03 June 2015

Grotesque Obsession: Uffizi East Corridor

detail from the grottesca ornament, East Corridor, Uffizi

I have had this recurring dream in the past few years, that I would encounter Rick Steves and his team in the East Corridor of the Uffizi Galleries, and that I would run over to to them, shove Rick and his fanny pack well out of the way with great conviction, then the grab the camera and point it at the ceiling.  Yes the Uffizi is crammed with fantastic Italian art, but if you don't look up once in a while, you are missing something truly special.

East Corridor, Uffizi Galleries

Last year, I spent three months in Florence, and as a card-carrying member of the Association of Amici degli Uffizi, which has helped fund the restoration of this and other areas of the museum, I made numerous trips to study my favorite quirky ceilings, and it is still one of the first places I go whenever I return there. Photography is allowed in this famous museum (as of May 31, 2014) and so I am thrilled to be able to share a sampling of these images from my most recent visit.

The East Corridor ceilings were frescoed in 1580-81 by Alessandro Allori and his team  of decorative painters, in a high Mannerist spin on the popular grottesche style of ornamentation.  Each ceiling section features a different theme and unique color scheme, as well as a wealth of ornament and figural elements ranging from the charming to the bizarre. Too easily dismissed as silly decoration, a careful look at any of the details reveals a spirit of discovery, and an almost frantic catalogue of the knowledge and concerns of the times.


The ceilings are painted with intense and beautiful colors on white plaster, and remain light and airy despite the busy compositions, all of which follow a similar arrangement:  an X that connects each corner to a central element, while other designs are arranged in pairs symmetrically on either side. (These ceiling sections are shallow coves, the designs would work just as well on a flat ceiling.) Mythological creatures, allegorical and humorous figures and animals populate a framework of garlands, borders, fans, piers, and cartouches with landscapes or narrative scenes.  Some themes are serious or religious, but the overall effect is that there is a huge party going on overhead. Like a giant thought bubble, brimming with ideas.

detail of a one of the grottesca ceilings in the Uffizi, with Manneristic figures and colors
Grottesca ornament remained popular in Tuscany long after the Baroque took hold in other areas of Italy.  This group of ceilings represents the very height of the Florentine grotteche style, incorporating the colors and techniques of Mannerism and all the references and interests of the Medici era.

symmetry balances with cacophony on the Uffizi ceiling

I am desperately in love with the gamboge yellow pigment used in this painting.
Lynne's Uffizi tips:
Florence can be exceedingly crowded especially with busloads of tourists who come in just for the day. Yes, you may make a reservation to get in but  then you have to share the museum with a million others all shoving each other to get a glimpse of the Birth of Venus.Let it be known those people  follow their tour guides out and get back on the bus by 5 PM.  If you hate people are agoraphobic like me, this is the BEST time to go visit the Uffizi. No line to get in, no people in the galleries. Enjoy a blissfully empty museum for two hours.  Stroll through and experience what you like, and don't worry about seeing it all in one go.

Take note of special hours and free admissions times. Fridays the Uffizi is open until 9 PM.     27  June until 19  December 2015, the Uffizi Gallery, the Accademia Gallery and the National Museum of the Bargello will remain open every Saturday until 11pm. 
Check the Uffizi website for hours and special events.

Take this awesome virtual tour of the Uffizi Galleries via Google

Check out the fantastic virtual tour of the Uffizi via Google Earth

Amici degli Uffizi
If you plan to be in the area more than just a few days, consider joining the Friends of the Uffizi. This membership gives you for an entire year, unlimited front of the line admission to the Uffizi as well as all the other State museums in Florence including the Pitti Palace and the Bargello, while supporting restoration efforts.  With a pass like this you can go by for a stroll thorugh the Uffizi every day (except Monday) on your way to your favorite enoteca.

