Sculpture Symposium in Bagni di Lucca

July 23, 2013 § 17 Comments

998031_421943887922199_955588846_nEvery day since the first of July you wander over the passerella to the Villa Fiori gardens and you hear the musical tapping of metal on stone.  The sculpture symposium, one of the many wonderful events of the Bagni di Lucca Art Festival, has seen the works of five sculptors evolving and ‘becoming’ over the month; Doug Robinson, Sarah Danays, Ryoichi Suzuki, Petra Boshart and Michael Cartwright.  Visitors to the gardens have been delighted by the progress and information on how each artist develops their language, using only hand tools on various types of marble, statuario and normale from Carrara, red travertine from Iran, nut brown from Turkey.

Early days, Ryoichi and Mike discussing marble

Early days, Ryoichi and Mike discussing marble

lunch at Shona and Mike's

lunch at Shona and Mike’s

lunch at Maureen and Kevan Halson's La Balconata

lunch at Maureen and Kevan Halson’s La Balconata

Every day the local people have provided lunch for the artists in their homes.  It has been an enormous discovery for the hosts and the artists alike to see how the other lives life.  There have been lunches in tiny kitchens and under vines with magnificent vistas, every lunch generous and fundamentally Italian, with pasta and wine and home done olives, good vegetables from the fields and heavy rustic breads and cheeses.

Doug sampling the Caprese at Candido's home in Montegegatesi

Doug sampling the Caprese at Candido’s home in Montegegatesi

The kindness of Hotel Pio in Bagni Caldi, donating rooms to three of the artists for the full month along with the Bridge Hotel in Ponte a Serraglio hosting Doug, has been a huge act and earns them the name of the ‘art hotels’ and maybe next year with funding they will be well recompensed.

Pizza night at Hotel Pio - sponsor for the artists

Pizza night at Hotel Pio – sponsor for the artists

Doug Robinson is a Canadian sculptor who has been coming to Pietrasanta for the past thirty years to carve marble.  He has been a wonderful joy in the party, his enthusiasm for the whole culture of Bagni di Lucca with all its hilltop villages, his eyes turning into childlike buttons of wonder have made us laugh and enjoy being here even more.  He has been working in the brown travertine and his work, organic, figurative, animistic and landscape, all, are a beautiful testament to his surroundings that he has eagerly absorbed.

Doug's sculpture

Doug’s sculpture

Sarah Danays, a UK artist living and creating in L.A. and renovating a house in a little hilltop village here in Bagni, is a petite and gentle woman.  She has carved the smallest piece of marble to carefully and delicately create a bust to wear the adornment of an antique necklet which will then be melded into her own artistic expression of a photographic installation.  Her lovely kind presence, always caring about us all and deeply concerned for her sponsors that they are properly acknowledged, has been significant to the warmth and friendship of the group.

Sarah carving her bust

Sarah carving her bust

Ryoichi Suzuki is a Japanese artist who has lived since his student days in Utah, USA, where he now lectures as a teacher in sculpture at the university. He has been used, as a marble sculptor, to the machines of the trade so has encountered a learning curve with the hand chiseling as has nearly everyone in the group.  His process has been very methodical and at the end of his stay here he has created an abstracted silken torso in the white Carrara marble.  People in town have loved his open interest in them and enjoyed his jovial company in the bar.

Ryoichi carving

Ryoichi carving

close to completion

close to completion

Petra Boshart, an artist from the Netherlands, comes from a long respected family line of marble carvers.  She has willingly shared lots of tips from her memories of her grandfather and father and has delighted in the hand carving process which has eliminated lots of the aches that sculptors acquire from constant use of machines when carving.  Carving on the edge of the Lima River inspired her sculpture in the Iranian red travertine, an organic coil of rolling form reflecting the flow of water.

Petra carving

Petra carving

Michael Cartwright, has loved being in the field every day creating.  Life has been incredibly busy, because living in the same place you are working in, means many distractions, including hosting his sculpting friends every evening after work.  But Mike’s energy is huge and he attacked his cube of stone with velocity before it took its shape into an abstract quirky bird form with what he calls the nest.  People walking in the gardens each day got to know it and delight in it which was lovely for him because it usually takes a while for people to know his work.  He is working on his second piece now, a promise of a gentle fluid form that feels womanly.

