Saturday, June 08, 2019

Artnotes: READY

“You are not the ‘Great Creator’ of your songs, you are simply their servant, and the songs (think paintings) will come to you when you have adequately prepared yourself to receive them. They are not inside you, unable to get out; rather, they are outside of you, unable to get in. Songs, in my experience, are attracted to an open, playful and motivated mind... You have the entire world to save and very little time to do it. The song will find its way to you.”  by Nick Cave

With this in mind, Blair and I went to the “welcome summer”  dinner at the cafĂ©, 2 Passe, last night.  We drank a vodka tonic in the name of playful, and ate a delicious Paella made by Camilla, whose family owns the little place.  It doesn’t usually serve food, but tables were set up on the little terrace in front.  There were big, old fashioned, clear Christmas lights, and music playing.  It was a younger crowd than usual for dinner in Rocca Malatina.  Perhaps I had opened my mind and mouth a little too much when I said to the owner, “I am so glad this isn’t ITALIAN food”.  Eeek.  But in fact, other people at other tables piped in to agree.  Yes,” the owner said, “Lasagna, tortellini, crescentini [are all good], but it’s nice to have a change.”

I see a new Italy on the rise.  Parts, like the fascist bits, are horrible and I pray they don’t take over.  But there is a younger generation that wants a different life from the old corrupt status quo.  I believe much of the racist rant comes from people (sadly) my age, who counted on getting their fair share all of their lives, and now see a gutted country.  They are seeking someone to blame, and immigrants are a convenient scapegoat.  But I see young families, and people under 30 who want their country to be part of the modern world.  You can’t have paella without a nod to Spain.   I see little black kids on the soccer team.

Blair and I have both been exploring new art venues.  I am thinking about digital media, but it isn’t an obvious fit for me.   At this moment, instead of painting in our usual voracious way, we are documenting the work we have on hand here in Italy.  We hired a consultant to help us figure out how to manage our work as “late stage artists” – I mean, are our sisters going to want to come and sort all this out after our demise?  We have sorted a few hundred canvases and discovered over 200 pictures of people.  I am compiling them into a catalog, which will be available on ISSUU soon.  The point is to find meaningful (or just any-old) homes for these works.  If you have any ideas for sales, shows or whatever, please, please let us know.   Other collections will include:  Paris, French Countryside, Italian countryside, Floral and Still Life – you get it, eh:  there are at least 500 paintings here (and another 200 works on paper).

I am cooking steaks on the barbecue tonight and mixing Negronis.   Maybe my next painting will stop by.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Artnotes: Out of Africa

We went to an art show on Monday:  Ex-Africa, in Bologna.  It was empty as one might expect on Monday at 10AM, and we took our time examining work from Congo, Ghana, Ivory Coast…  It’s difficult to imagine a continent as large as Africa in a few rooms, but the show was beautifully curated, and comfortable to see.
Once I ditched the audio guide, I was completely transported from rainy Italy to the warmth of Africa. These creators felt a visceral passion about the items they created: for their gods, for their health, for their celebrations and ceremonies.  There were amulets to stave off smallpox:  men covered with dots; delicately carved ivory ceremonial beakers; golden figurines to occupy the other side of the balance to weigh gold. I liked the nail-covered dog, and the golden leopard, some of the headpieces.
I was amazed that wood could have lasted a millennium, but it did – I guess it must be the dryness of the desert.    There were works in wood, ivory, metal from a variety of ages, which inspired everything from Man Ray’s famous photo portrait of Kiki and the Head, to Bibendum, the Michelin man.

I, too, was greatly inspired and painted a bunch of impressions from Ex-Africa.   Mostly joyous, in my case, but at least one was pretty scary, as Harika refused to eat her dinner with it in the room.    Blair has started on some pieces to be cast in metal.

