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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rainy-day Art Show in Todi, Italy: Art Matters

It's raining in Umbria. And that's the forecast for the next few days. How else does the grass stay so green and the flowers grow? From a selfish viewpoint, though, I'm from Vancouver and tired of all the rain I've already stored up inside me. Besides, my walking sticks slide on the rocks when it's raining. But it's silly to complain in paradiso. 

San Fortunato Fresco, Todi
Last night I went to Palazzo Morelli, now an art gallery in Todi to the opening night of a show of Jack Sal's artistic works. The artist was there, along with a considerable number of others. If you know Sal's work, his recent paintings offer  quite a contrast with the building containing it. Quite a minimalist series of poplar panels geometrically designed with striped of medical tape and lines of pigment works was set on the walls of a this old renaissance-baroque palace. The contrast was delightful. 

The artist, a poet who had collaborated with him on a well-wrought art book of drawings and ekphrasis (poetry about or stimulated by visual art) presented talks, as did others, including local artists who had gathered for the opening and refreshments. We spent considerable time listening to each other hold forth on "artists", what art "is",  its value (commercial, cultural, aesthetic, and other meanings) and the problems art today faces. It's an old and continuing discussion. But it gets tiresome ... even in Italian (which I like to listen to but hardly understand). 

The bottom line, for me, is that artists (self-defined) need to make art (however defined) and lovers of art, or even the timidly interested in it, need to support art in all the ways they can: go to see it, buy it if one can, rent or lend space for artists to work in and show their works, leave comments on artist sites, etcetera, etcetera, etc. I don't hold to any pre-ordained or politically correct "purpose" for art. I just know that art been part of human life and evolution since at least the earliest cave records of it. We need to make and interact with art to live meaningfully (no didactics here):  to see our world  and beyond it in all ways accessible to us.  Artworks need to interact with people, or they become petrified. So what helps this to happen?

Talking about art in society tends to inflate to discussions of "big things". But acting on the fact that art matters usually happens on a smaller scale for most of us. Doing anything on a big scale, involving such things as changes in governmental policies, or corporate finances, or the wished-for big-daddy patron, is beyond what most of us can effectively manage to do. But what about working the small scale? I'm talking about local awareness, access, and support of varying kinds that a community can come up with:  like one apartment building's worth of awareness/access/support for art and resident-artists; or cooperative sustenance within small communities?  Maybe even the internet can be useful in this. Any such ideas you've seen in action? 

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Photo by JS,
This posting takes us back to France, a wonderful area to travel and live, sampling the grapes, the food, enjoying the colors and textures of the countryside, marveling at the natural beauty and yes, finding this taxidermic hedgehog among the treasures at a local art museum. Really, this posting is  about hedgehogs and related matters. (It's sad, I agree, that my first experience of a hedgehog was of a stuffed one, as one reader commented.)

Why did I stop to take this photo? Because of its natural appeal: that posture,  that rotund little body that can roll itself into a ball, that peculiar little face; it's also called 'urchin'. And it's an oddity for me because hedgehogs are not  native to North America and I've never seen one, so I was curious about it. Years ago,  I remember reading that many of them were being killed by cars in Europe. They also tend to get their heads stuck in pipes, tubes and various containers. I felt some sympathy.

Another reason is that I was reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, a French novelist and former professor of philosophy. It's an interesting mix of eccentric characters that I enjoyed even when irritated by them. The story and its bits of philosophy and social-class dissection are narrated alternately by a middle-aged concierge and a precocious 12-year-old girl of the upper-bourgeosie. Both of them are ruthlessly intellectual, judgmental, and often obnoxious while also, to my mind, often being right-on in their discernment and more than a little hilarious. It's quite a coup of a book, and it has more heart than appears likely from my description.

[Related Links: A link I like for animal-related matters animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/hedgehog and for kids:  kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/animals/.../hedgehog/. There seem to clubs out there devoted to domesticated hedgehogs also:  http://exoticpets.about.com/b/2009/11/17/hedgehogs-as-pets.htm
As for The Elegance of the Hedgehog, you can check your usual book sources for borrowing or purchasing, and here's a fuller review: www.goodreads.com/book/.../2967752-the-elegance-of-the-hedgehog]

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To Blog or Not To Blog?

It's just my first week of blogging but already I can almost see it rearing up in front of me: one of those unavoidable bumper-stickers, this one saying:

No, no, say it isn't so!

But I feel myself falling into the great void that must be Blogdom. It's a void but nevertheless it's overpopulated with people, or with virtual people. I'm experiencing the activity of blogging as a newbie.  I must say it has an infectious, addictive quality. Yet, I'm someone who cherishes my privacy, my intimacies, and the quality of knowing when to stop talking.

Go figure.

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The Royal Wedding from Afar

I actually want to see this royal shindig! This surprises me, given myun-fawning, non-royalist disposition. When becoming a Canadian citizen, I admit that I only whispered the loyalty oath to the monarch. So why this keen interest of mine?

I'm old enough to have seen Will and Harry grow up, and Elizabeth's pleasant portrait is on all my Canadian currency. A more matronly  portrait of her bedecked with jewels and festooned with ceremonial pins faces me on my weekly ferry rides  from Vancouver to Saturna Island, where we have a lovely home and my art studio. Besides, I loved the Helen Mirren movie of Elizabeth II. And now, a photo of this handsome couple is printed on Canadian stamps.

So, here I am in Umbria thinking about how to view the royal shindig tomorrow. Very Canadian, eh? We don't have a TV, so I hope I can stream it via computer.

