FROM SICILY TO EMILIA-ROMAGNA: A TWO MONTH PAINTING TRIP

NOTE: I will be exhibiting the paintings from this trip to Italy in my studio the weekend of December 6th and 7th from 1 pm to 6 pm.

For information about my upcoming exhibition of Mission District paintings scroll down past this post.

An old Italian once told me  "We are Arab in the south and German in the north."

This is only a slight exaggeration. Our two month journey last summer from Sicily in the south to  Emilia-Romagna in the north  ( by way of the Aeolian Islands, Naples, Rome, finally coming to rest on a farm near Florence, ) confirmed the enormous range and variety of what is called Italian Culture. 

 Stromboli erupting, as seen from Ginostra on Stromboli in the Aeolian Islands

 Stromboli erupting, as seen from Ginostra on Stromboli in the Aeolian Islands

The  south, with its Baroque Spanish architecture and the terra-cotta rooftops scattered in a volcanic landscape, could almost be Mexico. Except that Mexico doesn't have Greek temples. Nor people who, more than two thousand years after they were vanquished by the Romans, still consider themselves Greek.           

    Garlic Merchants, Catania, Sicily                                                      From our terrace in the Spanish Quarter, Naples

    Garlic Merchants, Catania, Sicily                                                      From our terrace in the Spanish Quarter, Naples

Lugo amid the fertile plain that surrounds the river Po in the northern province of Emilia-Romagna exudes a sense of well being and orderliness more characteristic of northern Europe. Many here are practicing Catholics who also insist that they are Communists. Neighbors often share their cars. 

The main square of Lugo in Emilia-Romagna

The main square of Lugo in Emilia-Romagna

Florentine youth, eager to be on the the cutting edge, have embraced American culture with gusto. On this visit much of the graffiti was in English. One noteworthy message asked: "If this is tourist season, why can't we hunt them?"

 Piazza Santo Spirito, Florence, Italy

 Piazza Santo Spirito, Florence, Italy

I was scandalized to find hamburgers on the lunch menu at 'Pops', a popular youth hangout in Piazza Santo Spirito, until I tasted their truffle hamburger which was exquisite.  Italy has a history of absorbing from cultures around it and converting them into something uniquely Italian. 

Our painting group's base twenty minutes from Florence: Querce Seconda, Romola, Tuscany

Our painting group's base twenty minutes from Florence: Querce Seconda, Romola, Tuscany

Watch the video of our two month painting trip:

I encourage you to experience the full variety of cultures we encountered by viewing the video of our journey. It is designed to inform and entertain you, so set aside forty minutes. Pour yourself a glass of wine and click the title to enjoy  From Sicily to Emilia-Romagna: through Artists' Eyes

The music of Hugo Wainzinger and Al Fabrizio is a marvelous addition to this video. If you like their adaptations for guitar and mandolin, you may find more of their music  - and buy their CDs at: www.heartstringsmusic.com

Returning to the Mission District

( These paintings and many more will be on exhibition at the Alley Cat Gallery in the Mission from Dec 15 to Jan 9. Scroll to the bottom of this blog for more information.)

Returning to the Mission District from the streets of Italy was an easy transition. Latino culture has a strong American indigenous character, but as the word Latino implies, it also shares cultural roots with Italy. Ever since I lived in Italy, in the late sixties, I've been aware of the difference between northern european cultures which dominate the United States and the southern Latin cultures. 

                                Capp and 24th Streets, oil/board, 20" X 28", 2014

                                Capp and 24th Streets, oil/board, 20" X 28", 2014

One of the most salient aspects of Latin culture is the extent to which it takes place on the street which makes it of particular interest to an outdoor painter. Family, community and self-expression, in all its forms, have a higher priority in the Latin world. This means that I am as warmly welcomed painting on the street in the Mission as I was in Italy.