I thought of other works inspired by Africa, the cradle of humanity.  Really, it was the cradle of so much modern art, from Modigliani to Klee to Naum Gabo.   Around 1990, I was on the top floor of the Humana building with Blair some office workers, a tourist, and a janitor, with his push can and broom.  We were all staring at a sculpture by Gabo, clearly inspired by African images.  Mesmerized for a few moments, it was like being in the presence of GOD, the big Machine, a thread that held together all dimensions. 
 Online now, I am now looking for that sculpture and the building, but I can only find the building.  It was probably just magic.  It felt like that.  The memory of artwork stays with me like a special song, rarely heard, but impressed forever in my mind.

ps.  On a more mundane note, we have has some technology “upgrades”, administered by a young robot, resulting in surprising messages to friends.  We apologize for what must seem crazy, inappropriate, and otherwise nuts.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Artnotes: What a Difference You Make

 The Bath (after Bonnard)  Blair Pessemier  Oil/canvas  40 x 36"  100cm x 90cm  
 Peonies from Ludovico's Yard   Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/peonie petals/paper  17 x 25  41 x 63cm
 Bedroom Window  Blair Pessemier  Oil/canvas  40 x 36"  100 x 90cm \
two snapshots:  harika and the cow  6.5 x 8"  Laurie

One of my best friends died this week.  I didn’t see him as often in recent years, but his example and our devotion never faltered.  He was the man who launched our artwork career, along with his partner and wife.  In 1999, we sent our first paintings to his showroom in High Point, North Carolina, where we started selling to interior designers.  The rest is history.

It was a gesture he could offer, and we could accept.  That’s all it takes: to do what you can to give someone else a chance.   And the recipient needs to catch the ring, right now!

We had great times with Bill and his wife.  They used to come to Europe and travel with us, in the fall.  We went to Avignon, Normandy, Alsace.   We’d visit them at least once of year in the south, and they came to a party we threw in Seattle one New Years Eve.    We had many magic times together, meeting yet more people we added to our list of friends.  Bill used to ask people on the Paris subway, “what do you like most about living in Paris?”

Last week, we traveled to Trevi, near Perugia, to see a girlfriend, Barbara, who took our painting workshop in Paris years ago.  She took the week long workshop to build a portfolio to present at her art school interview.  Now she is a full-fledged artist with shows in Vienna, Milan, Bratislava.  It is wonderful to commensurate with other artists:  we see thing similarly.   What is just a peeling finish on a wall to most people is lovely juxtaposition of blue, yellow, lavender to us.  It makes us treasure the red purple pansy that sprung up in a crack in the grey-green concrete.

We are currently awaiting someone to trim our yard. My allergies are beyond the pale, and it would be nice to have a Memorial Day picnic in grass below our knees.  If I ask the gardener who comes with the house to do the work, he will show up while we are eating and quit halfway through.  The man-for-hire is now two hours late, which is par for the course here in the land of the perpetually tardy-if-they-show-up-at-all.  Blair and I are about to buy more yard tools.   That way we can hire immigrants to do the work and barbecue together afterwards.

Barbara will visit Rocca Malatina in August.   We’ll paint the Sassi, and hay being harvested.  We’ll visit the Castello at Vignola and the waterfall at Labante.  Hopefully the grass will be cut.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Artnotes: Learning to Read

Civita Castellana Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/paper  17 x 25  43 x 61cm

Roses on la la  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/paper  17 x 25  43 x 61cm

Roses on a Gp;d Backgound  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/paper  17 x 25  43 x 61cm

 Roses on a Blue Backgound  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/paper  17 x 25  43 x 61cm
 Roses on a Black Backgound  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/paper  17 x 25  43 x 61cm
 Purple Iris  Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  16 x 11  41 x 27cm
White Iris  Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  16 x 11  41 x 27cm

Today I read an entire article in the Repubblica newspaper and understood it.  It sent me back to 1959 in  the first grade and the moment when I really got a grasp on reading.  It was a classic Dick and Jane story, and there was a word I was stymied by:  come.  I remember it was Michael English who sounded it out loud before the class, and corrected what might have been “oh” to “uh”.  And I knew that minute that I could read. 

