Vissi d’Arte (I lived for Art, Aria by Puccini’s Opera, Tosca)
By Jennifer Bentson
I entered my flat after 30 hours of travel with my tired Los Angeles feet touching the 12th century floor tiles. I could feel the Italian passion for art seep through the tiles and 18 inch walls. It was as if Puccini had walked here and composed the Aria, Vissi d’Arte from Tosca – I lived for Art. As I felt the magic of creativity swarm through the Civitella (walled city), I unpacked and raced up to the patio near the church bell tower. I chose to paint rather than to sleep. The bell tower was a monolith to the rolling velvet hills below. Vestiges of a forgotten sea hung white on the escarped slopes stretching to the horizon. I looked out from the patio over this hillside and valleys saying this is my home for 6 days and feeling the paint run from my fingers.
There was a group of artists selected from all over the world through a submission process to attend an opportunity to work together. There were artists from Italy, Australia, Columbia, Tunisia, Germany, Russia, and of course, California and Arizona. We were given housing in a Civitella, which is a very old walled community with a central plaza, and a church. The evening light from an open window would fall onto the living room couch and I realized what other artists have said about the Italian light. Every morning I arose before dawn and watched the sun cast the long golden rays onto the crusted tiles of the roof below my window and across the gentle hills of the Tiber River. Grape vines, sunflowers, and cattle greeted the sun with their own language of a new day. It was during these cool early hours that I carried my block of watercolor paper and explored the Citivella paths to paint the scenery that I imagine has inspired some of the greatest artists of Italy, the landscape and light. The air in the early morning is sweet, unlike any air you have ever inhaled. The light has a twinkle in the golden rays that enchant your field of vision. It’s as if a sparkling Angel flew overhead each morning.
At the workshop, the artists were given space to work in a 3 story Atelier (workshop). It was there that we learned about each companion artist, sought artistic comment, and had evening talks about inspiration and shared bodies of work. I felt bonded to the many artists and my psyche was expanded. I remember feeling lost at one point at what to paint for the exhibition that was held at the end of the workshop. My studio neighbor, Lark Pilinsky said, paint what you feel, don’t worry about what comes out. This was just what I needed to hear to do my piece of artwork, Angel Flying Over Italy. Our work was on exhibit for the town’s local wine celebration, Terre Del Grechetto. It was a weekend long wine, music, and art celebration. Grechetto is the local wine which is a lot like Pinot Grigio, only less acidic and better tasting. The Exhibition was fantastic and each artist shown their art on the walls of the ancient building. Each one of us had a painting selected will go to Rome, Italy, for an exhibition in 2016. My painting, Angel Flying Over Italy was left behind for the exhibition in Rome. This painting shows an Angel with a dress of Italy: grapes, volcano, artichoke, sun and villa!
Along with our painting experiences we had other cultural adventures. We visited a local sculptor Paul Wiedmer’s Sculpture Garden. Each year he invites an artist to live at his complex and create something for the garden. His own personal muse inspires his creations using fire and metal. Then we visited the Mostri Garden where Mr. Orsini, a wealthy Italian, hired a sculptor to create statues dedicated to his deceased wife. Many of the statues were of Roman/Greek mythology. He also made a 2 story home that slanted so that the person entering had vertigo from the angles of the walls. I think he had a sense of humor. At the invitation of an international photographer, Emilio Gentilini, we visited Orvieto, a town that used to be the home of the Pope for hundreds of years. The cathedral has the remarkable fame of having been visited by Michelangelo to study the work of Luca Signorelli. Signorelli was a genius in portraying the human form in the frescos in the cathedral.
We visited a huge lake, Lake Bolsena, which was a hidden gem. I think that this lake
would give Lake Como a run for the money.
After Italy I flew to France. While waiting at the Leonardo Airport, Rome, Italy, I happened upon a boutique shop, Fabriano. This is a very old Italian paper company that has made paper since 1245. In the back of the shop were fabulous artist papers. I was quick to spend a small fortune on some elegant paper that I had never seen in the USA. The shop manager and I spoke at length about the paper and the USA. She gave me her card and asked for a painting, while throwing in a free pad of Fabriano Paper. I was very touched by this experience.
Overall the week in Italy was a great inspiration, and what artist doesn’t need a good dose of inspiration. I left the Civitella and traveled to France where I was pampered with the French linens, countryside, and wine. The Dordogne Valley is a medieval landscape of castles on hills, limestone cliff, yes, and cave paintings dating 50,000 years old or older. You can say you saw some of the earliest art known to man.
Free to paint and sketch at my leisure, I visited a sunflower field, tomato garden, berry bushes along side the road, and just sat and sketched from my abode. The scenery in France is magical, and unlike Italy, the light has a golden ochre cast. Maybe because the stones that make up the buildings are full of the mineral used to make yellow ochre. I missed the Atelier and the chance to confab with other artists, but enjoyed the freedom
to wander and paint.
It’s no wonder that Italy and France are home to so many artists. The light and scenery are very inviting. The people of Italy and France cherish art, and their artists. I was very well received when I mentioned I was an artist. The sheer admiration and interest in my art jettisoned my desire to create. Visiting these two countries should be on every artist’s path. I will definitely return and absorb the passion of the hills and valleys, light, and ancient buildings.