Grotesque is French, and the spelling most often used in English
In Italian it is called Grottesche, or Grottesca (plural)


all photos in this post by Lynne Rutter, May, 2015


31 May 2015

Pascal Amblard: preparing for the Grand Venetian Mural intensive

digital sketch by Pascal Amblard, with references from Tieoplo

Posted here, a series of sketches, which Pascal Amblard has been making to get students thinking about designs for the Grand Venetian Mural painting class coming up in August.  This unique intensive class will allow the participating artists to research, design and paint a full size mural from start to finish, with assistance and guidance from Pascal.

digital sketch by Pascal Amblard, with scenes from Italy

Pascal says: "After more than 25 years in this business I am finally organizing a "start from scratch" class.  It is certainly the most valuable learning situation for students, and the most difficult for a teacher. I will of course prepare this class very carefully, I have already  spent quite a few hours on it~ but on day one, hour one, instead of starting to play a well mapped out part,  I will start improvising with you!   I know in which key we will play and what note to use or to avoid but I will be open to your ideas and suggestions. I will show you how I myself compose, mixing computer and centuries-old techniques.

Digital sketch by Pascal Amblard

We will share and experience together in what is so rarely taught: how do we get from a blank piece of wall to a spectacular, harmonious and desirable mural composition.

"Once the composition is set we will use projectors, possibly some free-hand drawing as well.  Then we will paint, and I will teach you the techniques I have used and refined through hundreds of murals.
As we have a lot of working space, we will do this on a grand scale.  Each person will have room to work comfortably.
"A good mural painter has to know about a few  topics : skies, landscapes / trees, architecture / perspective , figures / draperies , objects / still lives.  Besides composing a large and complex mural, the point of this class is also to cover  all these fields."
Tiepolo-inspired digital sketch  by Pascal Amblard
'The inspiration for this course is Giovanni Battista  and Domenico Tiepolo.  These painters were in exactly the same business as we are: dealing with commissions, clients, deadlines, a need for efficiency and precise schedule. The way they paint is beautiful and technically very sound, so, instead of one teacher you will have all of us.'
Tiepolo-inspired  mural design, painted by Pascal Amblard
Come prepared with elements you'd like to include in your mural:  figures, gardens, landscape, architectural details, animals, fancy hats....   You will learn how to compose the design of the mural prior in advance of painting.  Then you will practice efficient techniques for painting at a large scale, along with architectural perspective,  atmospheric perspective, color work,  and techniques for painting trees, landscape, water, sky, stone, and marble.

Venetian style mural, digital sketch by Pascal Amblard

Here is an extremely rare opportunity to learn and practice in a large, light-filled, working mural studio, with one of the true masters of this art.

Reservation information here:  Grand Venetian Mural Intensive
This class is limited to 8 participants   



Please feel free to contact the studio with questions.



14 April 2015

The Private Bathchamber of the Grand Duchess

a clever detail in the Grottesche ornamentation of the bath at "La Ferdinanda"

Corner of the bathchamber

Last March we ventured outside of Florence to visit the   splendid Medici Villa of Artimino known as "La Ferdinanda."   The villa was built for the Medici Duke Ferdinand I (1549-1609) as a hunting lodge and summer residence.  A World Heritage site, the estate currently hosts private events and features a winery and a hotel.

Having called ahead to explain our project and ask permission to photograph, we were warmly greeted and allowed to explore the villa and its decoration, much of which was done by the artist Domenico Passignano.

Hidden away in a corner of the first floor,  is the “Stanzino del Poggiale” a small bathroom created for the wife of Ferdinand I, Grand Duchess Christina of Lorraine, and it is completely encrusted with painted grottesca, oval landscape insets, and wild, colorful faux marble.  Closed up for hundreds of years, the room is preserved in spectacular condition.

Alison and I could hardly contain our excitement. I fumbled about with my camera.  Erling, who has long maintained that I should have my own TV show,  took a spontaneous 2 minute video with his iPhone. Which I have posted here for you.  Because you understand, don't you?



