Monday, 13 February 2012

Constructive drawing and Madrid

The first four weeks back at school after christmas we had a guest teacher from Russia who taught us anatomy and constructive drawing. I did my own anatomy study at home as the anatomy component was at night by which point my energy is all spent. However the constructive drawing course in the morning was great. The aim is to see 'through' the object and so to understand the form from every side. Not easy. I learned heaps including how very much more there is to learn. This is the capital I drew (after much sweat and nearly tears)...

Then we had another week off (the Russians love their holidays) to mark the end of our first term and we start back at school tomorrow which will be the first day of term two. Meanwhile during the week break, to take advantage of the off-season and cheap flights, I made a short visit to Madrid with Susan, a friend of mine from school. She speaks Spanish and is familiar with Madrid which made everything very easy. We stayed in an apartment in the historical centre close to the main museums for a 4 day art extravaganza taking in the Prado, Thyssen, Royal Academy of Art and the Sorolla museum, as well as a day trip to Toledo. Madrid is a beautiful, clean and orderly city (the part we saw at least) which seems to have been plonked in the middle of the desert. I was pretty struck by the dryness of the landscape on the way in from the airport and on our train trip to Toledo. I've been telling everyone that Australia is dry, but it's really only that dry far west and in the desert!

Our 'hood' was a feast of quiet streets lined with quaint shops and cafes. On the first day after dumping our bags at the apartment we started wandering through the back streets towards the main road to find lunch when we came across a macrobiotic restaurant just a few minutes from our apartment. Thrilled! Both of us being very keen on good food, we were extremely pleased by the unexpected discovery and enjoyed a fab lunch. We asked the waitress where we might find a health food shop (for our essential breakfast items) and lo there was one next door.

Susan has a friend in Madrid who she knew worked somewhere around where we were staying. It turns out her office was on the other side of the health food shop! So naturally, we all met at the restaurant again for lunch the next day and we went again the following day. The added bonus to all this being able to use the free wi-fi whenever we passed by the restaurant during our stay. PTL!

The highlight of the trip for me was the house and studio of Sorolla which has been turned into a museum. It took my breath away to enter his studio and see the enormous paintings on the wall, so full of colour and light. I love his work and was captivated to see where he lived and worked and to take in all the objet d'art he collected or commissioned. Even his paint brushes are still there, his old tubes of paint and his great collection of art books. Talk about coveting his studio space, which was in fact 3 huge rooms connected to each other. Oh to have that space!!! And that talent. I was struck by how apparently disorderly his paintings appear until you get some distance back from them, at which point they come together magically and beautifully. Considering the artist has to paint right up at the canvas this is something I have to take more to heart when making my own paintings. To me it really highlights the incredible skill of Sorolla, who (just oh by the way) was evidently paid very well for his hard work and was no starving artist!

Another 'take your breath away' moment for me was visiting the cathedral in Toledo. By now I've seen the inside of a few cathedrals but I don't think any of them compare to the grandeur of this one. I was overwhelmed by the creativity and skill and imagination and resources and sheer man hours that were poured into it all those hundreds of years back. I snapped away on my camera but of course it can't capture the effect of being so tiny in such an awesome space. And that is a job well done when you consider the aim is to have you contemplate the awesomeness of God which is incomparably great compared to the earth, the planets, the entire universe... let alone this 'little' cathedral in a small town in Spain.

I liked the Prado although it's really too big to take it all in in one day. Susan and I split up so we could go at our own pace, and met up for a cuppa and rest half way (like boxers heading to the corner for water and a brow pat between rounds). I ended up swinging by a lot of masterpieces because of overload, a bit like at the Louvre. It was really interesting to see the artists with their easels set up making copies of different works. They gave a fresh view to the original painting which was in every case far superior in colour, subtlety and drawing... It's not as easy as it looks!

The Thyssen museum is a more manageable size, a bit like the Orsay in Paris, and has a great collection of impressionist art which is what I always make a bee-line for (they also had a temporary exhibition of the female impressionist Berthe Morisot). My favourite paintings at the Thyssen were the Sargents, just beautiful. The Royal Academy of art is another great collection of paintings, but the highlight for me was our visit to the basement where they make the gesso casts. Susan is interested in ordering a cast so she used her wonderful Spanish to get us in to see them being made and the collection they have available for purchase. Treat!

The Spanish people were lovely and for both of us it was a great relief to be in a warm apartment for 4 nights and not have to keep rugged up inside. It's really quite cold in Florence at the moment. The past 2 weeks have had top day time temperatures of an average of 2 degrees. It's snowed a bit but only once has it not melted on impact and made some impression of white on the roof tops (see pics)... The trip on the bus out to Pisa airport was pretty special though as it had clearly snowed more out there and the landscape was quite transformed with it's thin blanket of white. You can see latest pics here...

This is a documentary about Russians in Italy and our school was one of the features... It mostly shows the second year students although there's a few moments with some of the first years and also a brief interview with Nadya the director of the school...

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