Sunday, February 16, 2014

At Arte Studio Ginestrelle, Assisi, italy, November 1-December 8, 2013

I was in Rome and Assisi, Italy from late October to mid-December, arriving in Assisi at Director Marina Merli's Arte Studio Ginestrelle in the Subasio mountains on November 1, 2013 for five weeks as a resident artist. I returned Rome for my last six days before coming home to a snowstorm in Connecticut.

My project in Assisi was to study the Giotto frescos and respond with acrylic and pastel paintings. The trip was part of my “From Paintings in Proust” art project.

Mary of Magda pastel and acrylic, 24x18 inches

Giotto Circles, acrylic, 24x6 inches

 I’d gone to Paris over the summer to view the paintings in Parisian museums and to visit the Monet Gardens. That inspired a new body of monoprints that I’ll be exhibiting along with the Assisi works at the PMW Gallery, 530 Roxbury Road, Stamford, CT from May 18 to June 29, 2014.

Bindi, monoprint with Chine collé, 10 x 7 7/8 inches

More Than a Circle, monoprint with Chine collé, 36 ¼ x 26 ¼ inches

Wikepedia describes Assisi as “..a town and comune of Italy in the province of Perugia in the Umbria region, on the western flank of Monte Subasio. It was the birthplace of St. Francis who founded the Franciscan religious order in the town in 1208, and St. Clare (Chiara d'Offreducci), the founder of the Poor Sisters, which later became the Order of Poor Clares after her death.”

My three arrival days in Rome were a delight, especially with the weather sunny and warm, and where I enjoyed a lovely day visiting the Borghese Gallery and gardens. 

Assisi’s weather grew colder day-by-day. Despite layers of clothing, by 4 PM, as darkness crept over the mountains and shuttered the studio window views that had enchanted throughout the day and filtered warmth into the studio, my hands grew so cold that I’d stop art making and retreat to my room or the downstairs great room with its fireplace. There I’d sit with my laptop and work on that long postponed memoir requested for the Veteran Feminists of America web site (yes, I am a day-one feminist) and that will finally get on line in a few more months. I also kept reading Proust’s Remembrances de temps perdu. I’m now on volume four. Each one is over 700 pages. The last ones still await me.

Throughout those five weeks, I watched the light play over the sky and mountains. 

The days moved from still green to a gentle autumn, and then came the snow. 

I became at home with the regular pace of days there, starting with a morning breakfast of truffles on sunny side eggs, prosciutto, salami, mozzarella, amazing yoghurt and very, very strong coffee. We artists cooked and shared other meals. I loved the good olive oil, absolutely fresh and amazing ricotta, great varieties of salami, (fatty) prosciutto, the local farmer’s freshest of fresh eggs and his organic wine (with never a bad glass). Resident artists and writers added laughter and tale telling. Some started wine drinking by noon and laughed together throughout the afternoons. The Umbrian wine is very, very good, adding greatly to the general good humor.

Mount Subasio faced the studio windows. The ever-changing sky danced daily in my brain. There were many grey days and the sunny ones were specially prized. Weeks into my stay, a thirteen inch snowstorm that wasn’t supposed to occur in late November holed us up for three days. There are no snowplows in Assisi. We had to wait for snowmelt, something that would never rescue us in Connecticut. One woman was to leave for Rome, but until Marina Merli’s father was able to drive up the mountain’s windy and treacherous path, she was snowbound with the rest of us. 

Assisi, the town of St Francis and St Clare fame was twenty minutes away by car. I studied the superb Giotto frescoes in the church of San Francisco. 

Giotto, fresco, Saint Clare
The preserved town is a mecca for pilgrims and art lovers. I was moved by the reverence of people walking round the tomb of St Francis. The small preserved town is enchanting at dusk. The sunsets dazzle the mind and eye as the air itself seems infused with a spiritual magic. 

Becoming friends with Italian artist Bruno Marcelloni was a great highlight. We’d met on LinkedIn. I messaged him that I was coming to Assisi. He answered that he’d meet me there. He'd grown up in Assisi across from my favorite monument; the Temple of Minerva, beautifully preserved and the façade for an Assisi church. 

Temple of Minerva, note the shadows from the columns in the photo above.

Bruno was a chosen artist at the 2011 Venice Biennial in 2011. His studio is in a nearby town. I visited him on two occasions. In return, he came to the residency and the opening of the group show where I performed Job’s Wife with a paper mask. 

Bruno and I graciously exchanged artworks. The one he chose for me reminds me of the shadows from the columns of the Temple of Minerva (as a child, he rode his tricycle in it’s plaza). I believe its magic flows in this artwork. Furthermore, in a certain light, the artwork reveals a mysterious apse of a church in the background. The many layers of his abstract artwork taught me to more fully appreciate the particular beauty of the ever-changing Umbrian mountains and clouds, the ancient stone walkways and walls, arches, and the endless silhouettes. Much as Cezanne and Van Gogh informed my sense of the French countryside on my first visit as a 19 year old an art student, his work reveals what's alive in the present from that ancient historical world. 

 Bruno Marcelloni and Suzanne Benton

Bruno Marcelloni, Acrylic, Luca


I returned to Ridgefield, Connecticut  in mid-December with the new artworks I'd created, two by Bruno, a bottle of olive oil pressed from Marina’s father  olive grove and a recipe for pasta carbonara from her mother Adria to ever after share with friends. 

Nash Hyon and I exchanged artworks soon after I came home. Hers is a beautiful encaustic of our Wilton/Ridgefield trees. It's hanging in my bedroom alongside Bruno’s. These multi-layered artworks, one from Assisi, Italy and the other from Connecticut, USA fill me with a sense of life refreshed. Please visit my show at the PMW Gallery this Spring and enjoy the works I've created as a result of this yearlong Proust inspired project.