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  • Footsteps in Jeffersonville, Vermont

     

    I spent last week painting in and around Jeffersonville, VT with a large group of painters.  Our crew was organized by Stapleton Kearns, who wanted to revive an old New England tradition of meeting other artists in the hills next to Mount Mansfield for painting and camaraderie.  I say revive, not because artists haven’t been painting there (the area is dense with art and artists), but because traveling groups of painters haven’t been staying at the particular inn we rented.

    We stayed at the Smugglers’ Notch Inn, built in 1790, which by the beginning of the 20th century had become a meeting place for some of the best and brightest outdoor painters in the Northeast.  Artists would meet there so often that the hotel kept a studio for artists- see the below advertisement for the hotel, drawn by Emile Gruppe, and below that a picture of the inn today:

     

     

    From the 1920s through the 1960s or so you might find John Carlson (1874-1945), Aldro Hibbard (1886-1972), Charles Curtis Allen (1886-1950), Emile Gruppe (1896-1978), Chauncey Ryder (1868-1949), Leo Blake (1887-1976), Loring Coleman (1918-2015), Roy Mason (1886-1972), John F. Enser (1898-1968), Thomas R. Curtin (1899-1977) or Harry Ballinger (1892-1993) staying at the hotel.  I have added the birth/death dates to drive the point home that although these artists were from another generation, it really wasn’t all that long ago at all.  Loring Coleman passed just a couple years ago.

    Jeffersonville is a tiny town but has a great density of artists and galleries.  Alden Bryan lived and worked there, I wasnt familiar with his work, but he had an ingenious set up: a horse-drawn studio with windows and a wood stove in it for painting outdoors, a sort-of Vermont winter version of Monet’s boat studio.  The carriage has been fully restored and can be seen outside the Visions of Vermont Gallery.  Click here to see photos and read about his portable painting cart.  Besides the Visions of Vermont Gallery, there is also the Bryan Memorial Gallery.

    Back in the old days, the owners of the inn said that John Carlson would sing for the group in the evenings, and accompany himself on piano.  I suppose he had a wonderful voice. We sat in that room at night, but thankfully we weren’t subjected to any of the artists’ singing.

    As I said, the inn kept a studio for artists, and when the weather wasn’t agreeable they would work indoors or hire the model there.  That said, the inn was hardly the only draw for artists- Mid-Century Modernists Florence and Hans Knoll also set up shop in nearby Cambridge when they retired, and their home went up for sale in 2012.

     

     

    The artists up for the trip were myself, Stape Kearns, TM Nicholas, Ken DeWaard, Peter Yesis, Thomas Adkins, Ted Charron, Garin Baker, Todd Bonita, Christopher Volpe and Sergio Roffo.  Click any artist’s name for a link to their work.  We were joined most days by hometown heroes Hunter Eddy (one of my dear friends from my Italy days who now lives outside Burlington) and Eric Tobin.  Eric really deserves an extra-special shout out, as he doesn’t just do impressive paintings, he also pointed where we should go, and when, and how many cars could fit.  Having someone who knows the lay of the land is invaluable when painting outside.

     

    As an aside, I think this trip convinced me to start using a Gloucester easel, Stapleton and TM were kind enough to lend me one to try.  They have a super-wide, low footprint, and their resistance to wind when working on large pieces makes them an invaluable bit of kit.  The above picture was during a super windy day with 40 mph gusts, and that is a 32×40″ canvas that barely moved an inch. I am good with my cigar box up to a 24×30″ or so, but as canvases get bigger I think I will be switching to a Gloucester.  Here is a link to the Take-It easel, the Gloucester easel with the modifications that those guys use.

    The weather was crazy up there last week.  We had three seasons in three days- temperatures went from negative digits to sunny, back to snowy.  The below pics are from one day after the above photo.

     

    TM Nicholas and Hunter Eddy

    Stapleton Kearns and Eric Tobin chatting in the mill

    Sergio Roffo up on the hill in the distance

     

    Another post next week when I’ve had time to clean up my paintings from VT- it’s still snowing on and off so I’m trying to finish a last few things around Boston before all my snow is gone.

  • Plein Air Maine Pictures, October 2016

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    Stonington Harbor from Church St, 20×24″

    I thought I should make a separate post for the recent outdoor pictures I painted with the Russian crew in Maine.  Basically all of these got reworked entirely in the studio.

