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2017-08-08 17:18

A Week in Tuscany with the Lark Gallery’s 
Art Lab Residency for Professional Arts

Academia Luciania, Civitella d'Agliano, Italy

By Frederika B. Roeder

Italy, Civitella D'Agliano, LarkGalleryIt is difficult to imagine a more glorious opportunity than to be invited to paint for nearly two weeks in the medieval countryside of Viterbo, Italy.  So, when I was juried into the Academia Luciania Art Lab Residency for Professional Arts by the Lark Gallery in August of 2016, my heart soared.  I looked forward with enormous anticipation to the experience - both to revel in the ancient and majestic beauty of of Alto Lazio region, and to work alongside fellow artists from around the world in an environment rich with creative history and vision. 

The weeks following my notice of acceptance flew by in a flurry of activity and anticipation.  Finally departure day arrived.  I flew from Los Angeles to Rome, which is about 50 miles southeast of Civitella d'Agliano. Ultimately we would be joined by another dozen or so artists from the United States, Germany, Italy, Romania, and elsewhere - some taking part in the Residency program.  

Upon arrival, our group of Los Angeles  artists was greeted by the wonderful Sergio Bardani and Christian Hamsea from Academia Luciania.  Sergio and Christian helped with all of our luggage, playing tag-team with a cool Mercedes van and a miniature vintage Italian open-air lorry, in order to get through what turned out to be a very narrow medieval arch onto the piazza of old Civitella d'Agliano.

It was evening when we arrived, and the ancient cobblestones of the piazza, ramparts and looming tower that watches over Civitella and the surrounding Tiber Valley were all romantically lit.  An Italian barbeque greeted us with clarinet music floating into the night.  As we were the guests of honor, it was a privilege to dine alfresco in the warm summer evening, joined by the local citizenry.  With Sergio as our host, we dined, enjoyed the local wine and got to know one another.

Tired, but happy after the flight from LAX to Rome, we awoke to a walking tour of the medieval village, which is much like a citadel.  We absorbed the narrow passages, old doors and gates, hand-hewn plaster, cobblestones, and overhanging tile roofs - encouraged to take no pictures during this initial walk, in order to develop a visual relationship and affinity in the heart and mind, and a more direct assimilation of the village - without any mechanical intervention. We would return later to photograph. 

The residency program takes place in the medieval castle of Civitella, and our sleeping quarters were just a short walk to the studio, itself once a palace room...its shuttered windows looking down on the original ramparts and piazza. 

After becoming comfortable with our studio, we celebrated again that evening…this time in a local restaurant.  Long picnic tables were arranged alfresco with the tunes of crickets, and a treetop view of the surrounding valley and Calanchi to entertain us. (The Calanchi are clay hills, and are similar to the Badlands in Wyoming. They are very popular with bikers, hikers and naturalists). 

Needless to say, the many courses we had were all about seasonal, homemade ingredients, local wines and cheeses. Our chefs outdid themselves on our behalf and received kudos and cries of “delicioso” from everyone.

The following morning studio work commenced in earnest.  The goal: create two piece of work while there, with one left behind to become part of the Public Collection of Civitella D'Agliano. The pressure mounts!

Inspired by the hand-hewn medieval walls, roofs, doors,windows, beautiful tile floors, ramparts, and tower, I found myself challenged by what to paint in the limited amount of time I had, so I just needed to trust my intuition and paint what spoke to me the most: the magnificent tower and the wonderful, many-hued residential structures.

I set to work with a daily ritual. Morning: an invigoratingly short walk to the local "Bar" where the best cappuccino in the world is served along with had made pastries like Nuovo.  Thus fortified, and enjoying the sound of Italian morning talk, watching the Vespas, the cats and dogs,  I would return to the studio to paint through the afternoon. Later, a group of us might head out to local markets for some homemade salamis, cheeses, lots of pasta, sauces, and vegetables and try some of our own Italian dishes in the kitchen.  The ritual of morning cappuccino, trips to the local markets, and attempts our own Italian cuisine, allowed us to mingle and feel literally at home in this beautiful place.

Daily work in the studio was balanced with side-trips into the local environs, designed to rejuvenate our creativity and provide a respite from daily life. During one luxurious trip to Tarquinia (Tuscany), as far as the Mediterranean Sea, we visited the famous archeological sites of the Etruscan tombs dating VII to VI BC.  We lunched at what is considered to be one of the best seafood restaurants along the Mediterranean. 

That afternoon, we stopped at Niki de St. Phalles’ sculpture garden (the Tarot Garden), an absolutely delightful must-see.

I had actually seen her sculpture in the New York studio, so this was a fabulous treat as an artist.

On another day, we visited La Serpara, another sculpture garden near Civitella d’Agliano with welds, outdoor installations, along a stream, meadow, and  walnut grove.

As the second week came to a close, we looked forward to dinner on the now open-air palace floor with the ramparts acting as walls and the tower looming above - and a spectacular 360 degree view of the surrounding valley with the Tiber in the distance. We celebrated our Residency  with a Gallery exhibit in the upper studio where we were all able to share our  completed work and present the one we would contribute to the Public Works, as we were given a Certificate for the Residency.

