much of my time and effort in something which after all changes the world so little? I am often asked this question by students. Is the struggle and sacrifice worth it? I don’t claim to have authority but at least the question makes me pause and consider this question for myself.
All artists want recognition and a few even claim to desire fame. But fame brings stiff competition and even more pressures. Having met a few celebrities recently I can only imagine that their stresses are way beyond mine. I would like to say that being an artist is all joy. But perhaps it is only the privileged status we award ourselves that makes this struggle seem worthwhile. The self-doubts and the push to find the material and means to express what you feel about the world, about art, can trip you up. Too much hesitation and the joy can evaporate. I think about my audience, then just as swiftly try to deny their presence. It is fatal to work for another. This constant push toward self renewal is taxing. It is so much easier to find a niche and stay there, or a distinctive method and just push it rearranging the elements. But I think the explorer in me rebels against sameness. Although my work may look similar to others and identifiable as mine, I always feel that I am breaching new walls and confronting new ideas.
We all have limitations. Our place in the world is unfortunately stratified and tiered. I don’t prescribe to the idea that anyone can become anything, although that is an American dream which receives much lip service. But within the limitations that we prescribe for ourselves could we not be more? Could we not do more? How many of us waste the better part of ourselves wondering rather than doing. While lying here on the couch waiting for my health to return I ebb and flow with restlessness and inertia. Maybe age pushes me more strongly than youth. But time ticks away for all of us and what we do not tap will drain away. All humans surely struggle with the balance of work and play, creativity and duty. Perhaps labeling myself as an artist gives me some sense of urgency, or at least inevitability to continue. Could I do more? That answer is an easy yes, a resounding yes.
1, December 2011 § 2 Comments
To my great irritation, John Pack refused to pick us up from the Rome airport on September third. He wrote that it is a necessary experience to navigate the Italian transportation system and find the Villa Rospigliosi by oneself, which as he said, your arrival surprises no one but yourself. I landed in Rome that morning and was by myself overseas for the first time in my life. I followed John’s instructions and found myself on a train to the Roma termini where I would catch the longer train to Florence. I stood by my suitcase, paranoid and lonely, and looked out the window. Graffiti cluttered sooty apartment buildings and laundry hung from decrepit balconies. If it is possible for corn fields to look dirty, they did. I thought: Rome is filthy. As the train ride took too long I felt alternating emptiness and exhilaration and was reminded of a Tazo tea bag quote: “Empty yourself and let the universe fill you.” So I watched people emerge from underground railway steps as if from graves, and wrote that in my journal. In truth it was only I, every changing instant, every train stop, that felt truly reborn. I would come to learn that this rebirth is not quite as easy or as instant as famed. It is the slow de-tassling of corn along the train tracks, the hesitant pull and some resistance as the shuck releases. And once bare: naked, too bright and alone. Of course I wasn’t alone. I arrived at the Villa Rospigliosi, to my surprise, and was greeted by people (the cream of the crop!) that I would come to love. Furthermore, within and despite our togetherness, I would unearth my Self: flesh-colored and content.
Ironically, becoming comfortable as an independent individual was a byproduct of emptying myself. When I abandoned judgment– which filled my previous universe– and my old relationships, and my strongly rooted sense of American identity, I was left, at first, with only myself. And without those things what was I? In the beginning– it started on the train– I was lost, and at risk of fragmentation, as psychoanalysts say, as a result of the departure from my more comfortable universe and its contents. But feeling for the first time the anxiety of an impending state of fragmentation gave me underground wholeness. Emptying myself made room for a “Vita Nuova”; instead of wallowing in aloneness and chaos, I was inspired to embrace a new world and a new calling: to love instead of judge, to marvel instead of stress, to create (art!) instead of deconstruct. Returning to Rome after three weeks in Pistoia I felt as if I were seeing it for the first time. It was raw and ruinous. I noticed the rotting apartment buildings and the (colorful) tourists but wanted it just as it was. I marveled at the oscillating and polluted process of civilization, of art– its demise and miraculous resurfacing. After all, what would the Renaissance have been if not for the Dark Ages.
In short, the process of becoming empty and re-filling solidified my sense of self. Because, of course, by coming to Italy and Greece I did not leave or lose myself at all, but rather re-discovered it in the context of something different. Only then was I sure I had it at all. Being on the precipice of utter aloneness, I found that I am not solely a malleable product of my American culture, but an independent self with a free will and heart to internalize my ever-changing environment, no matter its unfamiliarity. With time, my self was gradually recognized and rebuilt within the unfamiliar constructs of the Aegean Center. And my new-found wholeness was nurtured, even sustained, by the loving relationships I developed, our creative pursuits and our unending quest to relish each other, our art, good food, and the beauty around us. Call it a personal renaissance, or an odyssey, or an extended meditation; whatever it was it gave me presence. It made me art.