     

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    Fishing Shacks, Dusk 22×28″

     

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    Golden Hour, Allen Cove 14×18″

     

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    Lobster Pound, 22×28″

     

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    Windy Day at Eagle Lake 12×16″

     

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    Powell Camp 12×16″

     

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    Ocean Street Fishing Shacks, 27×38″

     

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    Stonington Lobster Co-Op, Glare Effect 26×36″

     

  • Blue Hill/Deer Isle Peninsula October 2016

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    Back in 2013, a group of my friends and I were invited to paint in Plyos, the Russian city in the Ivanovo region where Isaak Levitan painted many of his most important pictures.  The weather wasn’t great (you can read about that trip by clicking here, and I should really rephotograph the paintings I still have from the trip ).  During that difficult trip we developed a lot of camaraderie with our Russian counterparts, though we had little common language.  Painting through the torrential rain every day, and complaining and drinking at night.

    This year, my friend Ben Fenske wanted to return the favor, so he invited a small group of the Russian artists we painted with to come paint in the US, and organized an exhibition at the end of the trip at Grenning Gallery in Sag Harbor, NY– Ben also organized a few American artists as counterparts, as we had in 2013.  The artists that were painting together were Carl Bretzke, Viktor Butko, Ben Fenske, Olga Karpacheva, Stapleton Kearns, Tim McGuire, Jesse Powell, Irina Rybekova and Oleg Zhuravlev [click any artist’s name for a link to their website] Additionally, my friend Kelly Carmody had been painting in Maine, and we spent time painting with her throughout the trip.  Jesse Powell was gracious enough to host our very large group at his family’s camp on a pond in Blue Hill, ME.  We were there for peak fall color, and thankfully the weather was mostly good.

     

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    Trips like these are interesting- whatever the weather ends up being like, there’s an undeniable energy in getting a large group of artists together; everyone brings their ‘A’ game, and there is a sort of friendly competition and excitement to watching the group’s work develop.  For me personally, being away from my family encourages me to spend every waking moment working on paintings, as I want to make sure I’m using my time well.   As an artist it’s an energizing experience, however your paintings end up it will revitalize your studio time.  There is a bit of magic in all the big personalities, on your feet working all day, and large dinners at night.  It was intense, and exhausting.

     

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    Here are a few of my pictures I started during the trip, and I have finished in the studio (Next post I will put the other half of the paintings from the trip, they are larger and have been taking more time to complete)

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    Stonington Harbor from Church St, 20×24″

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    Golden Hour, Allen Cove 14×18″

     

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    Lobster Pound, 22×28″

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    Powell Camp 12×16″

     

    Here’s some pictures from the trip of the group at work:

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    Tim McGuire painting in Stonington

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    Olga Karpacheva painting at Jesse Powell’s in the rain

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    Oleg Zhuravlev in Stonington on the Highlands

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    Irina Rybekova and Zhuravlev on Mt Cadillac above Eagle Lake

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    Jesse Powell painting in Stonington

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    Stapleton Kearns in Stonington

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    Me painting at Powell Camp

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    Olga Karpacheva and myself painting a Lobster Pound

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    Kelly Carmody

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    Ben Fenske and Viktor Butko painting happily in the rain

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    Fenske and Carmody in Stonington

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    Viktor Butko painting the Lobster Co-Op

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    Carl Bretzke painting in Stonington

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    the day we were completely rained out we took the Russians to the Farnsworth in Rockland to see the Wyeth collection

    The fall color was fantastic, though going into the trip I was slightly concerned the Russians would find inland Maine too similar to Russia- I had forgotten that though they also have fantastic fall color, they don’t have all the blood red maple foliage.

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    Our show at Grenning Gallery in Sag Harbor will open on November 5th.  Most of the artists will be in attendance.

  • Nova Scotia’s South Shore

     

    *edit 9/25/15 somehow forgot to include this top image when I came back from Nova Scotia

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    Dory Shop 14×18″

     

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    Backlit Docks in Blue Rocks 12×16″

     

    Before being in Boston and organizing the smattering of courses, open studios and dinner parties of the past week, I spent a fun half-relaxed work trip in Nova Scotia with my old friends Marc and Ben.  We were painting for Ann Long Fine Art, whose gallery is in Charleston, South Carolina, but has had a summer home in Chester on the south shore of NS for some time now.  We painted all week, ate well and wrestled with the fog, and had a cocktail party at the end to show the locals our work.