Mike carving

Mike carving

Michael carving the bird and nest

Michael carving the bird and nest

The artists will be showing their work on May 26th, when hopefully the road in Ponte a Serraglio will be closed again and all the shops reopened with the next exhibitions.

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Creating an Art Festival in Bagni di Lucca

April 17, 2013 § 6 Comments

Bagni di Lucca ~ Ponte a Serraglio

Bagni di Lucca ~ Ponte a Serraglio

On a late summer’s day last year, under a pergola dripping in wisteria and overlooking splendid vistas, a thought was born to a philanthropist and his friends, to have an art festival in Ponte a Serraglio.  For years we had all been coming here, and every year another one or two shops would close down.  It seemed unbelievably sad that such a beautiful and elegant town with such a salubrious history should disappear, becoming shabbier over the years and less and less inviting to visit.

Artists walking in the mountains above Bagni di Lucca

Artists walking in the mountains above Bagni di Lucca

As with all intrinsically beautiful places, artists are already attracted to this town with its gracious old buildings and surrounding mountains and walks up to the ancient spas.  An artist group got together on the bridge, taking over two shops some years ago, Artisti Uniti, of around ten artists.  It was shortlived but quickly followed by the Borgo degli Artisti, whose initial group had a dream to create a hamlet of artists, inspired by Greenwich village in New York!   The Borgo degli Artisti took the initative to fix up the derelict garden of Villa Fiori, making it a gorgeous place to have a painting event in mid July, attracting nearly 100 artists for the day to paint all along the river and now they also have sagras on that day and other days throughout the year and have a little gallery on the bridge that displays their members’ works year around.

Borgo degli Artisti festival in the gardens of Villa Fiori

Borgo degli Artisti festival in the gardens of Villa Fiori

Since the Borgo degli Artisti started, La Rondine Gallery, an artist run space, showing international artists throughout the summer months has opened in two beautiful shops on one of the small piazzas. To add to the general feeling of excitement, a photography gallery directed by Kevan Halson is opening a few doors up from La Rondine and will feature the works of international photographers.

Exhibtion opening at La Rondine Gallery

Exhibtion opening at La Rondine Gallery

After our informal ideas meetings with our philanthropist friend who donated a substantial offering to the cause, the enormous job of putting together the Bagni di lucca Art Festival, was placed in Jaqueline’s hands.  Jaqueline is our daughter-in-law married to our eldest son, Jacob.  Her mother has a smile that would light the sun, while her father is a politician in Cape Verde, and we’ve decided upon this knowledge that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  She is extremely talented dealing with so many artists and cajoling so many people to donate their empty shops, encouraging everyone in the town to get out and work at cleaning them up.   The feeling of anticipation is palpable.  Already the festival, even in its first year, has legs that are running for success.  Of course she is greatly supported by Jake, and the two of them have become a wonderful team.

Jake and Jaqueline

Jake and Jaqueline

In generous collaboration, the Borgo degli Artisti are delighted to have the art Festival take place throughout the Villa Fiori gardens. Starting at the beginning of July, there will be a marble hand carving sculpture symposium with international sculptors; music performances; opera; acrobatics; dancing.  Plus, there are 7 or 8 empty shops that have been seconded and they will be artists’ studios/exhibition spaces/installations. These shops will rotate with artists over the entire summer, June through till September.  The scrumptious old casino will be transformed in the summer for a piano recital of Lizst by one of Australia’s foremost pianists, Ronald Farren-Price, also for an opera from London and an opera from Lucca as well as a performance by Italy’s Al Maranca. It’s a growing happening and already people on the other side of the world are booking to come over to be here, enticed by beauty and culture and delightful traditions.

Casino, Ponte a Serraglio

Casino, Ponte a Serraglio

Ronald Farren-Price

Ronald Farren-Price

The Bagni di Lucca Art Festival is the manifestation of many dreams in the little town to see it thrive once more. After all, its historical interest has always been through the amazing artists and personages who have visited this town in the summer.

