Academy Summer Residencies 2016: Russia

Our final dispatch from Russia comes from Sarah Hall MFA 2017.

It was an honor to be chosen for the Russia Residency and after being here for almost a month I am even more grateful for the opportunity. We have gone to many tourist destinations in Moscow and St. Petersburg that have blown us away in both the art and the beauty of the architecture and I would recommend the museums and cathedrals to anybody. But the honest uniqueness that I have experienced on this residency has been defined by the paths and places we didn’t expect to find ourselves.



In Moscow we stayed in a beautiful apartment with one of Russia's prominent architects. Andre Cheltsov comes from a long lineage of architects one of whom designed the Tretyekov Gallery. About 4 days into our trip his family took us to their country house to celebrate a birthday, a two hour train ride outside of Moscow. We stayed only a short time but the experience was well worth the travel. The cottage style house we stayed at was positioned on a hill surrounded by forest. From what I gathered, the house was built in a traditional Russian style, which is built so that large areas of the house could be opened up to the outside. An entire section of the house was completely open to the elements and this is where the gathering was held in honor of Andre’s 13 year old son’s birthday. It was an amazing experience to help gather and cook food in preparation of the party. Andre’s wife and mother of seven, had made the currant-flavored vodka that we were drinking all day long. Chopping and smoking and drinking and laughing on the Russian country side with about 15 other people all practicing their English, whilst learning a little Russian too was one of the more intimate experiences of my life.

Our week in Moscow ended and we traveled by night train to St. Petersburg. It took 9 hours in a sleeper cabin. The 4 of us and our luggage were crammed in a tiny room with 4 bunks and no window. Nikita shared a similar cabin with a family of 5. The first few days of St. Petersburg were spent drawing and taking in the environment around our beautiful apartment. It is five stories up looking down on a canal.


The street that our apartment was located on is lateral to one of the many canals that wind through St. Petersburg and the location is littered with cathedrals and old Russian architecture. The Hermitage Museum, which is a fifteen minute walk from our door step, is one of the best collections I have ever seen. I could spend days in the Rubens room alone. But the most impressive thing for me were the small mosaics located above the fire places that were scattered about the museum. At first glance they look like tiny paintings but once you get closer you realize that each stone which makes up the mosaic is no bigger than a millimeter.



Much of St. Petersburg’s beauty is interpreted by the magnificent museums and cathedrals but I would like to explain another more honest beauty, a beauty that would not be found in any tourist book. During my stay I was able to make several friends that were excited to show me this side of Russia and it was these experience that I will remember most fondly. This side of Russia I am referring to is the more humanistic side. The dingy Muslim alleyway with the best lamb kebabs in town or a bar that serve you plastic cups full of vodka and will throw you out if they know you're American. Experiences like hanging out with a bottle of wine on a roof top that overlooks the poorest part of town but it happens to be next to a canal that giant cruise liners go through to dock their ships. These short moments in time that create a feeling which can describe so much about an unknown culture and having honest people with you who can explain and translate this culture is an amazing and humbling experience. I will remember it forever and am excited to return. 

Academy Summer Residencies 2016: Giverny

Our first dispatch from France comes from Naudline Pierre MFA 2017. 

The Normandy region. What a lush place—the colors are so fresh and vibrant: golds, greens, more greens, and all manner of chromatic excitements found in the flora. This place is like a dream. Old medieval towns with faces and figures carved into their wooden beams, church bells ringing to signal the passing of time. I kid you not, I saw (on several occasions) butterflies dancing with each other mid-air, going up, up, up in circles like something out of Disney’s Cinderella.

Day 1
I’d been in Paris for a little over a week trying to live like a local before I met my fellow residents, Matthew Durante and Jorge Vasquez at Gare St Lazare to ride the commuter train to Vernon-Giverny. We got on the 12:17 pm train. I got to practice my French. Less than an hour later, we arrived (along with a large group of tourists who were very ready to see Monet’s garden). We followed the masses with our luggage and, eventually, Miranda Fontaine, our glorious residency coordinator and now friend, found us at the end of Rue Claude Monet. Kristina Reddy, another resident, would join us a few hours later, rounding out our group of four.