It was very difficult to photograph this tiny space (especially while hyperventilating.) Once I got a hold of myself,  I removed the giant halogen torchère from the room and inspected the charming details of the decor using only natural light, so that the true colors could best be seen. I marveled at the color palette, which alternated warm earth colors with  a cool purple and sea green.  This led to a discussion of the color of that purple, and the pigment that may have been used to make it. Is is caput mortuum?  Well not that actual "mummy brown" pigment but the hematite that makes that cardinal-robe purple.  What about that green? Malachite, of course. Sigh.


Window bay in the bath chamber- the purple borders have completely faded away

Not your usual Tuscan color scheme-- purple and seafoam green make for a cool and serene effect

Cupid and other putti on the ceiling, painted by Domenico Passignano

Passignano designed the ceiling areas with trompe l'oeil balusters and bits of sky peeking through.  Though faded, the effect is still quite convincing.   
More details:

a trompe l'oeil gold medallion with a bathing scene

lovely perspective detail with hints of gold
tiny grottesca panel over the doorway


I'll be posting more from this beautiful villa soon.


Visit:  Villa Medicea di Artimino
photos by Lynne Rutter
video by Erling Wold
thanks always to Alison Woolley






05 April 2015

UKSUS a surreal comic adventure

Roham Sheikhani, Nikola Printz, Laura Bohn, and Duncan Wold perform an OBERIU play within the opera UKSUS. Costumes by Laura Hazlett.

A few weeks ago Erling Wold's Fabrications staged the U.S. premiere of UKSUS, a surreal comic chamber opera based on the life and work of Russian absurdist writer Daniil Kharms.
UKSUS was originally commissioned by the Klagenfurter Ensemble in Austria, and the libretto was written by Felix Strasser and Yulia Izmaylova, who also there directed it in December of 2012.  I attended several performances of that production and really enjoyed myself, in part because I don’t speak German and had no idea what was going on and could therefore approach it with a totally open mind; I felt like a kid watching a Punch and Judy show.  I loved the music, the energy of the band,  the bizarreness, the smoke-filled bar in the smoke-filled lobby of the theater, the paintings of the trumpet player Richie Klammer, the snow outside, the embarrassingly long applause of the Austrian audiences.  Everyone fell in love with Erling and everyone wanted to do the show again and again and everyone wanted to come to San Francisco to do it again.

The cast of UKSUS:  the downtrodden cheer three times for Stalin
For the U.S. debut of UKSUS, it became obvious as time passed, that bringing over the Austrian cast was unfeasible.  A new and local cast was assembled with Jim Cave directing.   Jim is not afraid of nonsense, wackiness, surreal or absurd anything. He and Erling have worked together so many times they nearly finish each others sentences.  I was asked nicely to be involved with the scenic design, and was even offered a  budget.   But when Jim started talking about the lunatics putting on a play in the asylum my eyes rolled into the back of my head and stayed there until he changed the subject, and so began our collaboration.  Erling asked for three backdrops.  The guys went and rented a theater that required  the set to be struck every night to make room for the next day's classes,  necessitating a lot of portable bits rather than something grand and unwieldy.  

The UKSUS set pieces prior to lighting
I meant to write a post just about this scenic work: about the process of addressing the problems of the giant black space of Dance Mission Theater, the inspiration for the design, the tight budget and even tighter deadline;   leaving out the parts about the emotional turmoil I felt working on this project at a time when I was already insanely busy and already suffering from the all-too-familiar torture that is the lot of the long-suffering wife of a too-charming pathological liar.  Does anyone actually care that our lives were imploding while this all took place? Of course not.  After all, the show must go on.

UKSUS had only three performances in March, 2015. Despite full houses every night, lusty applause and effusive praise from the audience, especially from the younger attendees, some reviewers showed up with their cranky "Opera" pants on and just didn’t get it.  This piece didn't really get the attention it deserved, and so I feel compelled to speak up and publish these awesome photos I took.
  
Beth Custer is so damn cool.

