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  • Writer's pictureHelen C

European Adventures

This past summer, I spent 6 weeks in Rome taking portrait and figure painting classes, which, were monumental in my practice today. I love figurative paintings, but had never had training in portrait painting. In my high school art classes we did practice drawing self-portraits in charcoal but used a grid method and photographs. Learning how to observe a live model and use our learned and natural inclinations was hard and wonderful. Simultaneously, we went to museums and churches all throughout Rome. I can't say this was my first trip abroad...I went to Rome with my family when I was 10, but I don't really remember that trip unfortunately. Since then, this was my first trip abroad and on top of being exposed to a new culture...I learned incredible techniques and saw jaw-dropping artwork.

Learning art history from textbooks and slideshows is one thing...but seeing paintings, sculptures, and drawings from centuries ago along with an instructor telling you facts and stories about the artists was unreal. Now, when I view portraits, historic and contemporary, I see through a new lens. I then went to visit a friend I made in the program who lives in England and saw phenomenal work there. These were some of my favorite pieces from my trips.

I took a zillion photos in Italy and England, but for some reason, these are the ones I want to include in this blog post. Perhaps it's because this is where my mind is at with my taste and thought process as I begin to write my thesis. I am curious about discussing the female gaze and artists who choose to paint women. I had a unique conversation with my thesis advisor about the psychology of all of this. About how, POSSIBLY, when male painters decide to paint a is solely about the female and her body, her face, her essence.. However, when women paint women...there is so much more to consider. As women, we have to think cyclically, or perhaps, in a broader way more often than men. Whether that is because some women are mothers, or wanting to be, and we are just trained as children knowing, someday we might have the responsibility to take care of the surroundings around us...not just ourselves but the life of others, a child, a spouse...we are conditioned to be a nurturer. So the world in which you place the female figure and the objects, environment, etc that is around the woman is as sensitive and important than just executing a well-painted woman. You are describing her story that she lives and breathes everyday. (maybe too heady...unsure if this will be my thesis but something I've been thinking about recently as I choose subjects and compositions and look at male vs female painters and how they've created compositions, etc).

Also, I've been struggling with whether or not I want to commit to a life of landscape painting. I did a lot of them before grad school and they were well received by my community (who doesn't want validation and money haha) and it's hard to not be influenced by the beautiful locations where I grew up, Hilton Head Island, SC and upstate NY along the St. Lawrence River. That's where the 7 Canadian Painters spent time painting from life (a huge influence for Peter Doig paintings). I do enjoy looking at landscapes and the essence of landscapes is in my bones. But right now, at least, there is something devoid of emotion in them. A lack of a figure. I want there to be another element in them. When I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, I strangely bypassed some world-class paintings and went directly to two exhibitions strictly about illustrations. The Beatrix Potter exhibition (she wrote and illustrated Peter Rabbit) and another that included illustrations from the Wind and the Willows by Helen Ward. I love line drawings, quirky characters, creative reminds me of all of the children's book I loved reading as a child. (Which influenced me to write/illustrate a book in 2021).

I also am curious about color decisions in my own practice and if I want to lean towards more high key pieces or muted palettes...or if my "portfolio" and practice needs to be defined by one or the other. I enjoy looking at work that has both as well as art that includes both thin paint application and impasto. I feel like I am making a soup with a lot of ingredients and unsure how good it's going to taste. But the more recipes I look at and batches I make...the better I'll get. Wish me luck.

Anyways, that's enough rambling for now. But 6 weeks in Italy and England called for a long post.

A song for the road (one of the instructors played this song a lot during our class and I fell in love with the lyrics and sound):

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