"Can we call it the Tuscany Series?" The eyes of the gallerist glowed when I mentioned I was working on some ideas from my recent trip to Italy.
I felt queasy...I had no intention of painting the kind of romantic Tuscan scenes her enthusiasm suggested she hoped I would. Rather, I wanted to find out whether there was a way I could turn my gritty industrial American sensibility, strongly flavored with Diebenkorn at the time, to this chestnut of a subject and draw out of it a personal perspective - one based in a sense of movement and design rather than a desire to pay homage to the famous light and pretty landscape.
At the same time, the power of that landscape was inescapable. The very age of the stones and the buildings, the peculiarity of towns perched on the tops of bumps in the land, that intoxicating earthy atmosphere and the rough beauty of its ancient plaster walls, had worked their way into me on my recent trip there to visit my brother-in-law and ride my bike on one of his tours. There was no doubt I was visually affected - even smitten.
The "series" became an exploration in layering overlapping shapes, a bravura painting technique involving wild brush strokes that ran abruptly into straight edges, and slashing charcoal through the oil paint.
The most ambitious of the series was Montalcino Spring Rain - the final painting in a number of acrylic on Bristol board studies, and executed on a fairly large scale in oil.
We had left our bikes near the van and walked up the cobbled entry to the fortress. Inside, I gazed up at tourists like me who had paid to tour the ramparts, protected by a rickety-looking handrail that would have caused a lawsuit in the US just for existing. Rounding a corner, I came out on a view over the tiny hilltop town with the main road winging round a corner pinned with a stone tower, and the wall of the fortress curving the other way, embracing a small tree. Beyond, the town, a gas station, red tile roofs rising up toward a cathedral on a low hill. I took a couple of shots, and I knew I had to paint it.
In the studio, several acrylic studies focused on the splash of red provided by the roofs of the houses. But as I worked, I found the red one color too many and removed it. Limited now to a palette of green, gray, black and white, the motif suddenly found the surprise I had been looking for, and I made several more studies. Then in the final oil version, I spread pink enamel underneath and painted over it, leaving the pink to barely show through in places. My version of Tuscan olive green became the pulsing acid green next to shades of gray - the colors the way I felt the landscape, rather than how I literally saw it.
Several of my Montalcino studies are currently available in my Holiday Sale