Day 2
The Terra Foundation so generously gave us a car to use during our residency and we hopped in it and drove to Vernon, guided by Miranda. She showed us the framer’s shop that carries some essential art supplies. I bought a huge tube of Prussian blue—very impulsive but it felt right. Miranda also showed us our grocery store and then took us to a beautiful little cheese shop where the Camembert smelled just right. Later that day, we went for a hike up a hill and followed a path into some farmland where the grass was tall and the breeze was just right. Then I got that feeling, you know, when you squint your eyes and you feel like you’re out of your body and time slows down a little and you’re acutely aware of your surroundings and the sound of the bees and the ostrich slowly stalking you from behind a fence. Yes, we found a field with an ornery ostrich. In the French countryside. I really did experience that feeling, though. The ostrich was just the cherry on top. Later, we set up the studio, and got to work.




Day 3
Sorolla! Giverny is also home to Musee des Impressionnismes, which currently has a huge Sorolla show up. The light in his paintings! The color! The luminosity! I was itching to paint as soon as I left the exhibition—thankfully our house was across from the street from the museum. Later, in the studio, my brushstrokes were more free and loose.


Day 4
Miranda invited us to have early evening cider and snacks in Le Hameau’s (her office) courtyard, where we met her husband, François, and Jan, our friend who makes magic happen at Monet’s garden. After the cider, Jan gave us a private, after-hours, VIP tour of the garden, lilies and all. The setting sun looked like glitter coming through the spaces between the bamboo shoots. Later, in the studio, the colors of the garden made their way into my paintings.


Day 5
After a productive day in the studio, we ended our first week with a “cocktail dinotaire” in Jan’s courtyard under a beautiful tree complete with baby doves in its branches. I’m not joking about the doves. We enjoyed a beautiful meal and met the rest of Jan’s team: Inés, artist-in-residence, Dante, and Luis, who are both artists and horticulturists. We toured Inés and Dante’s studio and chatted about art.


Days 6-11
Work, work, work, work, work…



At some point during days 6-11, Jorge, Matt, and I took a late night bike ride. The air was cool and crisp. And on day 9, we drove to Lavacourt to have dinner at Miranda’s beautiful home were we sat with our new friends and watched barges go by on the Seine. There was an incredible moonrise and, again, the air was cool and crisp.

Day 12
We organized a small open studio event, where we had our new friends come and see what we’ve been working on. We had great conversations with our guests, and after they left, the four of us talked late into the night, sharing stories.


Day 14
I’m writing this entry feeling incredibly grateful for this experience. We’ve been shown an immense amount of hospitality. Although my time here isn’t up yet (we have 10 days left), this place has influenced me with its colors, flora, people, and quiet, lush beauty. Just yesterday, Kristina, Jorge, and I sat on the couch with some tea to watch the rain fall in the backyard. Painting the landscapes here have been a beautiful experience that has strengthened my eye for color and light. This place is just what I needed to dive deep into my imagination and create from that subconscious place where color and texture and meaning come naturally.



Academy Summer Residences 2016: Russia

Our third dispatch from Russia is from Alex Merritt MFA 2017, who describes his week-long experience painting a street mural in St. Petersburg. 


My time in Russia has been an experience which is hard to find words for. These two cities are filled with a long history that is amazing, beautiful, and tragic all at the same time. Some moments I will never forget will include staying in Dostoyevsky's neighborhood while reading The Idiot, drawing in the Rembrandt room at the Hermitage, and eating pelmeni and borscht in an old bar with a kalashnikov hanging over the kitchen door. Seven days away from leaving thanks to a series of chance occurrences including the wonderful Amina Kerimova visiting us for a day, and then herself running into some old friends, I was afforded the opportunity to paint a mural in Saint Petersburg. So here is what happened.


