Academy Summer Residencies 2016: Giverny

Our second essay from Giverny comes from Matthew Durante MFA 2017. 

Giverny is an inspiration. I paint both the landscape and the figure, but here the landscape is such that to paint anything else would seem to miss the point. It is enchanting.

I want to thank the New York Academy of Art and the Terra Foundation for an unparalleled experience. Rolling hills of thick greens of every shade, gardens and lilies of famous lineage, trees and hedges and flowers and all of them luminous in the sunshine, friendly bees and bugs and daddy-long-legs in their nooks, sucre crepes right down the road, Paris just a bit further, gracious and accommodating hosts who give us free passes to museums and gardens and bikes and food and a wonderful old house to live in, a dressing room to properly attire myself for facing the landscape, a Sorolla exhibition to walk to for quick inspiration, hearty meals sometimes with a cheese course, pastries and more pastries, a car for groceries and picnics and twirling round about the roundabouts, pleasant and supportive companions who are not unhinged, strange ear kissing rituals, classical chamber musicians who are also residents playing all around us, and lots of wine. This is Giverny.

“Ah Giverny…”

I may be burbling but this has been my first time in France, and indeed in Europe. I visited Paris before Giverny, and marched through the major museums in a jet-lagged stupor determined to see it all while staying upright.  Combine that with a few days in London and it would seem I have seen almost every major work of pre-20th century art from my art history classes! Amazing. London seemed to have a dynamic energy similar to New York City, while Paris was leisurely and lovely, perfect for wandering the boulevards.

It was inspiring to see so much great painting in Paris and London, but overwhelming to see it all in so quick a time. So to calm my brain, I sketched the sculpture that is everywhere in Paris. The quality of European figurative sculpture in the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay is amazing.  Combine marble, particularly when it glistens, and the human form, particularly when it is carved with skill and subtlety, and I must draw it.
Sketching sculpture at the Louvre!

After Paris, Naudline, Kristina, Jorge and I met up in Giverny. We were given a great studio with great light, but on sunny days it’s hard to remain indoors with the beautiful French countryside all around. So I went out to paint and have been doing so since. And in fact we’ve all been painting the landscape in some way: Jorge has been going to the Monet Gardens, Kristina is painting nature abstractions and chasing cows, and Naudline, whose work is imagination-based, has painted Giverny vistas and the colors have inspired her. On hot days it gets toasty in the studio, and this too prods us onward, outside into the sun, we the bold painters. It’s cool in the shade.

Le studio

The Giverny landscape has reacquainted me with challenges of outdoor painting, which I didn’t pursue in NYC, and has given me a chance to experiment. Coming here I knew I wanted to try painting with dust. And I knew I wanted to paint in color. Most of my landscape work in the past was monochromatic, a combination of charcoal powder and chalk and all of it sandwiched between clear acrylic. Practically I couldn’t work that way here in Giverny, so I went back to traditional brushes and started doing studies.  Slowly, I started to stretch my landscape-painting color-muscles again, building confidence, thinking back to the landscape painting class I had with the mighty Mr. Nathan Fowkes. From him I learned to use a watercolor palette augmented with white gouache, which allows for the quick contrast of transparency and opacity, a technique often employed in oil painting (transparent shadows, opaque lights); with this palette, the watercolors are essentially transparent, but with a little white gouache they become opaque colors.
Lily painting.  Intense!

During my first week in Giverny the studies I was doing were alright, and I knew with much more practice I would start to get my colors under control.  But I still wanted to paint with dust. Indeed, after seeing the Pointillist paintings of Georges Seurat at the Musee d'Orsay, I really wanted to paint with dust. These, and all the impressionist paintings of Monet and others, implied approaching color less directly and more of as an effect of optical recombination in the eye. I wanted to try this for myself. I felt it would take me closer to what I was doing monochromatically, and give me new directions to explore.

Seurat’s Poseuse de dos [Model, Back View], 1887

With a bag of pumice as my powder and watercolors as my pigment, I manufactured my own dust. But without a fixative that is safe to use, like the casein fixatives available In the U.S., I couldn’t find a good way to make the dust stick to my paper. All I had available were the nasty ones that smell like a biohazard and I could hardly spread this miasma throughout beautiful Giverny.  Additionally, working with pigments in a powder form can be toxic. So, the dust was a dud.

