Chasing Light - Painting and Teaching Within the Magical Landscape of Altos de Chavon

By Lily Olive (MFA 2015)

I spent this past August immersed in the magical environment of Altos de Chavon as one of the recipients of the New York Academy of Art ­ Altos de Chavon Artist and Teaching Residency, living and breathing what seemed to be some kind of mirage of an idealized ultimate painter's paradise. I along with three other NYAA alumni: Ivy Hickam (MFA ­ 2013), Ian Factor (MFA ­ 2014) and Alfonso Gosalbez Berenger (MFA ­ 2014), were given the fortunate opportunity to be selected to teach and work at La Escuela de Diseño Altos de Chavón, a design school in La Romana, Dominican Republic this Summer as part of an ongoing dialogue and exchange program NYAA and Altos de Chavon established last year. Chavon is an affiliate of Parson ́s School of Design in New York.

Ian and Ivy went down in June for the first residency round, and Alfonso and I followed in August for the second round. Ian instructed a class on anatomical drawing, Ivy gave a class on introduction to printmaking, Alfonso taught a landscape painting class, and I taught a class on art historical modalities and contemporary art, a brief survey of a variety of historical technical processes and painting exercises, lectures and several conceptual drawing exercises.

We all overlapped our time there by one week in the beginning of August. Ian and Ivy, along with the wonderful teachers and staff of Altos, helped welcome Alfonso and I to the school and showed us the lay of the land. It was very special to be able to spend that time together with each other painting outside, printmaking with Ivy and the students, taste­ testing delicious Dominican foods liketostones (fried green plantains!), and working on my Spanish language survival skills.

One night, we even ate fried parrot fish at Bayahibe, a beautiful nearby local beach, inside a gift shop surrounded by dresses, wind chimes, painted shells, and palm tee paintings, as torrential rain surprised us and had interrupted our dominos game and dinner on folding tables in the sand..the scramble to retreat inside away from the sheets of gusty rain, grabbing plates of steaming hot fish and cold Presidente beers wrapped in soggy napkins as we ending up moving our dinner from beach to open air gift shop was an experience I will not forget anytime soon.

I kept telling the other residents and teachers at the school that the stunning natural beauty was so overwhelmingly gorgeous, it was borderline saccharine. Certainly a nearly impossible feat to try to capture moments of fading suffused sunsets, jeweled sunbeams dancing and diving across frothy turquoise crests, mangos and coconuts weighing down above, hanging heavy amongst the medieval style architecture.

Bright yellow plums dotted the pathways, butterflies darted in and out of huge yellow, radiant magenta, pink and white tropical blossoms, and light flickered in and out of swaying palm trees.  Geckos and iguanas roamed in and out of our housing, and stray kittens mewed at us for scraps. “Cheese” the cat, a beautiful
mottled gray and white gregarious feline with emerald eyes befriended me quickly, and he spent days following me around, jumping into my lap and demanding attention and treats.

It was paradise realized as far as I was concerned. Perhaps we had landed in an episode of Lost or were living like Tom Hanks character in Castaway I mused, as I scrambled up trees to grab mangos and coconuts, victoriously smashing them open. Life existed everywhere I looked, cacti sprouting out of red rocks, orangey red flowers from the Flamboyant trees lining the roads, pathways, swimming pool, and lighting up the environment with their fiery chroma.
A brief background on Altos. Recreated as a 16 community, perched upon a cliff above the Chavon River. Construction of the village began in 1976 and the village was inaugurated in 1982 with the concert by NYC's one and only Frank Sinatra at the amphitheater. The village was designed by Dominican architect Jose Antonio Caro, and created by Italian master designer and cinematographer Roberto Coppa.
The village, in addition to being home to the Altos de Chavon School of Design, also house shops, boutiques, fine art galleries, restaurants and an archaeological museum atop the picturesque cliffs.  The residency consisted of having art studios in a great thatched hut to work out of, and one week of leading and teaching a painting workshop; mine was called History of Painting Techniques and Contemporary Art.

The schools administration and staff were beyond welcoming, Carmen Lorente, the schools academic director, helped us realize and make possible the lessons and ideas we had for our classes and material lists. It was fantastic!
We had lunches together almost daily, and debriefed each other on how our students were progressing, what ideas we had planned for our class lessons, and often lobbying for trips to the beach to plein air.

As a teacher, the experience of having such hardworking and dedicated students was extremely rewarding, and it was a pleasure to push them and see the results. A week is unfortunately not nearly enough time to impart as much knowledge as one would like, but it is long enough to experience very intense immersions into a variety of techniques and experiences together as a class. I gave lectures, painting demos, assisted during lessons, and encouraged the students to keep pushing through the lessons, which were very challenging for them, but they stood up to the demands and dove into their work, with impressive results. It was not uncommon to spend quite a bit of time after class, sometimes hours, assisting the students in continuing to work through their paintings and assignments for that days class. I was touched with how much genuine dedication and love they had for their crafts.

After the classed ended, I spent the rest of my trip outside, plein air painting from life. The time escaped quickly, and I spent entire days working frantically to try to put down color and light and capture as much of the environment as I could.

The landscape, the students, the staff and the entire experience was beautiful and rewarding. We are all so grateful to have been given these opportunities, and I am looking for ways to go back and visit my new Dominican friends as soon as possible.

Mucho Gracias!


Ivy Hickam (MFA ­ 2013), Ian Factor (MFA ­ 2014) and Alfonso Gosalbez Berenger (MFA ­ 2014) and Lily Olive (MFA 2013) spent their summer on an Academy sponsored teaching residency in Dominican Republic.

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