Similar to the drawing of the archway of the Portico of Octavia, this sketch compresses three layers of history in the heart of Rome—in the right foreground, the facade of the Palazzo Nuovo designed by Michelangelo in the 16th century; rising in the background, the Vittorio Emmanuele II Monument built in the early 20th century; and caught in between but the oldest, S. Maria in Aracoeli, a basilica whose origins date back to the 6th century, erected atop an ancient Roman insula. To the right stands the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius that is situated in the center of the trapezoidal piazza.
We’re leaving tomorrow on a week-long field trip south to Pompeii, Amalfi, Ravello, and possibly Matera, a UNESCO world heritage site. More on that later.
Here’s a view looking through an archway of the Portico of Octavia toward the Theater of Marcellus, with just a hint of the apartments built atop of the theater in medieval times. The elements on the left are of the scaffolding supporting restoration work on the portico.
What attracted me to this scene is the way it compresses space and time. Almost everywhere you walk amid the skewed street spaces, buildings, and monuments in the centro historico district, one encounters these layers of history so typical of Rome.
This past Sunday, I attended the 10 am Mass at Santa Maria in Trastevere, a basilica that feels like a normal parish church rather than one that simply attracts tourists. Compare this view from my usual position, seated in the rear and to the left, to a similar one of Blessed Sacrament Church that I did back in mid-September.
The basilica is believed to have its origins in the 4th century, being rebuilt in the 12th century and restored several times since then. Notable are the beautiful medieval mosaics, the Cosmatesque flooring, and the 22 Ionic and Corinthian columns that line the nave, which were brought from the Baths of Caracalla and other sources.
Early Monday morning, I walked over to Palazzo Farnese, but instead of drawing the palazzo, I chose this view of one of the huge granite tubs brought to the square from the Baths of Caracalla in the 16th century. You can see evidence of the raindrops that began falling on the pages and their imprints as I closed my sketchbook.
Getting settled in Rome and into the rhythm of field walks, drawing sessions, and studio classes. But before posting views of Rome, I want to share a couple of snippets from our visit to Lago di Como and Milano.
The first view on the left is from the open deck of a ferry my wife and I took from Varenna to Como, which merged with a later, more expansive view of the cathedral in Como. This is an example of how we often compose the pages of our journals in an improvisational manner, thinking not only of the composition of a view but also how it might be placed on a page or across two pages to interact with previously placed writings or drawings. Sometimes, the result is purely accidental and happily so.
The second view is a very quick sketch to capture not just the Duomo in Milan or the Galleria but rather the relationship between the two—a church of faith and a church of commerce.
After meeting in Milan and touring sites in and around its historic center, the AIR13 group of faculty and students took a day trip to Como and then headed south to Siena via a brief stop in Parma. All beautiful places, but each in its own way revealing notable examples of architecture from different time periods, from the medieval to 20th century modernism. Here are a couple of pages from my sketchbook, similar to the ones I am requiring all of the students to keep during their quarter in Rome.
After spending a day and a couple of nights in Rome to get acclimated to the time change, we took a train up to Milan and another to Varenna on the east shore of Lake Como. This is the view from the Hotel Eremo Gaudio, up the hillside and south of town. The other sketch is from a terrace cafe on Varenna’s waterfront. When we first visited Varenna in 1995, it was a much quieter place. It’s more popular now, especially on the weekends, but it remains a spectacular setting for a respite.
I’ve been attending Blessed Sacrament Church, a Dominican parish in the University District, for over 30 years and I’ve marveled at this view every time I’m in the nave of the Neo-Gothic church. This past Sunday, I finally remembered to bring my sketchbook to Mass and to draw the imposing space from my usual position in one of the rear pews. Even though the design intention when the structure was built in 1925 was for the interior to be clad in wood and marble, the brick walls, concrete columns, and steel roof structure remain exposed to this day. Yet, the rawness of these elements do not detract in any way from the grand scale and proportions of the space.
This evening, I’m leaving for Rome, where I will be teaching for two months and visiting many more beautiful churches.
I’ve always admired this building for its presence in the neighborhood as I walk by it daily, especially the tower portion that rises on its south end with its exposed fire escapes. Piece of Mind fronts North 36th Street while off the alley level in the back is an arcade and beer joint. Just to the east of the building in the adjacent parking lot stands the Flair Taco truck. Word is that a development is planned for this location but I don’t know if the plans include this structure.
In the left foreground is the edge of Free Range Cycles. Beyond, across the alley from 315 North 36th Street, you can see just the corner of the Fremont Fine Arts Foundry, started more than 30 years ago by artist Pete Bevis. This is where the Lenin statue was assembled and the Jimi Hendrix statue crafted. He sold it last year and is currently undergoing remodeling for a restaurant and retail complex.
I want to thank Gail Wong and all of the participants in our Line to Color workshop for a fun and stimulating weekend. For me, it was inspiring to see and feel the energy emanating from the group as we sped through downtown Fremont Saturday morning, settled into Gasworks Park in the afternoon, and then reconvened down at bustling Pike Place Market on Sunday, all the time being blessed with great weather and company. After a workshop it’s always difficult for me to gauge the impact of what two-and-a-half days of drawing can have but I did see a lot of progress and hope all who attended will continue to pursue and enjoy this creative activity.
Being occupied with working with each of the participants, I didn’t have much time to draw on my own. But here a couple of very quick sketches. The first is one of my teaching sketches that I do to demonstrate how to block out a composition on a page.
The second is a market scene where I dabbled with a waterbrush that I borrowed from Daniel, one of the participants, to see how the it might react with the ink lines. I kind of like the effect even though it’s quite subtle. The ease of creating gray washes with a waterbrush might be the first step toward incorporating color into my drawings.