Spring in Umbria

Photocollage byJanet Strayer 
This is my non-chronological update on what's happening in my little but abundant life in Europe. I had wanted to tell this chronologically, like a narrative with a beginning-middle-end (well, leave out the "end" part). But there's too much happening right now for me to wait to wind up to it. Besides, my friend Ruth (see her Ruthless Cosmopolitan blog), an American writer living in and reporting from Europe for many years, tells me that is not how a blog works: it's an in-process thing.

So, get used to going back and forth in time with me during the posting of this blog. I'm now in Umbria, in a little rural community (smaller than a village) of Morruzze, near Todi (20 min. drive). Todi is near Orvieto, one of my favorite Italian cities which is near another favorite, Perugia (ah, the chocolate; ah, the art!).

Now, in early Spring, the new little lambkins are out in the meadow beside the rocky road up from our house, their bells alerting me that sheep are grazing here. The not too distant lawns covering the rounded hills everywhere I look are covered in so softly lush a green that I feel like licking them. I won't, of course. There are ticks! Along this walk, those in the know can find wild asparagus. What a chef can make of those treasured stalks!

Yesterday's morning visit Todi  was  a non-pleasure trip to the emergency ward, the Pronto Soccorso,  to check out pretty severe pains endured by Jim (my spouse of many talents). Such an event is always a terrible worry, especially for foreign travellers. A polyglot consultation ensued, using the limited Italian Jim can speak, my impressive command of gesture (and some comprehension ability), and the local medical team's patience, skill, and a smattering of English. A full array of tests was done, with us waiting on site for 5 hrs. for all the results. We read during that time: A.S. Byatt's, The Children's Book and essays by T.H. White kept us company (not very Italian, but the mind needs freedom to roam). Thankfully, the diagnosis was good and easily managed. The fee for all this was 25 Euros. I don't know what the Italians think about their medical system. But this visitor from Canada (which has a very good medical system, despite all the gripes) feels very grateful.

That evening I visited the nearby community of Acqualoreto (one can, if feeling energetic, walk the distance to it from Morruzze). There's a nice little pub-club there where I was introduced to some of the locals and foreign-residents (an oxymoron, isn't it). I met a very easy, welcoming group of varied people who have made their permanent or semi-permanent homes here. Rural as it is here, with it's "off the beaten track-ness " coupled with  its "not really far by car from everything-ness", this is an  an inviting place to be.

Remembering the advice given me by a pro, I'll sign off now... and write another post soon.
Happy trails to you,


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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Jump Right In

I'm glad you did. And here am I, blogging through my very first entry. I suppose there is an art to blogging, but it escapes me. Instead, I've just jumped in, so let me tell you why.

Because life is short and:
  • what interests me may interest you... like travelling, art, adventure, ideas, food, and life 
  • what interests you may interest me, so I hope you'll interact;
  • I create paintings and they need to connect with other people;
  • there is so much of quality to see and learn, to do and share;
  • because living a creative life , in all its diversity, is important;
  • it may be fun
I'm now in Italy, having spent the last 4 months in Spain and the 3 months before that in France. I've been learning how to walk again ... literally. And to see again … and to experience how fortunate it is to be part of life, a splinter of this crooked timber of humanity. So, let me share some great, if often idiosyncratic, Thoughts, Sights/Insights, Discoveries, Paintings/Images, and whatever else catches the mind, opens the eye, and engages the hand. I’ll include a painting that I’ve done or am in the process of doing and welcome your reactions.

Today's Thought:
Wonder – is not precisely knowing
and not precisely knowing not
            (Emily Dickinson)

Today’s Sights: 
I’ll start by sharing with you bits of a travelogue of my life recent life in Europe . It begins in France, where we first landed in September, me in sorry shape after an accident I 'd had the month before in Canada. Learning to walk freely again was a personal goal. As was appreciating as much of life as possible. And painting. And viewing art in all its forms.

We’re living in the small and ancient town of St. Thibery in Languedoc. The road I’m happily walking on, cane in hand, runs along the Hérault river (beside the town) and leads to the ancient Pont Roman. Wow !-- n’est-ce pas?


Pont Roman, photo by Janet Strayer

 banks of the Herault , photo by Janet Strayer
Today’s Discovery:  
When you don’t have an oven, you can still make lots of  “roasted” dishes on a stovetop (even a camping stove or campfire) if you have a couple of pots. To wit, my creatively cooking spouse has in the past week made some delicious eggplant parmiagian,  “roast lamb”, and “roast chicken”. Even the outside layers were browned to perfection. (This is important for foodie lovers). Post me a note if you want the recipes and I'll check with the cook.

Today’s Paintings:  more of my art at janetstrayerart.com

Lady Ermengarde, painting by Janet Strayer
Lady Ermengarde
(acrylic) is my imaginary take on a dame heralded in medieval song by the troubadours who were rampant in nearby regions of France. I’m a determined, eclectic painter, following different styles as they fit my purposes, ranging from more or less realistic to expressionistic and abstract.

This is one of the first paintings I started  while beginning my new life in France in autumn (a season you can see reflected in my photos). For me, I guess this painting reflects a melding of my own contemporary state (wonder mixed with some apprehension) with the lady's somewhat reluctant acceptance of the whirlwind around her contained countenance.   Comments?

painting by Janet Strayer
Lots more happened during the next 3 months in France (in later posts). From mid Dec to mid April was spent in Spain beside the sea and amidst dramatic weather changes and many new sights (in later posts). During that time, I had entered a new phase of work. Here's one of my last paintings from Spain, entitled Malaga. 

It's quite different in method and mood from the Lady. As my experiences change, so does my painting.  Pintar es una moda de vivir,  or "to paint is a way of life." It's my Spanish way of excusing myself for neglecting other things while absorbed in the painting process. 

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