Carving Marble in Pietrasanta

April 11, 2013 § 9 Comments

Sollai working in La Coopperativa

Sollai working in La Coopperativa

Sollai, our youngest son, arrived in Bagni di Lucca just before Christmas last year after a year in Montreal with his acrobat girlfriend, Danica.  He had spent the year working on log cabins, stone chimneys and gardens up around the lakes and creating his sculpture carving alabaster and marble, in his city studio.  Even though the experience was wonderful, bringing him in contact with an abundant wild life and contributing to the language of his art, trying to make money to live and still do his artwork frustrated him enormously. Then, to his enormous good fortune a lovely collector was encouraged to sponsor him in Italy to carve in one of the most renowned marble carving studios, La Cooperativa, in Pietrasanta for three months over the winter.  Lucky Sollai!  He was given accommodation, studio, stone, allowance and tools in exchange for artwork created there.  More importantly, he was in the mecca of marble carving and had access to the knowledge and advice of some of the most experienced artisans in Pietrasanta – or in the world.

Sollai and Mike discussing tools

Sollai and Mike discussing tools

Piazza of Pietrasanta

Piazza of Pietrasanta

Michaelangelo was here!

Michaelangelo was here!

Michael, at the same time, took the opportunity to be with Sollai and rented a studio space in Studio Shakti in Pietrasanta for a couple of days a week.  They’d meet up for lunch in the Croce Verde where they would devour a huge three course lunch with wine, water and coffee for ten euros each.  After work they’d find a little bar to hang out and relax in, warming up after a long day in the cold.  Mike got some great work done.  I think he was a bit rapturous to be carving in marble again after so many years since the car accident when he was unable to do any heavy work.  He actually forgot in his enthusiasm, the weights of stone.  An average size piece, 90 x 90 cm, weighed about 180 kilos, fully realized when it came time to move it.

Shakti Studio

Shakti Studio

Michael in his studio

Michael in his studio

On one of the days returning to the studios to work after a weekend in Bagni di Lucca, Mike took Sollai up over the mountain pass from Castlenuovo to Pietrasanta.  On the way they detoured up another mountain to buy carving tools from the ancient Milani factory in Pomezzana.  This factory has been in the family for either 900 years or 9 generations – hmmm – our Italian is not that good! Nevertheless it is believed this same factory was making tools when Michaelangelo was in Pietrasanta.  We visited this factory 30 years ago when we first went to Carrarra.  In those days the factory was above the village and it is still there but now it has expanded and its extension is down on the road below the village.  Its a wonderful experience seeing how these tools that have never changed continue to be made, though in slightly better conditions.

Milani Tools from Pomezzana

Milani Tools from Pomezzana

In the meantime, Sollai created a beautiful carving for his collector.  Its size came to about a 100 x 100 x 40 cm in a a beautiful soft dusty pink Portuguese Rose marble.  Sollai’s influences for his art are very organic and natural forms often found on one of his roving walks.  This piece is also organic but is also reminiscent of the Ligurian figure heads and they must have lain dormant in his head because he has seen them on his journeys back and forth to Italy since he was a teenager.

My most loved expression is in the carving of stone. For me it is my prayer. Hours and hours listening to the rhythm of chisel and hammer bring me to a place of no return. The creation of form, the seeking of light within marble, its voice is the spirit of the earth and its poetry is infinite.‘  Sollai

Sollai on top of his marble cases ready to go to Australia for delivery

Sollai on top of his marble cases ready to go to Australia for delivery

 

Bagni di Lucca’s Art Festival

April 8, 2013 § 1 Comment

Bella Bagni di Lucca

Bagni di Lucca is set to host a brand new Art Festival this summer. In the sunny months of July, August and September Ponte a Seraglio will be filled with performance artists, painters, sculptors and photographers.

Meet part of the organizing team.

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From the left…Jaqueline, Ira, our Sindaco Dottore Betti and Jake.

With the help of our Sindaco (mayor), our beautiful venues, such as the TeatroAccademico, the Casino, the Sala Parrocchiale and others will be filled with exciting performance artists. Click here to see more on the Casino and here for the Teatro Accademico.

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As well as this, artists will be able to display their collections of art work in some of the unused shops in the main street of Ponte a Serraglio at no cost. One of the best aspects of this is that the local people are getting involved in the clean…

