In my previous art talk, I introduced my work and what led me to produce the paintings for the MEDITATION IN THE CATACOMBS show. Now I would like to talk to you about the source of my inspiration – the city of Venice.
Venice may be sinking, may be way past its heyday, it’s overcrowded with tourists and full of cheap souvenirs and yet, it remains a haven for artists including the artist standing in front of you. Every time I go back to Venice, I wonder if this will be the trip where I fall out of love and yet after having visited the city around 40 times, I find myself still looking forward to the next trip. For me, Venice remains the timeless, romantic, mysterious, unique jewel it has been through the ages.
Henry James wrote: After you have stayed a week and the bloom of novelty has rubbed off . . . you have seen all the principal pictures and heard the names of the palaces announced a hundred times . . . you have walked several hundred times around the Piazza and bought several bushels of photographs . . . you have begun to have a shipboard feeling – to regard the Piazza as an enormous saloon and the Riva degli Schiavoni as a promenade-deck . . . If in such a state of mind you take your departure you act with fatal rashness. The loss is your own . . . When you have called for the bill to go, pay it and remain, and you will find on the morrow that you are deeply attached to Venice. It is by living there from day to day that you feel the fullness of her charm; that you invite her exquisite influence to sink into your spirit . . . The place seems to personify itself, to become human and sentient and conscious of your affection. You desire to embrace it, to caress it, to possess it; and finally a soft sense of possession grows up and your visit becomes a perpetual love-affair.
Venice, a city like no other - built on water, reflecting its beauty in the canals, a city where goods are transported on water, then often carried on bridges to reach its final destination. A city that often has to face acqua alta, a city that has developed its own architecture. You can find yourself in a museum enjoying a Bellini Madonna while the floor under you slowly shifts from right to left, reminding you of all the thousands of wooden piles that are driven deep into the Grand Canal. A city that constantly reminds you of its immense beauty and at the same time of the fragility of human nature. These are elements that have drawn artists to its shores. Artists whose odds are stacked often against them and yet they carry on with their individual vision.
As Laura Leonelli wrote (article in Grazia 2005): For artists ... It is paradise on earth . . . The Serenissima is ready to offer itself to who, even today, wants to speak of the strength of the experience, from past to future, and of the necessity of finding oneself always traveling, toward new horizons, real or metaphysical.
The roster of foreign artists and writers who have been mesmorized by Venice is an impressive one: writers and poets such as Henry James, Proust, Ruskin, Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Thomas Mann, Lord Byron, Robert Browning, Shelley and George Sand have immortalized it; Turner, Sargent, Whistler, Matisse , Manet and Monet painted it with their own individual styles; musicians and composers who worked , perfomed, had love affairs in Venice like Tchaikowsky, Chopin and Richard Wagner. Wagner incidentally died in Venice. Igor Stravinsky, Ezra Pound, Frederick Rolfe, Sergei Diaghilev are buried in San Michele, the Venice cemetery. Joseph Brodsky, the Russian American poet and essayist is also buried there. Like me, Brodsky lived in the Village, fell in love with Venice and found it magical in the winter months.
Andrea Di Robilant writes in A Venetian Affair: I had not lived in Venice before. To me, it had always been the city of my father’s childhood. I saw it as I imagine most people do; as a museum full of tourists, a dead city. But as Venetians well know, it is much more than that. In Venice the past has remained alive in a vivid, disorienting way. It is with you all the time. . . . I found myself slipping back in time so effortlessly that I didn’t know what century I was living in anymore.
So what can one say about Venice that hasn’t already been said? Judith Martin answers this question beautifully in No Vulgar Hotel: Venice has a more powerful allure than any enticement to a mere human fling . . . She seems to offer perpetual life by placing you in the center of the busy flow of never-ending human history. In Venice, you are not peering into the past; you are standing in it. You are not only conjuring the private lives of people you would have longed to know; you are living in their houses. And you don’t have to feel insignificant in comparison with your heroes and their peers, because right now they are offstage, and you are on the very stage they used.
Venice is an integral part of my artistic journey. My art would not exist without the impact Venice and its Carnival have had on me.
As Walter Pater stated: We are all under sentence of death but with a sort of indefinite reprieve . . . we have an interval and then our place knows us no more. Our one chance lies in expending that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time. Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life . . . Only be sure it is passion – that it does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness. Of such wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for its own sake has the most. For art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake.
All photographs of Venice were taken by Sherry Fyman and Rossella BLUE Mocerino. Paintings by Rossella BLUE Mocerino
This art talk was given at the opening of Meditation in the Catacombs Art Show December 11, 2016 Jefferson Market Library