Enjoying the night before departure, with new friends from around the globe, we enjoyed our last evening in Umbria, driving through a dramatic summer thunderstorm. It was bittersweet to say goodbye. 

Circles of friendship expanded, as well as a circle of artists; we cherished the shared studio experience in Residency in Civitella d’Agliano.  A heartfelt “Thank You!”  to Sergio Bardani and Christian Hamsea for making this dream come true and sharing so much of Italy with all of us.

Yours, Frederika Roeder.

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2015-10-01 11:04

Karen Hansen's Impressions about Art lab in Italy organized by Academia Luciano and LarkGallery

16 days in Civitella D'Agliano, a tiny medieval town, located 50 miles north of Rome.
I immersed myself in this glorious classic Italian atmosphere.
On July 12, 2015 I boarded a plane bound for Rome. I was headed to my second Artist Residency organized by Academia Luciana. I was traveling with 5 of my fellow artists also from Los Angeles, none of whom I’d met previously. We were all very excited to embark on our great adventure! Once we landed in Rome, we boarded a bus for the fifty mile trip north to Civitella d’Agliano. We arrived at 10 pm. Even in the dark, I was instantly charmed by the ancient architecture, the cobblestone piazza and the narrow cobblestone streets. This medieval town is classic Italy. The buildings date from the 12th to the 14th centuries.

Originally Civitella d’Agliano was built as a lookout and the huge watch tower still stands on the piazza, although after a restoration in about 1970 it’s only 300 feet tall, about 2/3 its original height. The town was one of three strategically located high on hilltops within the Tiber River valley. All those centuries ago, when the region contained a papal court, the residents of the valley were defending the river. Whoever controlled the Tiber controlled the entire vast area. From the watch tower, the whole valley could be surveyed.

These days the Old Town is largely abandoned. Of the 1600 Civitella residents, only 46 live within the Old Town, along with a zillion feral cats. At one end of the piazza there is a beautiful large Catholic church where mass is held daily at 5:30 for the 8 residents who attend. The remaining empty buildings throughout the town became our homes and studio spaces for our 16 day stay. Our group ultimately numbered 24 artists from 11 countries, 5 continents. The artists ranged from ages 19 to 70. They worked in all styles and all media, including performance art.

Our time there was so much less complicated than my life in Los Angeles. Siestas are a part of the local culture and, of course, I complied. We slept when we were tired, ate when we got hungry and during the rest of our time we were free to paint and explore. Everyone’s stress melted away. My days usually began just before dawn, about 5 am, waking up to the cooing of doves and roosters crowing. The morning light was pure Italian, just like J M W Turner experienced. Before breakfast I would wander around the Old Town with my camera and shoot photos of the beautiful crumbly architecture, the sweeping views of the river valley and even a few of the cats. After about an hour I’d come home to eat breakfast and then head off to our studio to paint. The studios were located in a building that we were told was once a palace, altho it wasn’t opulent at all!

Throughout our stay, Italy experienced record breaking hot weather with the temperatures hovering around 100º each day and nights cooling only to the mid 70’s, not enough to cool the buildings. We had no air conditioning or fans so the siesta time was a way to cope with the oppressive midday heat. And after sundown the piazza was a gathering place for the locals to enjoy the cooler evenings. It was wonderful to listen to them chatter. Italian is such a lyrical language. It was really too hot to cook so lunches and dinners were usually salads giving me the opportunity to explore unfamiliar kinds of olives and cheeses. I found the yogurt, fruits and veg bursting with flavor! And of course gelato. My favorite flavor was called Egg Cream. Tomatoes, peaches, plums, melons, and watermelon were like nothing I can remember tasting. I realized the huge sacrifice we Americans make as a result of our mass food production.

Along with investigating every crevice of Civitella including their 3 restaurants and 2 markets, we briefly toured the area, visited 2 sculpture gardens, made a quick trip to Florence (and hiked to the top of the Duomo - all 463 steps!), and headed to a nearby beach one day only to arrive the moment a thunderstorm hit. Some of us were featured in a film being made by a local winery. And I connected with some very interesting artists, including the woman who was my roommate and studio mate. She lives in Culver City, CA. She was full of fascinating stories, having grown up in Siberia. And she produced 165 beautiful drawings during our residency, truly an inspiration to work beside.

I painted 9 paintings during my residency including the one pictured left called Ode to a Moth. Near the end of our stay we had an exhibition of the work we’d created. The exhibition coincided with a 3 day wine festival, an annual event that draws people to Civitella from all over Italy. The piazza was filled with food, wine and visitors as local musicians entertained the crowds late into the night.

At the end of our residency I packed up all but two of my paintings. The two I left behind had been selected by Christian Hamsea, our organizer, as part of the residency specifications. I headed back to Los Angeles happy to be home again but very grateful for another rich residency experience! There are even plans to show the work we left behind in Rome in 2016 at the Romanian Cultural Center next to the Borghese Gardens!