As the threat of fragmentation again arises with only two weeks left in the semester, and the physical loss of these wonderful people and Greece is imminent at least for a time, I remind myself of what I have discovered: the competent Self seeks healthy, loving relationships for emotional nourishment but not completion or validation; she lives presently and thoughtfully and forgets familiarity; she embraces solitude; she allows perpetual emptying to fulfill and re-fill her. “Courage is the ability to open oneself to experience the unfamiliar”– I also read that on a tea bag. While this time I will be returning to the familiar, having courage – to find the unfamiliar in this known territory, to marvel at what I see and feel every day and to let that inflame my interests and my relationships – will keep me whole. Thanks for the train ride, John and friends (and Tazo tea).
Caroline Beaton is a painting student at the Aegean Center.
19, October 2011 § 1 Comment
The group of fall students have been in Paros for nearly two weeks now. Last Friday we hiked to the far valley beyond Lefkes and then returned to eat at Flora’s on the hillside overlooking Naxos on the horizon. The last few days we had torrential rains that flooded the streets and thunder crackled overhead. Classes are all underway and some readjustments are being made in schedules, what to pursue, what to drop. Everyone seems busy and determined to excel.
Italy was hot but we kept up a steady pace seeing museums and churches. Gelato was sampled and discussed and coffee took on an elevated status. The meals at the villa were always noisy and satisfying, the garden beautiful but the mosquitos fierce. We drew large perspective studies in the old chapel, photographed the fountain, sang acapella, and listened to Monteverdi.
Paros is welcoming and small in comparison to the grandeur of Rome and Athens but easy to negotiate and familiar. We have settled in, becoming a bit more independent of the group. The Greek economy may be in ruins but island life seems little changed. The beauty of the sea and the sky give us longer vistas to contemplate.
15, May 2010 § Leave a comment
The Aegean Center has been featured in the Summer Issue of Creo Magazine. The author, Silvia Viñas, wanted to highlight a student’s firsthand experience at the Center and chose Shanoor Seervai, a student fall 2009 Italy-Greece Session, to interview. (Shanoor, we miss you!)
6, February 2009 § Leave a comment
Part 2 of 3
On Thursday, sunny and bright, we took the bus up along the Corso, and then walked a few blocks until we found the Casa di Goethe. Carefully refurbished, it opened a few years ago; this was our first visit. The exhibition was “Italians in Weimar: Italian drawings from the 16th to the 19th centuries.” Our kind of stuff: sheets by Carracci, Rosa, and others whose drawings are often better than their paintings. The permanent collection of Goethe memorabilia – letters, paintings, and such – was also worthy, and we stayed about an hour-and-a-half. Then we walked to the nearby Piazza del Popolo, but the church was closed. We browsed the Christmas stalls in the piazza, stopped into two small churches, and then took the bus, a small electric job, to the Ghetto, where we like an inexpensive little Jewish trattoria, where Liz had braised beef with rughetta and I tripa ala romana.
The previous day we had made reservations to visit the Palazzo Farnese. We had attempted several times in the past to get there, but success evaded us. Our reservation was accepted at the last minute – it is open only Thursday and Sunday afternoons, and one must take a tour in either Italian or French. The palace, the largest in Rome, is a High Renaissance masterpiece by Antonio da Sangallo; the top story and cornice are by Michelangelo. It has been the French embassy since 1874, and is immaculately maintained. When we got there, standing by one of the two fine fountains in the piazza, we realized that we had forgotten our reservation paper, and Gabriel ran back to the hotel to get it and also identification. Our tour was in French, but since we knew whereof our polite and pretty guide spoke, we understood well enough. What a beautiful place, quiet and polished: the “neoclassical” courtyard, the formal garden, the beige stone courtyard with travertine trim, all perfect. Perhaps the highlight is the Camerino frescoed by Annibale Carracci, Caravaggio’s great rival. It is tastefully lit and beautifully decorated, and contains fine classical statues in the niches; the mythological scenes of the Loves of the Gods are a dancing mixture of exuberance and restraint, libidinous and learned. Baroque decorative painting starts here.