So it was on the sofa on this rainy Saturday morning that I read an entire article in the newspaper, not needing the dictionary.   The story was about the development of a dry soap that could be used in Africa, where water is premium.   Reading this article, without stopping to look things up, gave me that same feeling I had in the first grade under the tutelage of Mrs. Kilbride (who also had false teeth that once fell completely out of her mouth: shocking).

I went to the dentist this week for a cleaning – it is a remarkable service for just 50 euro, and I know I could go to a cheaper dentist, but I love Dr(s)  Bertacchi.  Massimo, the elder sings to me while he works on my teeth; they gave me a bottle of 100 year old balsamic vinegar; Andrea, the younger dentist, chats me up in English.   When I went yesterday in to make the appointment, the receptionist, who has known me for nearly 4 years, showed no sign of recognition:  “come back at 4”.  She fessed up later she didn’t recognize me because my hair is now white and a little like Andy Warhol’s.

My reading is improving partly because I am studying in order to pass the Italian driver’s test.  I take a timed test online, like on a game show, where if you get the answer wrong you drop down to question one again.    I really like it.  The manual is predictably boring, despite little comments by the writer, “so you think you know what all these signs are?” or “when you were driving with your parents did you notice…”   The “corsia” is for cars and animals, like a horse drawn carriage might appear.  And the manual will point out tricky questions, as if you were being given a test for sanity.   Blair and I will both take the test at some point, and I imagine us both passing.  Then we have to take the physical driving exam, and be approved by a medical doctor that we can still drive.

I went out and took pictures of landscapes in anticipation of this weekend of violent storms.   In fact, painting from photos just never inspires me.  You’ll have to settle for four views of my drowned roses.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Pack Your Bathing Suit

Wild Yellow Iris at Farfa/Tevere   Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/paper  17 x 25"  41 x 63cm 

Window on via Margutta  Blair Pessemier  acrylic/panel  18 x 12"  45 x 30cm

 Fun on the Grass Vescovio  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas panel 10 x 14" 25 x 35cm

Just Kids Vescovio  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvaspanel  12 x 18"  30 x 45cm

Ancient Stone Bench Vescovio  Blair Pessemier  18 x 12"  45 x 30cm

For the first time in twenty years, we are not going to the USA for the summer.  I get a twitch in my throat every time I think of Hemlock Lodge without us:  no dinners on the glassed-in porch; no bird mobile; no art show on the porch; no swimming in Highland Lake.  Hemlock Lodge was like deluxe camping, and as long as my father was alive, we could go to his house and take a shower or wait out the rain.  But last summer was more difficult, and Harika will be 12 human years old in less than a month, travel by air for her has never been easy.   

Before you run to fetch your hanky, let me say we are taking a vacation – by car.  We’re heading to the beach in Brittany to see friends, and then spending a couple of weeks in Paris.  We’ll visit the old haunts and find new ones in a different neighborhood.   We’ll make day trips here and there and paint up a storm.

I just read in a sample of a book I am buying:  “one of the gifts of being (an artist) is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore.”  We can travel with a sense of purpose. You can enjoy the results.

We are having the “Ave Maria” show at Vescovio at the moment, ending Sunday.  I must say it has had the most gracious and wonderful visitors, and I feel terrific about the experience.  Vescovio is much more than a church – although it is an ANCIENT church were St. Peter is reputed to have said a mass.  We are situated in a room by the bell tower and monastery, with our own generous and very visible entry.  The room is littered with old statues missing their heads and bits of masonry which toppled from the 10th century church in various earthquakes.  There are several acres of manicured grounds where children play, teenagers pose, parents watch and old folks perch throughout the day.  There is a gelato shop and a restaurant where they cook on an open grille.  A path winds by us to the top of a hill where there are pre-10th century ruins.  Harika likes it.   I feel lucky to be there.