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Winter in Tuscany

February 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

We love winter in Tuscany.  We arrived home in early December with snow flakes falling.  A frosty white world greeted us in Pieve dei Monti di Villa and we were no sooner there than we were walking up the cobbled street paths of the next little village upwards, Monti di Villa, to see a Presepe Vivente (Live Nativity).  The whole village had partaken in the event, setting up their cantinas to represent old shops, iron mongers, leather workers, carvers, broom makers. weavers, bakers…

brooms - photo Maureen Halson

brooms – photo Maureen Halson

Weaving - photo by Maureen Halson

Weaving – photo by Maureen Halson

Primo - the bread maker

Primo – the bread maker

making the wine vats - photo by Maureen Halson

making the wine vats – photo by Maureen Halson

It was freezing cold, but in the streets, fires burned merrily in big iron tubs, and there was the occasional ‘camp’ fire out in a yard over which hung a big pot of mulled wine. The local villagers wore medieval costume and sang folk songs, and as we wove our way up the hill we ate homemade bread and cheese and pizza slices and biscuits, and drank cupfuls of warm sweet red wine.

fires in the cauldrons

fires in the cauldrons

local produce - photo by Maureen Halson

local produce – photo by Maureen Halson

pizza - photo by Maureen Halson

pizza – photo by Maureen Halson

A stop along the way - photo by Maureen Halson

A stop along the way – photo by Maureen Halson

At the top of the hill with spectacular vistas was the live nativity with a live baby cuddled up.  And fireworks representing the three stars.  It was gorgeous. We felt so happy to be home.

live nativity - photo by Maureen Halson

live nativity – photo by Maureen Halson

sheep in the manger - photo by Maureen Halson

sheep in the manger – photo by Maureen Halson

double trouble - phot, Maureen Halson

double trouble – phot, Maureen Halson

Christmas, New Year, family, friends and celebrations.  It has been a wealth of fun and love.  There have been long walks and talks in the bright cold sun walking along the mountain roads and tracks from village to village, from Pieve dei Monti di Villa to Montefegatesi,  through the snow, the sky startlingly blue on all that white. And when the snow melted recently, we have continued walking up there in the magical mystical woods, through the mists hiding one tree from another, finding our pine cones for the fire, arriving back at the little house with our noses bright red, jumping up and down as we light a fire and organize the soup to be.

Snow on Prato Fiorito

Snow on Prato Fiorito

Walking the mountain roadThe beautiful photographs taken of the the Presepe Vivente were taken by Maureen Halson of http://www.labalconata.com

Flying on Dreams

November 24, 2012 § 4 Comments

Here we are in Hong Kong again.  We are up on the fourth floor in our little space in Hollywood Rd with the sounds of buses roaring by and children squealing in the gardens below, water always drip drip dripping from some overflowing pipe in the courtyard. A quiet moment actually, to reflect, as there is nothing to do just now.

Hong Kong Street

So beautiful this life, touching the lives of people everywhere, led to where our work takes us.  I guess that is true for most people considering work is such a big part of living.  I love it though.  Mike and I are naturally restless, so when an opportunity arises through our work, we take it, blown into the wind, unsure of where it will drop us.  It always worried our poor parents because it seemed to them that we took life on like gamblers, risking everything for the dream; selling houses we had bought just to have an exhibition – its profits would pay for all the bronze founding that had to be done each time.  When Jacob got into his school in Michigan we sold everything up, every possession we had to be near him, we got as far as Ireland, but it seemed only a hop and a jump compared to being back in Australia.  Michigan didn’t suit him and soon we would be back together again, taking stock and then residing for months in the south of France, creating new work from all that bountiful colour that filled our souls to the brim. When we returned to Australia from that particular trip, we had nothing but four suitcases of clothes and more dreams and somehow we emerged from the dust again and built a beautiful glass house in the hills of central Victoria, a part of nature and the elements.  But truly, the most wonderful dream has been Italy.  How lucky are we to have been able to do it. It has settled us too, because I think it is here that our hearts lie, here and southern France, we never could agree, but both are kindred spirits.

A valley mist in Bagni di Lucca

As I am sitting here I am remembering our last glimpse of the Tuscan hills as we departed for the airport.  Mists roiling in the valleys wrapping themselves around little hilltop villages, ethereally capturing renaissance cameos of bell towers and craggy pines.  A far cry from China, one day later, in the back blocks of Pudong where we are casting some work at a foundry.  Grey and tough, an almost colourless world, and yet the people are so lovely, so sweet and generous.  China has really changed, especially in these big cities.  The wealth is really apparent now, and you do not get the bargains you would expect, for instance the prices of foundry work is very similar to Italy and I know where I would prefer to be.  A few days later we are in the south, checking out an art residency for next year at a university in Xiamen.  More beautiful generous people and a leafy lovely city by the sea that we will enjoy staying in for a little while.