We needed a walk. Off to San Eustachio to admire our machine, and to drink a cup. From there we went to San Luigi dei Francesi, which was in restauro, and thence to San Agostino to admire Caravaggio’s moving Madonna di Loreto (the peasant with the dirty feet), Raphael’s Michelangelesque Isaiah, Andrea Sansovino’s lovely marble Madonna and Child with Saint Anne, and Jacopo Sansovino’s fine but ickily venerated Madonna del Parto.
For dinner we all walked to a fancy place near the Farnese. It is fashionable and lively and has good food. Liz had tonno carpaccio and scallopini di limone. I had two-color pasta with ceci and clams. Fresh frutti di bosco suited all for dessert, and a Sicilian white wine proved extremely refreshing. The gently twinkling Christmas lights strung over many street of the Centro Storico echoed our mood accurately.
Back in the room, I thought to put the television on after I lay down, but fell asleep before I managed it. Liz was already asleep.
Friday again was sunny. Liz and I strolled about the Campo. Later, we went, mostly by bus, to the new Museo di Corso to see a great exhibition: “From Rembrandt to Vermeer: Civil values in 17th century Flemish and Dutch painting”. The museum is another refurbished old palazzo. There were two paintings by Rembrandt, a couple by Rubens, a couple by De Hoogh (one a masterpiece), and the general level was very high. They all came from Berlin’s Gemaldegalerie, and among them was Vermeer’s Woman with a Pearl Necklace, a masterpiece of the geometry of light. Elegantly dressed, she admires herself in a mirror on the wall. One of Vermeer’s great ones, it can be quietly contemplated for a long time. This was a perfect show for us, for it does not compete in the mind with Bellini – the sensibility is too different.
We went for a walk, and ended up at a shop where Jane had purchased a blouse on the preceding day. Liz bought a silk scarf. The shop’s owner took us to his girlfriend’s little restaurant, where we had lunch. We spoke Greek with her, who lived much of two decades in Rhodes. Liz and Jane had beef with various pâtés, I had a voluptuous crostone, and John had tiny gnocchi. After a walk past the Trevi fountain, we indulged in gelato at Giolitti.
John had booked tickets for a 5:00 o’clock concert in Sant’ Agnese, Borromini’s undulating church on the Piazza Navona. The church has been renovated, and though small feels spacious and sparkling; the over-the-top statuary is by Algardi’s followers. The concert was in Borromini’s sacristy, which has just reopened. An excellent Norwegian violinist played a Bach Partita, then a virtuosic modern piece, and then, accompanied by an Italian pianist, the Franck sonata, which I always enjoy, vulgar though it be.
We ate at an old favorite, Da Sergio, where I had boiled beef and cicoria. O.K., I admit it, I had another gelato for dessert.
2, February 2009 § 2 Comments
Part 1 of 3
Students and friends have been asking how our December trip to Rome went. Here’s how.
On Tuesday, December 16th, on a fine day, John, Jane, Gabriel, Liz, and I flew from Paros to the Athens airport; the sea was rough below, but the flight was smooth. After a few hours wait and our last bad coffee for a week, we flew to Rome, where a preordered car took us to the Hotel Arenula, where we also stay with students.
Lazio had just drowned in a week of furious rain, and it was feared the Tiber would flood its banks. Rain was predicted, but did not come, and we enjoyed clement weather.
We went to dinner for a Roman pizza near the Piazza Navona. Proper Roman pizza has thin, crisp, curling crust, and needs to be eaten before it turns soggy. Mine was topped with quattro formaggi and rughetta (the Tuscan spelling is ruchetta, in Naples it is rucola, and in America, oddly, arugula).
Afterwards we went for a long evening walk. The city was humming with life, Christmas lights were twinkling, and on the Piazza Navona stalls were set up selling Christmas knickknacks – such vulgarization, while animated, is perhaps not the best idea for the beautiful piazza. Also, Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers was out of restoration (our September students missed it), and many details formerly suppressed by grime were now evident.
On Wednesday, after our early hotel breakfast – the breakfast lady, whom we have known for twenty years, makes good espresso and provides an early morning weather report – we walked to the Tiber to ascertain the damage. The river ran brown with soil, logs floated by, the lower sidewalks were deeply inundated, a boat was completely ruined. No riparian booths this Christmas.