After trying to meditate for many years, I seem to have finally made some headway this week.  Of course, this comes after having a meltdown and realizing I have to get my imagination under control.  I am thankful to the internet for various free introductions, and innumerable youtube videos which inspire.  I hope to die with a greatly evolved brain.

So, right now, we’re packing our bathing suits from Stimigliano to go up to Rocca Malatina.  They had snow there just a week ago, but we will not be daunted.  I am going to build sculptures for my climbing roses, and to foil Ludovico, our gardener.   I will invest in tools.   I’d like a swimming pool but may have to settle for the Panaro River.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Reading in Roma

Elderberry Flower  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/newspaper  25 x 17"  63 x 41cm 

Seated Buddha   Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/paper  17 x 25"  41 x 63cm 

Standing Buddha  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  25 x 17"  63 x 41cm  

Breaking Bread   Laurie Fox Pessemier Acrylic/canvas  32 x 47"  81 x 119cm 

We spent six of the last eight days in Rome:  first, to celebrate Easter with friends from North Carolina; then, for the Show of the 100 Painters, on via Margutta…

We had Easter Sunday Brunch and walked around the Campo di Fiore – Rome is such a feast for the eyes, as well as the stomach.   I am amazed to be walking on ancient cobblestones, and looking at the same Tiber River that Caesar saw.  History abounds, although with broken subways and uncollected garbage, Augustus is rolling in his tomb.

We set up our art show on Tuesday night.  Our stall was a little smaller than the last time, but the good weather throughout allowed us to put our chairs outside the stand.  And there we sat, reading and waiting for customers.

My first book was by Iain Banks:  On Crow Road.  It was a good read, a story loosely based on the religious preferences of a family (the father dies climbing the church, hit by lightning).  It somehow seemed appropriate in this every-so-religious city.  I say that, keeping in mind the Pagan Roman roots and it’s current overwhelming Catholicism:  a Mary on every corner, rivaled only by depictions of Romulus and Remus with the she-wolf; not to mention the 12 gods of Rome.

Simultaneously, I was reading Letters to Poseidon, by Cees Nooteboom.  That’s Neptune (brother of Jupiter, god of Rome) in the Roman scheme of things, and Nooteboom writes him short letters about what goes on in life.  I write letters to my late father, although he was nothing like Poseidon, more like Cupid (in the best sense, a romantic character) maybe, just to express thoughts or experiences that pass by, that nobody else would listen to.  You don’t hear it all in Artnotes, although it might seem so.

The art show progressed at a rather lackluster pace, with minimal sales, and maximum stress.   I did enjoy the parade of passers-by and what they wore.  Some people can look so good, from sparkly socks to cotton sateen skirts in geometric prints.

We rented a little apartment to stay in, on the (currently nonoperational!) subway line, so we could avoid parking charges and the daily 50 minute drive from Stimigliano.  In fact, the place was straight out of the Addams Family, a very dark brown three story house, with boarded up windows, weeds, and a great dane perpetually wandering the grounds.  Our apartment was a former garage, smelling of mildew and  flying ants in the bathroom.  Harika refused to stay there, and she wouldn’t eat at all.  We left after two days, having paid for four, but you know how these things go.  All I can say is “never again abb”.

It did have Internet, as advertised (everything was as listed), and I read a Kindle book by Jon Amdall, Pencils and Process , about taking up drawing again after a lapse.  I recommend to those rekindling their drawing or painting skills.   I read about how bonobos have communal meals, and the importance of “breaking bread” together, for all sorts of animals.  I have been enjoying Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files, who says, “…For me, the search itself is where the action is.”

On 1 May, we had a stellar May Day barbecue with Gianfranco (Garibaldi CaffĂ©) and his friends and family.  Gioia cooked the pasta outdoors, and we ate ribs and lamb and sausage, fresh beans and homemade cheeses:  breaking bread all together.