It also means that I hardly ever have to search for models. Volunteers often step forward when I need them. As Roberto, from El Salvador, did when I needed a figure crossing the street in this painting.

                                 Incoming Fog, ( at 22nd and S. Van Ness) oil/board, 20" X 28", 2014

                                 Incoming Fog, ( at 22nd and S. Van Ness) oil/board, 20" X 28", 2014

I've met so many interesting people that I plan, next year, to shift some of my focus from cityscapes to street portraits.

Gentrification and eviction

Gentrification remains the paramount issue in the Mission.The Day of the Dead celebration on the evening of Nov 2 was even larger than last year's. It included several floats. One of which halted at Harrison and 24th street while a gentleman, on the float, gave an impassioned speech. Citing one landlord's attempt to evict a 99 year old woman who has lived in the Mission for over forty years, he implored the crowd to respect "those who care for your children, prepare your food, clean your homes. We have a right to live in our own community."

                Indian Summer in the Mission, ( Harrison and 24th ), oil on board, 20" X 28", 2014

                Indian Summer in the Mission, ( Harrison and 24th ), oil on board, 20" X 28", 2014

An unfortunate corollary of the demographic shift in the Mission, is that many locals feel they are being racially profiled by newcomers who stereotype them out of cultural ignorance. Eight months ago there was a brutal police slaying of a young Latino, Alex Nieto, a full time scholarship student at CCSF.  Someone in the neighborhood had called the police because they had seen "a Latin male adult with a red jacket, black pants and a handgun on his hip pacing near a bench on Bernal Hill" Alex was eating a burrito before he went to his job as a security guard. The 'gun' on his belt was a clearly marked Taser. He was shot fourteen times and killed. Witnesses reported that he had provided no provocation. 

                             Bernal Panorama, oil/board, 20" X 48", 2010

                             Bernal Panorama, oil/board, 20" X 48", 2010

Alex was remembered with his own room at this years' Dia de los Muertos rooms for the dead exhibition at the SOMARTS Gallery. Titled "Visions at Twilight: Dia de los Muertos 2014" the show was curated by artist and activist René Yañez and his son Rio. Renee, who also faces eviction, had this to say about the exhibition.

“In this time of displacement our Day of the Dead exhibition focuses on the evictions of families, artists, cultural centers, and non-profit spaces, calling on artists to question and challenge the people and policies that are destroying the cultural fibers of the city and the Bay Area,”  

Arriving a little late for the opening of the exhibition, my wife and I were delighted to catch San Francisco's poet laureate Alejandro Murguia's  riveting delivery of  poetry and reminiscences. Pacing the stage with the alternating prance of a panther and strut of a peacock, he eloquently evoked the colors, sounds and textures of the Mission of his youth. He performed without notes in the  tradition of great oral poets.

                              Daniel Galvez Restores "Carnaval", oil/board, 20" X 28", 2014

                              Daniel Galvez Restores "Carnaval", oil/board, 20" X 28", 2014

While my friends Miranda Bergman and O'Brien Theile  were completing the restoration of their Balmy Alley mural, which they originally painted 30 years ago, Daniel Galvez was restoring his Carnaval mural (also painted 30 years ago) at South Van Ness and 24th. I couldn't resist painting him repainting it. But you'll have to pass by the Alley Cat Gallery between Dec 15 and Jan 9 if you wish to find him in my original painting. He's Lilliputian compared to the gigantic figures in this outstanding mural

Upcoming Exhibition of these and other works:

New Paintings of the Mission and San Francisco

 Dec 15 - Jan 9th    Alley Cat Gallery    3036 24th St,    S. F.

Receptions:

Mon December 15     6-8 pm 

 Fri   December 19     6-8 pm

Special Guests to be announced

 

View the Entire Mission District Series

I have just posted all the images from my successful exhibition at Alley Cat Gallery. Click here or on "In the Mission District" link, above, to view them.