     

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    Picton Castle, Fog 16×12″

     

    I’d been wanting to get to Nova Scotia for a long time.  Though it feels far, geographically, it is very close- there is an intense history between the historic fishing towns of Gloucester, MA and Lunenburg, NS- a sometimes bitter, sometimes friendly rivalry over the fishing area of George’s Bank- smack between the arm of Cape Cod and the peninsula of Nova Scotia, off the coast of Maine. On a personal note, I grew up with my dad going through bouts of listening to what seemed like exclusively Stan Rogers, drunkenly singing along to ‘Northwest Passage” at inordinate volume.  I imagine he picked up his affinity of NS’ folk music back in the 60’s when he lived in Vermont and invited musicians from nearby Cape Breton to record in Vermont.

     

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    Morning Mist, Blue Rocks 12×16″

     

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    Docks in Fog 20×24″

     

    I suppose what had been attracting me to go to NS to paint, besides the summer fishery subject matter I’ve come to love painting in Maine, was the palpable atmosphere that everyone talks about- and we had plenty of that.   Though we had many sunny days, the fog was often thick enough to cut with a knife.  The above painting started out as a clear, blue sky sunny day front-lit painting, and by the end of the trip I was understating the fog effect in my picture.  C’est la vie.

     

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    Chester Boat Yards 12×16″

     

    I’d very much like to get up there to paint again, though next time maybe focusing on Cape Breton or Prince Edward Island.

     

     

     

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    Ripple Wharf, Chester 12×16″

    See Marc’s paintings from our Nova Scotia trip by clicking here.

  • Painting on the Move

    *disclaimer* This post will only be interesting to you if you’ve tried to travel with your painting gear and/or like to paint outside.  Or are interested in that sort of thing.

    Packing your painting kit for a trip away painting is never ‘easy’.  Generally speaking, easels are unwieldily, paint tubes heavy, things leak, and finished paintings can arrive scratched or damaged.  That said I’ve gotten used to it over the years, and come up with systems that work for me.  This year though, things have changed a bit- we have a 7-month old, and he requires a lot more gear than I do.  Traveling with a stroller and diaper bag puts things in perspective when you’re packing. So I needed to put a bit more thought into my kit this time.

    We’ll be away for a month and I was able to bring with me my whole portable studio- paints, brushes, medium, palette knives, 24″ brushes, spill proof turp jar, rolled canvas, canvas panels, canvas pliers, canvas tacks, tripod easel, cigar box, palette/canvas lights.  Without overage fees.

    About the easel first- If I don’t have the space to bring a box easel I use what is often called the Italian Field Easel.  It’s a steel tripod easel that is inexpensive, lightweight but very sturdy, and most importantly gets up to my eye level.  As long as you buy the steel version, these are very long-lasting easels, and have a sturdy middle portion from which you can hang your backpack or a bag of rocks from if it gets windy.  They make aluminum versions, I broke a new one 7 days into a 10 day painting trip in Spain years ago.  I always buy the steel one now.  The only steel one I’ve ever broken while painting was from thermal shock high in the alps.

    Here’s a link to Blick – they’ve started making a version of the tripod I use.  I got one on sale the other day for 29 dollars.  You really can’t beat that.  It’s slightly lighter weight than the version by Richeson, but I’ve used the Richeson ones for years-  That’s probably the one I would recommend, but it weighs a pound or two more.  Either are slightly too large for my suitcase, so I cut the mast down an inch or two with a hacksaw to get it to fit.

    I like the design of the pochade box/tripod systems I’ve seen, though to be honest, I don’t really like being limited by the tripod.  I paint standing most of the time- At my height, to get the painting up near eye level either the tripod mast or mounting starts to wobble.  It’s bearable but annoying, especially in the wind.  What I really dislike is that when you raise a pochade box on a tripod you raise the mixing area as well.  In short, what I want is to have my palette area near my hand, and painting near my eye.  I hate painting hunched over.  Makes sense, no?

    For years, my smallest/lightest kit has been my cigar box setup- just a reinforced empty box of cigars that you can get for free from a tobacconist.  Someone figured out how to attach them to the tripod easel in the studio, and there it was, a cigar-box-easel setup that costs nearly nothing, and worked better than the very expensive pochade box I had just bought.  Marc has a nice in depth post about his on the blog, with pictures of how they attach to your easel or how it looks on your lap.  My friends and I all built them in the old studio in Florence, and they’re a great piece of kit as they are long lasting and only cost your time and the price of hinges and screws.  I built my first one in 2009 and it finally got half crushed during my trip to Russia last year.  Here it is:

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    As you can see above, my old box setup worked fine, but I never liked having such a small mixing area- even for small sketches.  Also (like the modern pochade kits), this limited how large I could work outside- besides the mixing area, the painting size maxed out at 16×20″/40x50cm.  That’s a good size, but I do paint larger than that outdoors at times.