The real joy of the via Margutta show was not “selling” (or not), but connecting with the various characters along the way.  At the end of five days, I felt like part of the Italian painters club.    Our next show “Ave Maria” starts at Vescovio on Sunday.

Laurie and Blair


Saturday, April 20, 2019


Happy Easter

Forum  Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  
Blair Pessemier  Notre Dame (archives)

We had just gone to bed last night (early!) when I heard a woman chanting outside our window.  This was Good Friday, and the parish of Stimigliano was parading the dead Jesus statue around the town.  I had seen the statue, an alarming polychromed slightly-larger-than-lifesize affair, on a black platform, with handles,  in the church earlier in the day.  A statue of the crying Marie in a black robe stood beside.  The church looked beautiful, lit only by  candles.  Mario told us the thing to do was to walk seven times, praying, between the altar and the platform where Jesus lie, to dispel the devil.  I wondered where they kept this particular statue when it wasn’t Good Friday, and how many other “special event” statues there were.

I have always found it difficult to take in the torture/death of Jesus Christ.   It puts me in the mind of how my own mother used to bring me to a purple draped church (statues removed) on this day, and I’d have to kiss the feet of the dead Christ statue.  After a sleepless night, the custom was curtailed.

I am amazed how natural Catholicism is to people in Italy (maybe I shouldn’t be, the Vatican and all).  It is a part of life, not macabre, not commercial, but loving and caring.  Despite years in a Catholic school in America, it never flowed with the life I lived there.  Although religiosity is not something I embrace, I can live alongside it and enjoy it.  I even occasionally participate.

I didn’t feel that way in Paris, despite the many churches.  People didn’t go to church as much as they do in Italy.  Churches were for tourists, or concerts; we went to a funeral at St Sulpice.

I have been missing Paris, and the fire at Notre Dame brought it closer to my attention.  I sold my last Notre Dame image, during the fire, in my Etsy store.  I can’t remember how many times I painted it, with Blair and with painting workshop students, over the twenty years we lived there.   It will be interesting to see what is done in the remake of the church:  so much of it was the result of improvements in the 1800s.  

Blair painted an iconic image of the church, for someone who just died.  I envision the painting at a family “estate sale”, where it sells for 1% of its original value.  What happens to our paintings one day gives me pause to think.   A famous artist who was dying a couple of years ago had a ceremonial bonfire for the unsold and less-than-perfect bits.  I was planning to do that last year with our baseball show, but protestations by others didn’t allow.  $750.00 later, it’s still in the storage locker. 

It’s difficult to donate artwork.  We’ve proposed various arrangements to no avail.  So, I continue to seek new ways to sell it.  My latest idea is to sell “walls” – paintings hung on the wall in an artful way and sold as a lot.  I’ll send you photos of them in two weeks.

Meanwhile, we will be selling with the 100 Pittori on Via Margutta in Rome, the 24,5,6,7 and 28 April.  I hope we see you there!  

Happy Easter!

Monday, April 08, 2019

Artnotes: My Country

I wish I had a country because I’d invite all the people who are looking for a safe, happy home to come to me.  I’d let them all work as they’d like.

I would make beauty the ruler by which we measure success, instead of money.  To build a beautiful building, to sweep your stoop, to wear a gay scarf, or to have flowering trees: these are the things that matter.    I’d make lunch every day for people who would like to join me.

It sounds like living “In the Big Rock Candy Mountains”.    I try to create my own oasis; and I can assure you Harika has rubber teeth.   I must stop reading the news.

Since the finish of our artwork, I’ve had post-project depression.  I have really enjoyed putting together the “project” this month, with art from the worlds’ greatest painters*.

Yesterday we had a big dinner at Villa Loris.   It always pulls me out of the dump, trying new recipes and putting flowers on the table.    I hear new ideas – for me, the theatre of the table is equal to, or even better than the meal.   I don’t even have to talk.