Day One
It is starting to rain and I have been painting for about seven hours now. It rains frequently here, which is a critical point I did not factor in when I began to paint this mural. Amazingly, spray paint actually still works in the rain here due to the fact that the humidity generally stays around 50 percent, even when it's pouring. When humidity starts hitting north of 60/70 percent spray paint tends to clot as it comes out of the nozzle, making it nearly impossible to work with. Still the rain is telling me it is time to step back and look at what is happening.

Wow, it is not good. It's not even bad. Actually it is outright terrible. At this point I suddenly become overly aware of my surroundings, like the man up on a tightrope who makes the mistake of looking down.


Down in the courtyard there are maybe fifteen to twenty guys standing around motorcycles looking up, at me. I cannot be sure, but the general reaction is clearly unimpressed. I even sense, at least in some, a touch of anger. I must get down from here, get home and regroup. When I bought the paint I wasn't thinking and my choices were bad. There was no cohesive strategy for how to deal with the space. I just jumped in, and tried to impose a poorly planned image on a rather gnarly wall -- and I failed.
As I walk home my thoughts frantically  jumped between somehow making this work, and never going back. 

Day 2
I wake up and decide to give it another shot. I make a run to the paint shop aka the graffiti market, and a local hardware store to get house paint, rollers, and some brushes. Now with proper materials, I am heading back to the Co-op Garage with a fresh batch of enthusiasm.

When I arrive I see that last night someone destroyed, or at least attempted to destroy the mural.They even took the trouble of smashing a few holes in it, and carving deep quarter inch gashes into the surface. I quickly discuss this new development with the owner who seems clearly upset by my being disrespected, and then I get back to it.


So here I am back up on the ledge, and I realize that maybe the universe is telling me something. Time to start over. I have less than four days left, so no time to dwell on things. I take a bucket of blue house paint and just start pouring it on the wall. Next I start drawing into it with a paint roller. Just as things get moving the sky turns dark, and it begins pouring.


Day 3
When I arrive, I instantly realize that this new direction I have taken is far better than the previous.  Also, I notice the owner is up on a scaffolding changing the sign over the parking lot. The new sign reads "When you have nothing left to burn, you must set yourself on fire." When he finishes, he looks up at me and gives a nod and a smile. After a cappuccino, and the best pancakes I have ever tasted, I get back to work.



Day 4
Things are moving fast. Quick trip to graffiti market, and the hardware store to pick up some more paint. I get to the wall and set up, then it starts pouring buckets.

I try to wait out the rain for about two hours. I start sketching out ideas for how I can really get this to where I want it. Finally, I give up and decide to head home, because it feels like the day is lost. I spend a few hours hanging our with Anders Fernbach back at home. At around 8:30 it stops raining and I head back.

Now I am losing daylight fast so I block in the second figure with a paint roller and a giant brush, and throw giant streaks across the entire composition to keep things moving.

Day 5
I get to the mural and start painting fast. The weather is nice at the moment, but I can feel it in my bones that rain is coming soon. I start thinking about how I can unite the composition as a whole, and get it to a place where I can live with it- because in less than two days I am flying out of Saint Petersburg to Amsterdam. I start working on correcting obvious problems and change the entire background completely. As the day is winding down it hits me like a ton of bricks, I've overworked it. Now the whole thing has busted flat. I walk home flipping through the pictures on my phone realizing that the entire composition has stopped moving and turned static. I need to get back asap and fix this.



Day 6
As soon as I arrive I start throwing paint from a bucket all over the wall, to just mess it up and create some action again. There is a large party happening down below, with groups riding in and on loud motorcycles that set off all the car alarms in the parking lot. About every ten minutes different people climb up to talk and pose for pictures with me. I have to keep focusing on the task, and not get sucked into the party that is looking more tempting with every passing minute. At about six o'clock it hits me -- the thing is done.


