Having been successful in an application to attend La Macina di San Cresci residency, my family and I travelled to the beautiful and historic town of Greve in Chianti, 50km south of Florence, last year to spend a month at the artistic oasis.
Steeped in history, the residency is set amongst the grounds of the oldest standing church in Florence, San Cresci. Some of the first recorded history dates back to the 10th century where pilgrims to Rome would stay at the church and leave their valued possessions to be collected on their homeward return. La Macina means ‘the millstone’ in Italian and in the bowels of the villa you can find the original olive press used by the monks during former times. The history includes modern times with the famous French philosopher Guy Debord living there as a child.
Today the new tenants of the estate (still owned by the Catholic Church) have lovingly restored the church and villa to house up to 5 artists at any one time. The owners, architect Demetria (Mimma) Verduci and world renowned light sculptor Professor Duccio Trassinelli, opened up the residency to welcome international artists about 15 years ago. The estate is an oasis for artists across all disciplines. When we stayed there we shared the facilities with 3 other artists including a choreographer, visual artist and another graphic designer/visual artist all from USA.
We were extremely fortunate to find a residency which was located in the heart of Tuscany, 40 mins from Florence. Surrounded by the hills of the wine and olive growing Chianti region and set amongst the historic building of San Cresci. We had a wonderful apartment with views of Chianti, plus I had fully equipped studio and access to great facilities 24/7. The entire residency was a very special and unique experience.
The self-directed project, which I undertook during the residency, was a body of work based on the local produce and ceramics of the Chianti area. Italy is renowned for its relaxed lifestyle with beautiful healthy food, which is grown in abundance. I was inspired by the weekly village markets where we would buy our fresh fruit and vegetables from local growers. The produce was delicious both visually and to taste. This coupled with our evening communal meal with our fellow artists and hosts, inspired me to create my body of work – In Season. Our hosts Mimma and Duccio were wonderful and welcoming. Many nights were spent in their beautiful garden talking broken English and Italian, eating delicious food and drinking local wine together with the other resident artists. I realised that an intrinsic part of Italian culture was the communal sharing of food. Food brought people together and evening times were a celebration of sharing the day’s events together with a meal.
Focusing on local seasonal produce which I had bought from the local market, I did preliminary sketches, which eventually I translated into larger drawings to emphasise the importance of the subject matter. Georgia O’Keeffe once wrote: “I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty”.
As I live on a vineyard in the Hunter Valley and have a family vegetable and fruit garden, I am conscious of the seasons and eating produce directly sourced from the garden. Eating with the seasons has a direct effect on your health and wellbeing.
All drawings created there and subsequently in Australia are watercolour, charcoal, pastel and conté on Fabriano paper. The paper I use is made in Italy (Fabriano) and of a very high quality. It is a heavy weighted paper (300gsm) and can withstand vigorous treatment. It is cold pressed and therefore has a textured surface, which I really enjoy. I utilise this aspect and love working on the ground creating frottage (texture) in the drawings. I used this process in Italy and took the work outside the studio and onto the floor of the church. It was wonderful to create a site specific work while there and think about the many pilgrims over the 1000 years who have trodden on the ground where I was drawing. There are still remnants of renaissance frescos on the ceiling of the church.
This amazing experience has spurred my interest into contemporary drawing practice to the point where I have started my Masters of Creative Practice majoring in drawing. I look forward to the journey artistically and returning in 2016 to the artistic oasis of San Cresci -the place which fuelled my passion for contemporary drawing.
The exhibition "In Season" will be shown at Muswellbrook Regional Art Centre June 2015.