We had a delicious red wine from France – only Blair and I drank it, this being Prosecco country – and that did go well with the fish.  But the red wine made me really want to go back to France for a vacation.  In fact, I am slightly obsessed with the idea, and am working towards its realization.
I am also thinking of going to Madrid.  I have never been to the Prado, and Goya has been on my mind.  But that may be a later, cooler weather endeavor.

Mine would be a smallish country, with a lake or two, and some rivers.  Four seasons, even if winter seems a little brutal.  I like trees without leaves, and spring.  There would be an art museum, of course, and a historical society

*Jill Remski, Wendy Goosman, Christine Claes, Tim Fulbright, Cory Ross, Marianne Royale, Laura Jarvis, Lisa McCabe, Outside Authority, Suzanne Dvorak, Jennifer Jolis, Penni Cocking, The Cuozzis, Gary Bocz, Sandra Manning and Tracy, Sarah Gubetta,  Sallie Baldwin, Jeff Sesko, and Blair.


Saturday, March 30, 2019


After Maurice Denis  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  10 x 14  25 x 35cm 

Local Venue for our Art Show  Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  14 x 10  35 x 25cm

Mary in a niche  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/paper  25 x 17  41 x 63cm

possible subscriptions....

The results of our “mosaic” painting have been rolling in, and we have more than ¾ of the squares, which will be assembled this week, in hand.   For those too busy to get it in by the 1 April, please let us know, and we, or some wonderful volunteer, will paint another square.  Things are looking fabulous.

We drove down to Rome this week, with a couple of exciting meetings to attend.  The first, an alumni event at Blair’s architectural school, featured Jason Horowitz, head of the Rome desk for the New York Times.  There were about twenty five people there, and the talk was casual, between him and the crowd.  I was blown over by the sophistication of the Notre Dame journalism students, and I didn’t ask any questions for fear of sounding stupid.  All of my questions were answered, in any case.

I was most pleased by the overall feeling that journalism still had a major place in our lives.  We compared the “tweets” and statements made by politicians for their own greater good, versus the value of putting what was said into a context of current and past events.  There was lots of specific information about Italy, and the Vatican, that rounded out a picture of where I live.   There was a big emphasis on how lacking we are (America, and parts worldwide)  in local news reporting.  Where there were once real reporters in the town where I grew up, there are no longer.  Much of that is the shift from an advertising based news”paper” to a digital edition – the New York Times subscription program seems to be keeping that publication alive and its reporters paid.  It remains to be seen how this will be addressed locally.

Speaking of subscriptions, I am now offering a 4-painting-a-year subscription.  For $550.00 a year, you can have four paintings, by Blair or I (2 each, or you can specify) delivered to your door.  There will be a variety of our work, on canvas, on wood and on paper.  Three of the four pieces will be ready to hang upon arrival, and the fourth piece, on paper, ready to pop into an “off-the-shelf” frame.    I think this is a great way to start an art collection for yourself, or for a friend or loved one.  It can brighten a dorm room or first apartment, or make the converted guestroom into a sophisticated place.  It is possible to specify “colorful” or “neutral” (as neutral as we get). 

As if this stellar evening in Rome wasn’t enough, the next day we went to a luncheon in Rome, where Rebecca Spitzmiller, of Retake Roma, spoke.  She is an incredibly dynamic American woman who started a fight against graffiti and garbage, and general mess in the Eternal City.  Her Grassroots organization , now has 85 chapters in Rome alone, and 40 throughout Italy.  Her drive is inspiring, whether you are troubled by graffiti or not.  It showed me, and everyone else in that room, just what can be done with determination and a couple of friends: don’t take no for an answer.  And it, like the journalism talk, it emphasized LOCAL.
We will be showing my Madonnas very locally, at Vescovio (where St Peter said mass once) in May.  At the end of April, we will be in Rome, again on the via Margutta.  Friends and painters will be joining us up North in the meantime to paint the cherry blossoms.