Of course, if I had 3 more weeks, I would not finish now. If I could I would try to make this place into my own Sistine Chapel. But that's never how it works. If I have learned anything, it is that in a situation like this if you can leave something in a place where you are happy with it, that is a huge success. When I came to Russia my main goal was to see as much art as I could, and do a lot of drawing. The idea of painting and leaving behind a mural never entered my mind for a second (OK, maybe a second) but I brushed it off as wild fantasy. Yet somehow, mostly by dumb luck it happened. And this mural that began as a complete disaster, became one of the best experiences of my life.


Academy Summer Residencies 2016: Beijing

Our third dispatch from Beijing comes from Tania Alvarez MFA 2017


Beijing: the food, the cheap art supplies, the wonderfully talented studios mates, CAFA, the architecture - all combined made for the perfect residency. This was the first of what I hope to be many residency experiences and one that I think will be impossible to forget.  It was also the first time I had been to China or Asia for that matter. I instantly fell in love with the challenge of being in a country where communication was near to impossible except for the six key phrases I am especially proud of learning:

1.     Hello: Nihao
2.     Thank You!: Xièxiè
3.     You’re welcome, Bié kèqì
4.     How Much?: Duōshǎo qián
5.     The ultimate key for eating without tears,  Not Spicy:      Bù là
6.     Tea: Chá. 


(I apologize in advance to all of my Chinese speaking readers for my terrible spelling and/or anything that is incorrect. Please blame it on Google.)

This is about as far as I got with learning Chinese but let me tell you, there is nothing more rewarding than being able to order your own cup of tea or bottle of beer: Píjiǔ.  Isaac was the one person on the residency who we eventually found out has a crazy ability to memorize Chinese words and phrases. When he found a new word we were typically subjected to being his audience for a day as he would repeat it a million times until it stuck in his head. He officially became the residency's designated navigator and communicator. One of my favorite things was his version of saying thank you and it usually was “Xièxiè man”. It always gave us a good laugh.





When we first arrived in Beijing I was immediately drawn to the texture of the city walls and the layers of history that were left embedded into them. I also couldn't help but notice the grayness of the sky, which was typically a sign of poor air quality, but it created an amazing cutout of geometry that I couldn't stop photographing.  To my surprise, Beijing was not bursting in highly saturated color as I had imagined. It was completely de-saturated with muted hues of off-white, rose and the occasional accent of red lights or lanterns.  I was completely in love and felt a deep connection between the palette of the city and the one I tend to be attracted to while painting.


  

I tried to translate the texture of the walls and the geometry of the city through paint and was finding it difficult to obtain the richness through the materials I was using.  I then found a new obsession that I don't think I will be able to live without after this trip.  Strangely enough it’s modeling paste. It might be the most amazing material I discovered during our residency aside from the $1.50 acrylic paints.  I have always looked at it in the art stores in NY but was distracted by the familiarity of other materials and never tried it.  I was also inspired to push the texture of my work more while watching Pedro (my studio mate at CAFA), who was working in very thick layers of acrylic and oil paints. The materials are so cheap in Beijing, which allowed for the most ultimate freedom to experiment and push our work in ways that we normally wouldn’t.  For Pedro and I, it was thickness of paint and and for Amina and Isaac I think it was the liberty to work large as they both bought enormous stretched linen that was incredibly cheap compared to the prices we are used to back in NYC.




In the last week of our residency we got to show our work at the Dayungtang Museum.  Emerging Dialogs: A Museum Take Over, featured the work of thirteen artists, including Amina, Isaac, Pedro and I, with the artists we shared spaces with at CAFA. We all worked together to hang the show and we ended up having a really strong exhibition that we were all really proud of.



I never thought I would be traveling to Asia and am beyond grateful for the opportunity this residency has provided me. I truly hope I will be able to return one day and explore more of the city and its amazing art scene again in the future.  This residency has enabled me to find a part of myself I don't think I knew was there and inspired me to challenge/free my approach to the work I am making now and hopefully will make this year at the academy.  Thank you New York Academy of Art and CAFA for such a wonderful experience!