Carnaval Time In The Mission

Carnaval Time In The Mission

My studio will continue to be open on Last Sunday of the month (1 - 6 pm May 25th & June 29th) in my absence. Click here or on "Visit Studio" above for detailed information.

Prints of the Mission District Series will be available again after I return from Italy. The two weeks before Christmas I will be returning with a sequel to this first exhibition at Alley Cat Gallery.

Mission Series Part 4 - Upcoming Exhibition

The Mission District Series at Alley Cat Books: April 4 - 28, 2014

Alley Cat Books

Alley Cat Books has a large, well lit, art gallery at the back of the store.  I will be showing my Mission District Series here from April 4th - 28th, 2014. To accommodate all the paintings in this Series, the exhibition comprises two shows. There will be two receptions:

1st Reception: Fri, April 4, 6-8 pm. At 7 pm singer, songwriter organizer Francisco Herrera will sing.

2nd Reception: Fri, April 18, 6-8 pm. At 7 pm Alejandro Murguia, poet laureate of San Francisco, will read excerpts from a work in progress titled 'Mission Noir'

This show is dedicated to the memory of my friend and neighbor, the late, great, underground cartoonist, Spain Rodriguez. / Ten percent of proceeds from sales will be donated to Accion Latina.

MISSION DISTRICT PART 4

It was during the memorial for my friend and neighbor, Spain Rodriguez, at the Brava Theater that I decided to start this Mission District Series. So he was on my mind as I set up to paint this picture of the Brava Theater.

As if on cue, a fight between women erupted inside "Pops" bar next to where I was painting. As the fight reached a crescendo, I saw three  Amazons running down York Street towards the bar, long, dark hair streaming behind them. They charged inside. Things got even louder. Then there was an uneasy silence, followed by, "You won't try that again, bitch!"

They were out the door, running back up York when I heard one of them shout, "I hope they don't say nothing about Samoans!" The police arrived a few minutes later. No one seemed to know who these women were.

The whole event was pure Spain Rodriguez.

The homeless hang out on York. It's near their encampment under the freeway.  Three of them found their way into this first painting.

The Brava Theater

There's a lot of history on this corner. The Brava used to be the York Theater, many locals still call it that. The St Francis Cafe (founded 1918) attracts a large crowd of  young adults. It is where "the Morabito brothers who owned a lumberyard nearby often lunched ... and, as legend goes, hatched the idea there in the late 1940s to buy the franchise forthe Forty-Niners." (Courtesy of Mission Local)

Pops which offers bacon in its Bloody Marys is a popular hipster dive. Improbably, right next door is the excellent and attractive Mexicana Bakery

"Pops"

I did three paintings at this intersection as one short, rainless, winter day followed another. I could have done more. But I decided it was time to move back up 24th.

I returned to La Palma. In this second painting I decided to focus more on the small  truck painted with the eagle bearing a Mexican Flag. It parks on this corner every weekend. The owner sets up a long table crowded with used tools and other items. He approved of my painting. "You have painted my truck with a big smile!" he observed.

Sunday at La Palma

In the mornings before working on La Palma, I passed by Rene Yañas' house. Rene, who is a important cultural figure in the Mission (see Mission District Series #3, below), has lived in this house on rent control for 35 years. He is facing eviction under the Ellis Act. The house is set back behind a screen of vegetation. " I used to enjoy caring for this garden." Rene told me, "But since the eviction order I've really lost interest."

He posed for me so I could put him in the painting.

Rene Yañas Leaving his Home

I noticed Mike Ruiz's installation of a skeleton and crosses commemorating the demise of Latino institutions in the Mission, some time ago. I decided to capture this scene before it was removed, especially since Accion Latina is a major force in the Mission. Home to the bilingual newspaper El Tecolote, it also promotes youth and cultural programs including the Encuentro del Canto Popular which takes place early December every year at the Brava Theater.

Accion Latina

Please scroll down to view earlier posts about this ongoing Series.