Two summers ago, a group of us went on a mini painting residency in Tuscany. It was gruelling tbh - there was a lot of pressure to churn out the paintings. but it was also a turning point for a lot of things i do in my visual work. here's a diary entry i wrote on returning from the trip
I feel like I had so many turning points with regards to painting during the trip. There were some blissful moments, like painting Katie in her white blouse and wide white hat under the trees in a field. She was so still and occasionally would lie backwards. I used a lot of burnt sienna and made the shadows long and implausible. Sometimes we would exchange sentences, but as we both got on with our respective paintings, there was no pressure to engage in a proper conversation. That’s probably my favourite way to interact.
I think that evening was the day where I took myself to the grass past the horses and made a painting of the clouds. I mixed myself a simple palette. Virdian and yellows and some blues, and stuck to that. It came quite easily. I fucking love the clouds tbh. Maybe that’s why it all came so easily.
I had a shit day painting on the day after the incident with XX. I couldn’t focus, and as I sat in the same field with her yards ahead of me, I felt uneasy and unhappy. It was fucking hot as well. At one point she made comments to Sophie about being able to hear everything the evening before and I freaked out. After I struggled with a painting of Sophie, and then with a painting of Jordan, and then with a painting of Fiona, I returned to that field and made a painted version of a doodle that I had drawn whilst watching Love Island the night before. A woman reclining against grass and clouds. Almost like she was in a photo shoot. In many ways, the painting was corny, but I liked the way I had used flatness vs. three dimensionality. the lack of features. An equal treatment across the page. The shadows, again, were burnt sienna and long. I’m realising more and more how much I like depicting the heat. Hot, sticky places. Escapism from English coolness. Memories from adolescence and feelings of nostalgia for times were everything felt possible and fun and whole and peaking. It felt like it was all peaking but also about to tumble towards something greater. Like momentum was gathering. It all fizzled out a bit though.
Anyways, after that we spent the day in Siena. Which was good but also felt like a frustrating break from painting. We got pissed that night and played weird drinking games. I told everyone about the time I xxxxxx in the bathrooms of the Centre Pomidou. The next day I made some really boring paintings. That one of a chair was actually the most boring thing I’ve ever seen. Although I did love the one of Leo as a medieval monk. No one else did though.
The next day was good. I set Prag touching her toes against the Tuscan backdrop and it worked. That’s now in MM’s collection. I never spoke to him. But he was manic, running around, on the roof, on his bike, scuba diving, landscape paintings and raking up billions. Weird guy. Was almost definitely having an affair with his italian teacher. She was a tall and weirdly attractive blonde lady who flirted with everyone, including me. Hai belli occhi etc etc. I say weirdly because she wasn’t actually very attractive when you looked closely, but she had a sexual energy about her. I wanted her to like me. Occasionally, she would take me aside and say outrageous things to me, like confessing that she would never need to take psychedelics again after discovering landscape painting. Which isn’t that outrageous on reflection, but perhaps a little hyperbolic. Apparently, she also shouted about Jesus a lot to Leo and Dean in San Giminango.
At the end of that day I set myself the challenge of painting something v quick – Alyssa stood by the edge of the pool. Trying to incorporate everything I had learnt that week. A more impulsive application of colour. The right colour. A dramatic sky. Tonal variation. Working from a drawing (from a photograph). Lack of detail in the figure and… sprezzatura, I guess. Oh yeah – I told Hugh about sprezzatura at dinner. A studied carelessness. He loved it.
The next day the weather was weird. Cold, windy. I think it kind of helped. With the painting. People in our year made ball gowns out of plastic for protection. Fiona made ten paintings. Mania had set in. Because of the weather, we ate dinner in our villa that evening. They set up long tables and served us octopus stew, white fish and focaccia and a bit more wine than usual. To be honest, the party went a lot better than the sort of forced fun of the Saturday night before. People were jolly and kind of high on the success of that day’s painting. We all picked songs and queued them up on spotify and eventually everything descended in to a spontaneous dance. Zoe flailing her arms in the joyful way she does, her eyes shut like she’s in an indie romantic comedy. Dean sat on the sofa frantically drawing us on large sheets of paper and then labelling each sheet with our names in capital letters. I remember the one of Fran with her fist punching the air. The storm outside. Eventually some people jumped into the pond, whilst the rest of us stayed inside and watched love island instead. A parallel reality of some very different (yet, ultimately, probably very similar) people having an equally strange experience in another villa in the Mediterranean.
The next morning I woke up at 5:30AM. I’m not sure why it just felt like the done thing to do on the last day. It was beautiful to be honest. I went up to the field behind the swimming pool and Jordan was there too. I did my own sort of self-induced speed painting and things came easily – probably because I was too tired to focus properly. IM was there too – her gaze is so intense when she draws. After breakfast I painted the picture of Katie hunched over the edge of the pool, like a devotee in prayer. I did that one quickly as well and I enjoyed it. As per usual, there was a sort of mania was in the air and time progressed frantically after I finished. Select paintings. Move paintings. Wrap paintings. Pack bags. Lunch time. Ate too much. Run down. Get changed. We felt mad. And tired. Groaned into a wall with Johann. Ran back up the hill. On the coach. We all felt sick. Talked about communes. Blonde lady doing an Instagram photoshoot at the round public sculpture. We arrived. I felt shit.
The entry ends there. A bit abrupt. If my memory serves me, after that point we didn’t do much apart from have a small PV of our work. We were all so exhausted. I remember looking around and just seeing people of clenching glasses of prosecco, swaying and staring at the floor. Genuinely. I think I saw three separate people doing that.