“il Catedrale” – Drawings from Italy

“il Catedrale”, by Robert Leedy, 1993, charcoal on paper, Collection of the Artist
“il Catedrale”,
by Robert Leedy, 1993,
charcoal on paper,
Collection of the Artist

As mentioned in an earlier post, I spent a few weeks during the summer of 1993 with a group of British & Belge artists for a workshop in Tuscany. San Sano, Italy is just outside of Siena. We stayed on an estate called Tosa. It was a wonderful setting. We painted all day, breaking for lunch around 1 pm, then an afternoon siesta or continue working as most of us did. Critiques were in the late afternoon and later we would have wine before wonderful dinners.

We all tended to pick out particular areas on the estate to claim as our own studio space. For a while, I painted in an open-air pigsty that had grape vines growing up a trelice overhead. I later moved on to hunt a new working area and discovered a wonderful space in what I believed to be a Romanesque barn that was still standing. It was marvelous when you walked in: Because it was situated on a hillside, you didn’t realize the height until you walked in from the door on the lower elevation and looked up. It took my breath away. Your eyes went straight up twenty feet or so to an open window. Next to that window was a hand-built ladder that leaned against the wall. The feeling of interior space was incredible. I immediately connected to this spot and, although it was a bit dim, I claimed it as my studio space. I gave it a name right then and there: il Catedrale, or The Cathedral.

I painted in il Catedrale for several days and really felt the energy from it. The place had a very positive effect on me. I did the charcoal drawing above between paintings. Using mineral spirits and an old brush, I was able to get some painterly effects – in the form of washes – with the charcoal. I also used a bit of black and white acrylic paint. I did two of these charcoal drawings – one was done on a torn piece of cardboard. I actually liked it better, and unfortunately, it has somehow been misplaced during our moves across the globe…

For a final critique, we were encouraged individually to pay attention to presentation of our works. Since we were in the Italian boonies, mattboard was a very rare commodity. I had a bunch of good works for the critique but I couldn’t think of any special form of presentation so I pulled a sleight of hand on the group: I had a one-man show and gallery opening inside of il Catedrale. I played it up very professionally with invitations and an actual ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening; I served wine, had a guestbook for visitors to sign and offered “tonight-only, special discounts” on all of paintings displayed. With tongue-in-cheek, I gave a gallery talk and spoke about the artist in third person. To add to the museum atmosphere, I also collected personal items from the artist – palettes, brushes, notes, photographs, shoes worn while working – even a pair of boxer shorts worn by the artist. All of these items were laid out on a display table and had printed labels describing each item. Throughout the workshop, I had developed friendships with the artists there – so this was all in fun. But what surprised me was that what I thought was going to be sort of a private party amongst our artist group – wasn’t so: There were several residents of San Sano who showed up for the group critique. Although I had everyone laughing, I’m sure some of the Italian guests thought this American was a little of his rocker…

But I can say that my critique was the most fun of all of them!

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