What a pleasure to be strolling through la città eterna! We went to the Chiesa Santo Pellegrini, a strong, simple, dirty, Baroque edifice spared the ornamentation that usually renders Baroque churches simultaneously overbearing and flighty, and inspected various fine palazzi and ancient survivals. After an espresso, we reached the imposing Chiesa Nuova, with its heavy façade. The inside is of majestic proportions, but Baroque decoration – all that gilding – trivializes it. The main attraction is the three huge altarpiece paintings made by Rubens, when as a young man he spent eight years in Rome to learn the secrets of the Italian masters, and did learn them, as evident here.
We took a bus part of the way to the hotel and met up with John, Jane, Gabriel, whence we took a cab to the Quirinale hill to see the Bellini exhibit, ostensibly our reason for going to Rome: we all love him. The show was in the Scuderie, or Pope’s stables, built in 1732. Refurbishing ancient and crumbling buildings into modern exposition spaces is an Italian specialty. The Scuderie, the Palazzo del Quirinale, and the Palazzo della Consulta compose a noble urban space, at the center of which rises an obelisk and the huge, damaged statues of the Dioscuri. Roman and Baroque are the city’s two dominant artistic periods.
The exhibition was on two floors. We spent an hour-and-a -half on the first, then sat for a coffee in the caffè, then spent another hour-and-a-half on the second floor. Former student Adrian Eisenhower joined us.
Giovanni Bellini (c.1430-1516) started as the student of his father Jacopo, whose drawings formed the basis for Venetian art, gave the structure to hold shimmering mosaic color into the Renaissance, and let Venice know what Gentile da Fabriano and Masaccio had discovered. His brilliant brother-in-law was Mantegna, whose wiry, intellectual, cool style had a great influence on young Bellini. They both used Jacopo’s drawings, with their immaculate perspective, throughout their careers. But Bellini kept changing, and lived long. When the mysterious Sicilian master Antonello da Messina showed up in Venice in 1473, with a style heavily influenced by the rich color effects of Flemish oils, Bellini, already experimenting with oils, made his works less linear, less dramatic, and more atmospheric, calm, and monumental. Tempera was out. The unobtrusive fusion of colors and atmospheric gradation of tones led him to a serene nobility and moderated sensuality.
All through Bellini’s life his style is intuitive and unanalyzable, with an uncanny genuineness. Indeed I am willing to aver that Bellini, born two decades before Leonardo, arrived at the High Renaissance in his last works. And Leonardo was born more than two decades before Michelangelo and Raphael. Think of the old Venetian, whom tramontane Dürer called the greatest painter in Italy, painting his first females nudes in his eighties! His sensuous color, atmosphere, shadows, and intensities seem delicate, and yet produce monumentality. With a new conception of space and a personal religious sense, he is supreme. He seems to me a profound pantheist, which is not Catholic, or even Christian, and the painting that shows this off best (not in the show), was the one which first impressed me in my distant youth, St. Francis in Ecstasy, in the Frick, which we last visited in June. Did this masterpiece first turn me towards the Italian Renaissance? In old age he was influenced by his students Georgione and Titian.
The show begins with the Pesaro Altarpiece, which we previously saw in, of course, Pesaro, on the way to Urbino in 2006. Here it was better displayed and lit, and the dramatic Vatican panel was in its high place.
I had to force myself not to spend too much time in front of paintings from Venice that I know well and will see again. There were works we had seen only once, and some we had never seen and will likely never see again, and they had to be learned and assimilated now.
A few of the pieces were ill lit, most glaringly the huge Vicenza Altarpiece, which was footlighted to make it seem impressive, a Christmas decoration. Shocking to encounter such insensitivity at the Scuderie.
The Murano Altarpiece, which looked abraded and faded in its home two years ago, looked splendid here: have they cleaned it?
We had to leave sometime. Dazed by so much beauty, profundity, and quiet skill, we took a long walk through the city, and stopped at San Eustachio Il Caffè for a “gran caffè”. Here John astonished us. The unassuming, inconspicuous, crowded café is supposed to serve the world’s best espresso, and does. Well, the caffè is now marketing its own machine, and John bought one for Packs and one for Carsons. How shall we ever get the bulky macchina and box of puffy packets back to Paros?
Lunch: a street pizza slice for us three lads, and bresaola from an alimentari for the ladies. We ate sitting on the rim of the fountain in front of the Pantheon. More strolling.
Adrian joined us all for dinner at one of our regular eateries in Trastevere. The area was hopping with strollers and the bars and restaurants seemed full. Liz, Jane, and Gabriel had steaks, John had venison, and I had quail. The grill-master is a genius. We passed around a bowl of wild mushroom soup and other delicacies. On our walk back, the city was throbbing with strollers. I tried to image a richer day, but could not.