Saturday, March 25, 2017


Angela and I stayed in a little apartment in the historic center of Rome. Via dei Gesu is a narrow road, paved in smooth black hand-hewn stones that go deep into the earth like teeth. We arrived at the giant wooden front door after traveling for something like a day. I was punchy from lack of sleep, and followed Angela from the airport, through the countryside via rail and onto bus 64 like a zombie, rattled by my complete ignorance of the language. She understands Italian. Phew!

Vinod met us out front with the keys; I struggled to unwind my hair from the straps of my backpack and purse. My suitcase felt heavier than a refrigerator as I lugged it up four flights of rounded marble steps that canted downhill. Before departure, I had pulled out two sweaters, a pair of jeans and a set of foam hair curlers, but nothing could truly lighten the load of 35 tubes of paint (26 are small ones for watercolor, but still), numerous pads of drawing/painting paper and the travel easel that Allen made for me out of solid wood. I was in Italy to make art, damn it, so I marshaled my emotions as I tugged at my bag, pulse pounding.

As it turns out, I hardly painted while in Rome. Most days Angela threw her travel kit of gouache, pencils and crayons in her backpack. Aside from not being nearly as savvy with portable art supplies, I felt completely compelled to draw. Everything pulled at my heart and my pen: small architectural details, complicated Bernini sculptures, griffins guarding monuments and dragons defending tombs. Angels and cherubs beckoned to me from their perches above lintels. Paintings lured me too, especially the Caravaggios that we found tucked into the side chapels of churches. The sheer volume of original art was overwhelming. I walked around with my phone (for picture-taking) in one hand and a sketchbook and pen in the other. Never mind the Roman ruins, I was here to draw!

And so six days in Rome flew by, punctuated with hot cappuccinos, coconut gelatos and delicious handmade pasta dishes (red wine too, of course). Now we are tucked into the countryside north of Rome, surrounded by olive groves. The calm is restorative; I am ready to slow down and paint. As an artist on retreat, it is tempting to think of my Rome drawings in terms of building blocks - to what will they lead? But making them gave me so much pleasure that perhaps they are an end in themselves. Certainly, they were a very personal and intimate way to experience this ancient city.

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