A Girl Abroad: Travelling Art Studio

Published by The Style Line, August 2016

Housesitting Italy

Arriving in another country, it’s common to assume that a new place will inspire new ideas. I wanted to paint more, and somehow this seemed more compatible to a rural Italian lifestyle than a life lived in a Liverpool flat.

We shuffled some furniture around to create a studio space in a beautiful room of the house with vaulted ceilings, a cool terracotta floor and a circular window. The light in the afternoon spills soft shades of apricot and tangerine across the tiles, not unlike the colours found in a Morandi painting.

Giorgio Morandi was born in Bologna, which is our closest city. I knew very little about the artist – painter of chalky still life, master of composition, and forerunner of Minimalism – until a recent visit to MAMbo, which is temporarily hosting the Museo Morandi collection.

Morandi Bologna

Morandi rarely left his Bolognese flat, where he painted pictures of the same dusty bottles in the same muted colours over and over again, mastering their form. He never left Italy during his lifetime. How interesting that such an influential artist should have such a limited experience of the world. Morandi’s magical realism was inspired by the metaphysics of de Chirico, who lived in Athens, Florence, Munich, Milan, Paris, Rome… Nonetheless, Morandi quotes: “One can travel this world and see nothing. To achieve understanding it is necessary not to see many things, but to look hard at what you do see.” Although he was completely disinterested in exhibitions and detached from the world outside of Bologna during his lifetime, today his work hangs in the White House and is the subject of dedicated exhibitions around the world.

Far from drawing inspiration from my Italian surroundings, I’ve found myself painting the faces of family and friends back in the UK. It’s comforting at first to sketch familiar faces with a pencil, but as Morandi suggests, the more you look, the more you realise how much you don’t see. Especially with the faces I imagined I could draw by heart.

Acrylic portraits

Lonely Planet recently published an article called “Sketching for travellers: reasons to swap your smartphone for a pencil”, which also talks of practising a slower and more detailed observation of the world around us.

Art and travel seem to be converging more often than ever. One of my most recent crushes is Villa Lena in Tuscany. The 19th century villa welcomes artists for two month residencies and guests for idyllic escapes. The guest apartments have been individually designed by Parisian interior designer Clarisse Demory and decorated with carefully selected vintage furniture and art pieces produced by the artists at the residency.

The allure of a beautifully designed creative retreat in a Tuscan idyll over the view from your desk is surely one of enjoyment over mastery. I’m just a hobby painter that relates Sunday afternoons, €2 suave and a good audio book to my painting more than serious study. All the same, if I paint the scene in front of me whenever I’m in the studio, I might find a renewed appreciation for the light, colour and form of two chairs either side of a coffee table.