Let's start with the Music.
Erling Wold's music is wonderful, transporting, by turns fun, tragic, solemn, uplifting. The orchestra gathered up like a great jazz band, rocked during the rock parts and danced through complex rhythms and delicate poignant passages thanks to our amazing conductor, Bryan Nies, whose skill is all sorts of amazing to watch as well as hear, as if everyone on the stage and in the band are strings of a single instrument, which he plays effortlessly. 
The story is ridiculous. There is no comprehensible narrative and there is no point. There is  absurdity,  nonsense, observations of everyday or imagined moments.  Pushkin makes love to his wife, an old woman falls from a window,  children are given tetanus to shut them up, the OBERIU put on a play in arty clown suits, the artist dies during one of Stalin's purges and his widow goes to Venzuela.  

Duncan Wold as Pushkin, making naughty with his wife Fefjulka (Laura Bohn)
The Old Woman falls out of a window...

These scenes are arranged in boxes; we even made hand-lettered placards to tell you which box was being opened. Erling added a somewhat pleonastic narration to the libretto, packed with context and commentary, which Jim delivered in his role as "a samovar,"  but he might not have bothered: absurdity and confusion make a nice team. 

The cast was a fantastic mix of singers and actors, mimes and clowns.  Duncan Wold, one of the writers/comedians of San Francisco’s Mission CTRL comedy troupe, starred as the poet Pushkin, who is playing the role of Kharms himself.  He approached this part as a comic actor, creating a deadpan character which added depth and contrast to his role, and it should be said that his comic timing was pitch-perfect, recalling the straight delivery a young Johnny Carson.
 
Our favorite soprano Laura Bohn,   with her soaring, beautiful voice, in this production got a chance to show off her physical theater skills, clowning, and dramatic unibrow.  Her scenes with Duncan were both hysterical and endearing.

Fefjulka and Our Mama (and a hand-painted Soviet-style poster)
Mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz  gave a hilarious performance as both Our Mama and a gender-bending Stalin (both mustached parts) all the while thrilling us with her rich and resonant voice, especially thrilling when paired with Laura Bohn’s during certain goosebump-producing moments. 
Both our soprani are magnificent clowns, and it's refreshing to watch such versatile performers who can become their characters, without being overly concerned with how 'pretty' they look or sound.

The cast of UKSUS performing as the OBERIU


Mary Forcade as the Karabister

Bob Ernst, an actor with a face and voice so compelling he could read the label of cereal box and make you believe it the Magna Carta, declares that you must drink vinegar (uksus), and you pretty well want to do it.  Speaking of amazing faces, it’s widely known that I have a crush on Roham Sheikhani, an actor and brilliant mime who in this show added an element of sanity as well as paranoia when needed.  A deus ex machina appearance by Mary Forcade as the Karabister very nearly stole the show.

The sets were designed to emphasize the diagonal lines and  bright palette of the Russian Avant Garde painters.   I looked to Kharms’ close friend Kazimir Malevich, and the Constructivist movement, and to the splendid film posters designed by Russian graphic artists  in the 1920s and 30’s.   Costume designer Laura Hazlett  brought this concept home with her supremely colorful pieces for the OBERIU performance within the show.


Pushkin (Duncan Wold)  is interrogated by Comrade Stalin (Nikola Printz)

Closing night we danced deliriously in the side aisle while the audience laughed and sighed,  and afterwards everyone wanted to do UKSUS again and asked when can we? After the party and the vodka, we dragged the sets and costumes back to the garage where are stored the costumes and bits from the last opera and the one before that.


More UKSUS-related rants at Erling Wold's blog.






all photos in this post by Lynne Rutter 




17 February 2015

Pascal Amblard- summer painting classes in San Francisco

Quadrattura ceiling design by Pascal Amblard
It is with great excitement that I can announce that I have the honor of hosting my friend the master muralist Pascal Amblard, for two mural painting classes at Lynne Rutter Studio in San Francisco.