Studies Studies Studies

Then one day, frustrated by failures, stuck in studies, vexed by the search for something vital and more me — I realized I was just making things complicated and I should paint dots.  The thought of endlessly dabbing my life away with a tiny pointed brush had been debilitating, but — last Saturday, as the resident chamber musicians serenaded me on the Terra grounds, their notes mixing with the wind and the birdsong — I reached down, and there were my stipple brushes, and that’s exactly what they’re for!  Each dab creates a field of tiny dots, and suddenly I started to get more interesting color that, in places at any rate, had that vibrating quality that is found in some Impressionist painting.  And even better, this fits into the whole noise of perception thing I’m after, dancing, twirling photons, like a field of darkness at night, like film-grain and memory.  So, I’m going to keep playing with this.

My painting of Monet’s lilies

I want to thank Véronique Bossard, Miranda Fontaine and Cèliane Ainaron of the Terra Foundation for American Art, and Jan Huntley of the Foundation Claude Monet, all for their amazing hospitality.  In particular I must single out Miranda for her generosity and thoughtfulness.  Miranda, elle est supercool!

Academy Summer Residencies 2016: Beijing

Our final dispatch from Beijing is from Amina Kerimova MFA 2017. 

I’ve been lucky to have visited many places around the globe in my life. Asia happens to be one of my favorites. Compared to Hong Kong, where I once lived for a couple of months, it quickly became apparent how different and unique a city like Beijing truly was. Despite the fact that China is densely populated and one encounters a lot of noise, pollution, navigation troubles and other problems, I still fell in love with the country as my time there kept passing by. There was calmness and a homey feeling that had been absent in Hong Kong. 

When I was awarded the residency, I decided to distance myself from any preconceptions or assumptions about visiting a city like Beijing. I was just excited to work as an artist in a completely new city and open my life to an adventure. I've been advised by last year’s Chinese artists in residence not to make any plans for the prospective work that I was about to create, because plans tend to change in a context as different as Beijing. So I started my residency with an open mind filled with excitement for something new.

(Beijing landscapes)

 During my first week I tried to get to know the real Beijing - no tourist attractions, just get to know it from inside out and discover beauty in everything. The greyness of pollution can be depressing, but as an artist you can fall in love with greys. As a result, Beijing landscapes became animated in color to me. Having found my subject and inspiration I dove into work - I wanted to meet the expectations of the Academy that had given me this unique chance to be in Beijing. Plus, I could exhibit my art at a Beijing gallery!

(My first memory based landscapes, work in progress)

During my first year of school, I used to photograph unusual compositions that I found fascinating and create landscapes and cityscapes from them. The pieces were often visually abstract, but on closer inspection one would realize they've been crafted from real-life instead of imagination.  In China, I have decided not to use photographs but my memories and imagination whilst continuing to focus on landscape, architecture, space, sky and light. This was a new step for me and the approach definitely took more time. There was quite a number of times that I would sit in the studio for hours just staring at my work, ruminating about what to do next. My mind was clogged up with thousands of ideas of how to best project my impressions of the city.  

  (My Beijing inspired art)

I came up with the idea that you don’t need anything obvious to express your feelings and love for a place. All that’s needed is the right mood and the right colors on the canvas. That's why I chose to use Chinese spoons to express landscape. The “spoons” were gigantic - 2 x 3 meters! A work this big was an experiment in itself. Knowing that the art materials in Beijing are way cheaper than in NYC, I decided to buy beautiful heavy linen which costs $100 compared to $800 or even more in NYC. I knew for fact that I would never be able to finish the work in China or have the chance to transport the linen back to NYC without damage. But I decided I didn’t care and started my spoons anyway. I still remember how physically exhausting it was to paint such large scale! The day after I started I was so sore I couldn’t walk! 

(Exploring Beijing)

CAFA (China Central Academy of Fine Arts) was undoubtedly a large and beautiful academy — a home to varieties of buildings and a museum. However, the building was under continuous construction during the summer, and as a consequence we had a huge fan blowing nothing but hot air in our studio, making it impossible to stay there.  Oh well, at least the paint dried faster! 

After the CAFA and New York Academy of Art exhibition in DAYUNTANG MUSEUM at the end of the month, we all had a huge dinner, at with which we reminisced about the month that we had spent in Beijing. The month of living and breathing and talking about art 24 hours a day was coming to an end.  I started to feel sad about it coming to a close.  Beijing was my muse, a perfect place for me to depict the juxtaposition of nature and manmade structures.  There is no doubt that residing in Beijing has influenced my artistic life immensely. Even though I have never completed any artist residency before, I know for sure this one will be unforgettable and incomparable to any future residencies I hope to accomplish. I will have an endless trove of memories from my trip to China. Asia will always be my source of inspiration and I am already looking forward to creating more China inspired art.  


(last free days in Beijing)

My gratitude towards Academy for offering me the privilege to undertake this endeavor in endless. And of course to my sweet Academy friends - Tania, Isaac, Pedro and everyone I met in Beijing. Thank you so much for being so loving and supportive!  

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.