Sainteen Foundry in Pudong, Shanghai

A lovely old tree over a restaurant in Xiamen

A beautiful tea

Now we are back in Hong Kong after setting up the Guardians in their new home in Australia and we suffer squiggles of excitement as we reach into the very near future and place ourselves by the kitchen fire in Pieve after we have walked miles in the cold wintry air, collecting pinecones and chestnuts from the forest floor.

A land of art, milk and dripping honey

September 20, 2012 § 5 Comments

Overlooking Castiglioncello coast

I am lying on the sand in a little cove just below Livorno.  The water is gently lapping nearby and a child plucks delightedly at each gush of wave.  The sun is warm and low in the sky and the big gulls swoop and swarm over a dark patch in the water.  I feel deeply deeply at rest and feel each breath, full, filling me completely.  Next to me, Mike is asleep.  We are here to only be here, nowhere else, and it feels lovely to think of nothing but food and wine  and beauty.

moody Mediterranean sea

south of Livorno – Leghorn – Castiglioncello

We have been so busy, the summer has flown away, its golden days filled with happy hours in the studio, working in the new gallery, La Rondine, catching up with friends and family from overseas, cleaning up our properties for sale, setting up exhibitions…..  And then as one more set of friends arrived, and an appointment where we had to meet some clients in Basel was cancelled, we realized it was time for nothing.  I had just opened up my exhibition, ‘From Out of the Studio’, and off we went down to Castiglioncello, south of Livorno, to capture the last of the summer.  Such a beautiful place, all those big old umbrella pines set in the narrow picturesque streets and gardens of gracious old holiday homes.  We are staying in a whacky hotel, Villa Parisi, that apparently we are getting for a very cheap price because there are no tourists around, but there is no internet or very limited service, and it all feels a little bit like Fawlty Towers.  Nevertheless, the bathroom is large and spacious and the views overlooking a moody sea are gorgeous.

Exhibition, ‘From Out of the Studio’ by Shona Nunan

It was great doing my exhibition.  I had finished modelling the ‘Guardian Figures’ for the Warnambool Art Museum in June and so it was wonderful to somehow be in my studio nearly every day over a very busy summer progressing with my work because I was working towards my own show.  It was also great because my studio is so close to the gallery, I could take the plaster originals down to the gallery instead of having to have them all cast in bronze.  It gave a real element of freshness to the show and I have to admit that sometimes the plaster originals have something really special in them in their all white, pure, raw surfaces.  They feel tougher, scratchier than their eventual softening into the bronze. By the skin of my teeth I just finished my horse and rider.  Maybe there is a little more to do on the head of the rider, I’d like more time with it, and in some ways I am sad that it is over with this piece.  I love the process and in this piece it could go on forever, around and around tweaking and adjusting, it is a real love relationship and the in-loveness makes you never want to leave it. I love the horse, its head pulled in tight to its chest, its complete trust in the rider, unable to see, uncomfortable in its fidgeting stance.  The rider, semi relaxed but aware, gazing outward, one of his feet holding tightly to the chest of the horse, in control, but with time to see the whole surrounding picture….  I also framed some drawings that I did years ago, in 1997-1998, when we rented a cottage in Ballinskelligs, Ireland, after we had done an art residency at Cill Rialiag there.  This is a series I call my Monk series based on the skellig monks who lived out in beehive huts on a rock in the sea in the early days of christianity, they were refugees from the African desert and guarded the priceless texts that were at that period of time being burnt and savaged by the northern tribes and newly formed apostolic church.  I did a series of portraits of the monks using the quiet contemplative faces of the young and older single men we came across in the area.  We would often see them alone on their farms, without women, solitary figures in a harsh lonely land that dropped into the sea.  Their serene stoic faces seemed right for my picture of the monks.

‘Horse and Rider’ with ‘Rider’ in plaster, background, and ‘Boatman’, skellig monk series drawing

Horse and Rider in plaster for bronze

Earth Warrior with skellig monk series drawings, ‘Fishing’ and ‘Storm’

Earth Warrior

‘Sun Warrior’ with ‘Moon’ in background, group show in the front.

the exhibition

The opening night of the exhibition and the following night was wonderful, along with our friends and supporters of art came Italians we hadn’t seen before.  It felt like we were integrating with the whole picture of us being here, foreigners in this blessed land of ‘milk and honey’.

La Rondine Gallery opening of ‘From Out of the Studio’

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