Tiepolo-inspired painting by Pascal Amblard
You've read more about Pascal Amblard's work here before, and hopefully bought his amazing book, Painted Homes, which explores the wide variety of his elegant work as a muralist and decorator.

A sought-after mural artist working internationally from his studio in la Haute-Savoie,  Pascal is also well known as a generous and skilled teacher. It's been many years since he taught in the U.S., so I am thrilled to host him in my own mural studio for two special painting classes this summer.

sketch of Lake Como mural by Pascal Amblard



July 27-31, 2015    
Five-day Italianate Mural workshop
Participating artists will paint a full-size trompe l'oeil mural scene with a view of Lake Como and a charming Italian landscape,  while learning the key elements of mural painting.

"A beautiful landscape seen through a window or a door is certainly the most classic but also the most sought after type of trompe l'oeil mural. It is also a great support for a class, and this is why, as a teacher, I have specialized in this kind of composition. I can fit and transmit almost all my knowledge into such arrangements. Skies, landscapes, trees, water, foreground elements like balustrades or architectural elements, perspective, and tiled floors, all these things are exactly what you have to become familiar with and a nice panel like the one we will paint together contains them all.Each time I create a class like this I have three goals:
"The first one is to teach you how I paint and this is independent of what I paint. Key techniques are exactly the same whether you paint a tree or a bench.  The second one is to tell you about what is really specific to (for example) painting a cloud, or a tiled floor.  The third is, for those of you who want it, to make sure that you can complete the panel during the week and use it as a marketing tool or as a piece to sell.
"The design for this mural was composed from three or four different shots I took on lake Como a few years ago. This place is absolutely magic, a kind of ideal mix of the softness of Italian landscapes and of the grandeur of the Alps. I am sure we will have great results!"

Information and sign-up here: Italianate Mural class
This class is now full- please contact Lynne about the waiting list.

August 3- 10, 2015
Seven day Grand Venetian Mural Intensive
This course will give the experienced painter an opportunity to work at a grand scale, employing many advanced techniques.

A preview of the type of composition we will create together ; the architecture and landscapes are borrowed from Tiepolo's frescoes in Palazzo Labbia, and the figures from his son, Giandomenico. We will use similar elements and come up with our own murals.
Pascal says:"After more than 25 years in this business I am finally organizing a "start from scratch" class.
"It is certainly the most valuable learning situation for students, and the most difficult for a teacher. I will of course prepare this class very carefully, I have already  spent quite a few hours on it~ but on day one, hour one, instead of starting to play a well mapped out part,  I will start improvising with you!   I know in which key we will play and what note to use or to avoid but I will be open to your ideas and suggestions. I will show you how I myself compose, mixing computer and centuries-old techniques.
Pascal Amblard's painted sketch proposal for the Venetian Mural Intensive
We will share and experience together in what is so rarely taught: how do we get from a blank piece of wall to a spectacular, harmonious and desirable mural composition.

"Once the composition is set we will use projectors, possibly some free-hand drawing as well.  Then we will paint, and I will teach you the techniques I have used and refined through hundreds of murals.
As we have a lot of working space, we will do this on a grand scale.  Each person will have room to work comfortably.

"A good mural painter has to know about a few  topics : skies, landscapes / trees, architecture / perspective , figures / draperies , objects / still lives.  Besides composing a large and complex mural, the point of this class is also to cover  all these fields.

"The inspiration for this course is Tiepolo (father and son).
I chose them because they were in exactly the same business as we are: dealing with commissions, clients, deadlines, a need for efficiency and precise schedule. The way they paint is beautiful and technically very sound, so, instead of one teacher you will have two."

Reservation information here:  Grand Venetian Mural Intensive
This class is limited to 8 participants


Here is a rare opportunity to learn and practice in a large, light-filled, working mural studio, with one of the true masters of this art.

Please feel free to contact the studio with questions or for application details.









AddThis

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...