Being an Artist in Florence (part 2)

The Marini experience

Being a 21st century artist in Firenze is a strange experience. Though fascinated by the work of such trail blazing and great artists as Michelangelo, Donatello, Ghirlandaio, Ghiberti, Cimabue, Giotto et al., which was cutting edge in its day, and not a little intimidated by that great art, I felt strangely at a distance from it. I am aware of its part in the making of me as an artist and was intellectually engaged with it, but emotionally it was for the first time remote. I was suddenly faced with how much I have changed since I last went there 20 years ago both as a person and an artist.

I was conflicted. How could I not be amazed at the vitality of the newly cleaned Masaccio’s in the Brancacci chapel? I loved them, yes, but they were images of their time and I am struggling to produce images which say something about being alive, here and now. The realism of the renaissance was my training yet for artists now the iconoclasm of Modernist art and philosophy let alone Post-Modernism create a tension from ultra-realistic to abstraction and beyond that artists have to negotiate. That at least has been part of my art struggle over the past few years and Firenze brought this tension into sharp focus.

After a few days I was beginning to struggle with myself and the print process. Although I was producing good images / prints I was feeling very dissatisfied with them. They felt like old art. Some of my Beethoven images were old but the print process was somehow not jolting me into working or seeing differently as I had hoped. I felt stuck and frustrated.

Inspiration and a way forward came in the form of the 20th century Italian artist Marino Marini. Tucked away on a small road off the huge piazza Santa Maria Novella is a small bar and opposite a large converted chapel which is the Marini Museum in Florence. Though the building is old it has been totally redesigned inside in a clean modernist style with a variety of huge open spaces for the larger work, mezzanine floors and small galleries, all intersecting at different levels and joined by flying staircases which give interesting views on the work. It is a lovely space to be in and then there is the work! Oh Wow!

Fir Marini draw2

(drawing of Archangel)

The last work to really stun me when I saw it was the pre-historic cave painting in the Dordogne in the caves of Rouffignac and Font-de-Gaume (more of that another time). The sight of the Marini’s had a similar effect, a totally emotional connection, lump in throat, slightly breathless, lightheaded and a direct oneness with the art and overwhelming sense of joy and belonging. I did five drawings on my first visit over several hours. The process of drawing helps me see. It is a process of inquiry, a dialogue between the thing observed and my understanding of it which develops through time and drawing. The Marini’s had both strong form and powerful emotional depths. I love the horses and riders which began for him as a subject during the 2nd World War in Italy when people would ride out into the fields to listen for the Allied bombers, hence horse and riders looking into the sky and often in the same direction.

Fir Marini draw3

After my first set of drawings I was inspired to make art from them and the first print came about as a juxtaposition of two drawings of Marino’s sculptures. I photocopied the drawings from my sketchbook and played with a composition which when chosen I drew in ink marker on the back of the transparent plate. I then inked the plate with bold colours and spray glued the backs of the photocopied drawings. I put Arches paper in the press, placed the inked plate on the press bed, carefully positioned my cut out drawings glue upwards/face down on the plate and ran the whole thing through the press. Hey presto a print. Because of the thickness of the paper cut out drawings, the ink did not fill in the edges evenly so I used a mixture of cotton buds, toothpicks and coloured crayons to make good.

Fir Marini print1

(Ist Marini print)

As Ron says, with this method of printing you get a gift, and mine was an interesting ghost of ink remaining on the plate. Where the ink had not pushed onto the grove made by the edges of the chine colle I was left with an ink drawn outline of my drawings. I used this as the basis of my next print which with a little work on the plate turned out more interesting than the original.

Fir Marini print2

(2nd Marini print)

Although I was pleased in some ways at the results of these two prints I felt that they had a tightness and stiffness to them, a lack of interesting marks and exploration that was in the original drawings. I felt that the print process was somehow not working for me and the way I naturally work best – I was at war with myself. The drawings were fluid and searching but I was trying too hard to make the prints work and be a finished thing in spite of Ron’s best efforts to the contrary. I got very frustrated and a bit angry with myself so went off to the Marini museum again, fortified with coffee and cake, and communed for several hours with his sculptures and prints. Three hours drawing is good for the soul and great for getting grounded.

Fir Marini draw1

The next day was our last full course day and I did not want to spend it going around my mental printmaking loop. Ron realised my frustrations with how I was approaching the print process and said why don’t you just draw on the paper directly then work up your plate and print over it. I felt liberated, did three drawings with the same composition in quick succession, inked up a plate and printed. It felt much more like painting and at that moment felt right for me.

Fir Marini print3

The colours were a bit crude but there was an interesting ghost left on the plate so I worked on that and printed it with much more interesting results.

Fir Marini print4

The second ghost beckoned. I worked on the plate with black ink using rollers and a very spiky brush and printed that over my last drawing.

Fir Marini print5

I was really happy with this freer way of working which has opened up interesting possibilities both in thinking about work but also in ways of working. We finished the course with a gentle crit where I told a more garbled version of my 2 week journey – too close to it!

Paul in Florence

So my challenge is to be more experimental and painterly in my next prints and stop trying to do finished work. More serious play!


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