    Below is my new cigar box- its smaller than the old one, but has a much larger mixing area as both the box bottom and lid are used as a palette.

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    This is the whole new kit put together– the lights are the Mighty Bright Duet 2 lights, with 2 LEDs in each stem

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    Here’s the new box, hand for scale.  The tape covers the outside edge of my palette cups, which I cut a hole for and put through the box.

    As you can see bottom left in the photo above, this box has a different mounting system- my friend Joe Altwer had them made, it affixes to the easel with a winged screw like the easel’s mounting brackets.

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    Closeup of Joe’s box mounting bracket glued and screwed into place

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    This new small box design leaves double the palette space for mixing and frees up a lot of space on the mast- it can hold 24×30″s as easily as as 8×10″s.  I really like Joe’s solution- super simple, and probably inspired by the trucks on his skateboard.  Here’s a link to a clip of Joe skateboarding (that is not Joe with his tongue out), and here is another link to Joe’s website.  I think he may end up selling similar boxes on his site at some point, I know he was selling his boxes in Florence last couple of years.  Write him an email and ask.

    This is much more about finding a functional, lightweight kit that works for me than being frugal or anything else- and there are some beautiful lightweight kits on the market, they just don’t exactly measure up to what I want.  It is still worth mentioning though- this new box setup cost me in parts less than four dollars at home depot the other day, and maybe a couple hours of my time.

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    Some of the panels I brought with me this trip.

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    The other thing that weighs down your bags is your supports, of course.  To find a lighter solution, this fall I bought a used dry mounting press for making canvas panels.  Having your canvas mounted makes travel a lot easier – for years, I had been making them with LineCo acid free glue in the states or ph-neutral wood glue in Italy, but often you’d end up with bubbles or the canvas adhering the the table.  It’s not a perfect system.  Dry mounting canvas solves those problems- making them myself offers me a lot of options: I can mount to acid free Foamcoare or Gatorfoam if I need to pack light, and Aluminum DiBond if I need something that could survive a nuclear blast.   Some of the panels in the above picture are foam core or lightweight birch, and altogether that stack weighs much less than my gesso panels.  This system also quickly uses up all the spare odd shaped pieces of canvas around the studio and the panels I had laying around unprimed.

    The only thing that I was concerned about was the amount of paint I was bringing and if anything was going to put me overweight it was those- also, I’ve had them take tubes before.  As usual, I got one of their notes stuffed in my bag and they ripped apart my bag of paint, though thankfully I haven’t found any paint on anything.  Yet.

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    Links to this sort of stuff-

    This is a link to Vincent Giarrano’s cigar box pochade boxes.  Different than what I wanted, but very nice design/build.

    Here is another link to someone making a modern pochade/tripod setup out of a cigar box.

    This is a YouTube video on dry-mounting canvas.

    BEVA 371 is the glue that restorers recommend for mounting canvas to rigid supports.  Make sure to get the 2.5mm glue, not the 1.0.

    David Gluck and Kate Stone’s post about making mounted panels.  David was nice enough to answer a couple of questions about what size press to get last year.

     

  • Plyos – зеленый шум 2013

     

    This year I was invited by the Museum of Landscape in Plyos, Ivanovo Region, Russia to represent Italy in their annual regional painting exhibition and cultural exchange – зеленый шум or ‘Green Noise’.

    In previous years they had hosted painters from other regions of Russia, and a few years ago began inviting international artists- 2011 was France, and 2012 was a group from Cyprus.  Next year will be Holland or England I believe.  We were each asked to donate an Italian painting to the permanent collection of the landscape museum, and they picked another painting from the body of work we did which will either remain part of the collection or be sold to raise funds.  The show is up until October 20th.

     

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    Here’s my painting that’s now at the museum in Plyos- Market at San Lorenzo, 30x40cm 2011

     

    Plyos was made famous by Isaak Levitan, and in turn he made much of his reputation on his Plyos series.  I’d always been curious what Plyos was like, having admired Levitan for years, this trip was an amazing opportunity.  It’s remained a destination town- Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev vacations there, and even though we were off-season we crossed paths with him on our first day.

    Sixteen artists total, eight Italians and eight Russians- the artists representing Italy this year were Daniela AstoneMarc DalessioBen Fenske, myself, Tim McGuireLuciano Regoli, Serghiy Shtanko and Vitaliy Shtanko who was the organizer of the Italian painters.  Our group was mostly culled from The Florence Academy of Art circle, and although I’m American I suppose living and working in Italy for over ten years is enough to represent the Italians.

    The Russian group was Виктор Бутко (Viktor Butko), Ольга Карпачева (Olga Karpacheva), Василий Куракса (Vasiliy Kuraksa), Людмила Кузнецова (Lyudmila Kuznetsova), Григорий Новиков (Grigoriy Novikov), Юрий Орлов (Yuri Orlov), Ирина Рыбакова (Irina Rybakova) and Олег Журавлев (Oleg Zhuravlev), who curated the entire exhibit along with Irina Sorokina from the museum.  *The links I’ve used here are the best I’ve come up with using my meager googling ability in Cyrillic- anyone who actually speaks Russian feel free to leave better links in the comments.  

     

    It was very interesting painting with the Russians- only really speaking through translators when they were available.  Despite our best efforts, at times a lot seemed lost in translation.  That said, we developed a good deal of camaraderie and understanding by watching each other work.  Painting was definitely the common language on this trip.

     

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    Plyos Motif 20×24″

     

    Before leaving, the forecast looked great- 60′s and partial sun.  A Russian had told me that Plyos was famous for its beautiful blue skies.  Instead, the weather was absolutely miserable.   Rain, wind and low temperatures, there was only one day we didn’t paint in the rain, though that’s because we were walking around Moscow in the snow.  Even the locals were shocked by the weather.  Coming back to Boston in October felt like walking into a tropical climate.

     

    Although the weather was difficult everyone got a lot of work done.  Being in a large group of artists is good for your hardiness, and even the days I was pretty sick I was out painting.

     

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    Dusk 11×14″

     

    Unfortunately I had very little computer access, photographing my work without the opportunity to check it on a bigger screen- as a result a lot of the images aren’t great.  I’ll rephotograph everything when I get it back in November.

     

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    St. Varvara, Rain 20×24″

     

    We went out painting at night as a group a bit.  Always interesting, as no matter how good your lights are you really don’t get a sense of your color until you see the painting indoors.  A lot of trying to remember how much of each color you mixed with, and keeping your mixing space organized.  Even still, it’s usually a surprise to see your painting the next day.

     

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    Moonlight Volga 12×16″

     

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    Midnight on the Bridge 12×16″

     

    Painting overcast effects all day every day is not something I’ve done much of- after a few days I started to really get into how much you could perceive color differences without light and shade.  Autumnal colors can be pretty garish, and the steady purple-grey sky seemed to tone everything down a bit.

     

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    Golden Plyos Sketch 12×16″

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    Golden Plyos 24×30″

     

    The architecture in the town was very interesting- a lot of traditional structures, and it seemed everything was under constant restoration.

     

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    Grey Day 24×30″

     

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    End of the Day 14×18″

     

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    Before Sunset 16×22″

     

    Some days, with the wind, I could barely paint a straight line.  I have a few things that will need to be fixed in the studio- color was good, but drawing was very difficult some days on top of the hill.

     

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    Rooftops in the Rain 14×18″

     

    This is the second painting the museum took, which will either be sold or stay part of their collection:

     

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    Rooftops in the Rain 16×24″

     

    Russia was an amazing experience- with all its difficulty, I never would have made it to Plyos without this trip.  A privilege to see where Levitan worked, visit the Levitan House Museum and see a bit of provincial Russia.

     

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    Church of the Resurrection 24×30″

     

    Apparently our paintings will be featured on a Russian Winter Olympics culture site at some point – I checked the site with Google translate and didn’t see us there.  Maybe someone who speaks Russian will see it.  They printed a catalogue as well- I have a proof, but the print quality isn’t great.  I’ll post a PDF of the catalogue when I get the OK from the good people at зеленый шум in Plyos.

     

  • Americans in Florence

    Back in June I was lucky enough to catch the Americans in Florence exhibit at the Palazzo Strozzi.  The Strozzi has put on a number of interesting exhibitions in the past few years, still tied to Florence’s history, but with a bit of their own perspective.

    This year marks 500 years since the death of Amerigo Vespucci, so it follows that they wanted to honor the connection between Italy and America… and in the Strozzi’s way of doing things, to put forth that not only have Americans been influenced by Italy, but Italy influenced by Americans.

    The folks at the Strozzi were kind enough to give us a tour and made a short video about our visit:

     

     

    As you can tell from Tony’s reaction it was a very strong show- I didn’t have time to grab a catalogue, but very much worth seeing, a nice mix of American Impressionism and Macchiaoli painters.

     

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