New York Arts

The distinguished old master dealer, Robert Simon, held his first exhibition of a contemporary artist this past November and December. Entitled The Third Rome : Allegorical Landscapes of the Modern City, it was devoted to the current work of Pamela Talese, a Brooklyn-based painter known for her haunting views of gritty industrial sites around the Navy Yard and Red Hook. Around 2012, she found that she had exhausted this subjects and everything else in New York City, and she decided to return to Rome for the first time in twenty-two years, applying for an artist’s fellowship at the American Academy and, once there, after exploring contemporary buildings, like Renzo Piano’s Parco della Musica, she began to explore more recent neighborhoods outside the historical center. By “more recent,” I mean areas developed in the 1920s and 1930s, that is, the Fascist Era.

Exploring the neighborhoods on her bicycle with her painting box and folding easel strapped on, Ms. Talese felt attracted to certain buildings that stood out for their clean, simple lines and elegant design. These were prime examples of Fascist architecture— modest, functional residential edifices, utilitarian civic structures, and a few public buildings. Virtually none of these appear in the surveys of Fascist architecture—with one notable exception, the Foro Italico (originally called the Foro Mussolini).

Rome day by day

Wednesday April 23, 2014

I sleep in until 9am! and then drag into the day. Still glum about yesterday’s session which is just silly, especially as I come up with a solution: to bungee the tripod to the bike rack which lightens the weight carried on my back considerably. So finally, after a bunch of emails (personal and professional, plus a communiqué to the real estate lawyer thanking him for overseeing stupid foreclosure situation. All resolved but still a bit irritated.) I eat lunch in the studio then push myself out the door at 2:15. I aim for Testaccio taking via Garibaldi down which is always fragrant with some flowering tree. Riding down the hill, seeing the city spread out below, and passing through this sweet spring scent I wonder why I hesitated indoors, but I’m often like this if I don’t get out fast. The landscape painters version of stage fright. On the way I pass the restaurant where I’ll meet Frank, Jay and Susan tonight at 7:45. On the side of the roadway are the usual political posters I see every year. Spring is election time. Inevitably the word ‘noi’ is used…aspiring for unity. The faces are friendly, the photographs so simple they seem like phone-shots, something impromptu, snaps from an afternoon out with the family. The expressions are ‘simpatico’, the soft smiles and large eyes of not especially interesting looking one after another. “Sindicato.” In a country which once stressed ‘la bella figura’ these ads are unimpressive.

I’m at the cactus and graffiti site (from last year) and ready to paint by 3pm but again, I’ve barely begun when a small boy on a bicycle comes to ask me what I’m doing. I knew this spot would be problematic as it’s a dead end street and many homeless families live tucked in the hedges along the river. It was fiercely bright and it took me several minutes to adjust to the glare. I should have worn the wide brimmed hat instead of the cap, and the there was the heat with which to contend. I poked at the pigments and endeavored to smear them in the right spot. I was working on a 9 x 12 store bought canvas board. Even though I know these things are total sh*t, I packed a bunch of them because they are slightly lighter than those I make myself. Now I don’t think this was the best decision. The paint doesn’t set up nicely despite the light toning with medium and pigment. Also, the new piece of palette paper seems to be coming up and I’m getting tiny bit of it combined with scraps of coagulated paint (little speck, I admit, but I hate these little specks) and as I am painting thinly, I start dissatisfied but lose myself in it and start having a good time-my mess not withstanding. I’m listening to The Long Winters which always makes me happy. Every now an then someone will walk by and I can make out what they are saying. Sometimes I stop the music. Everyone is very nice. As I’ve observed elsewhere, I’m so damn slow at the beginning there’s really nothing to see so onlookers get bored and walk on. I persevere and the husk+honey voiced John Roderick sings.

Circling around the street and popping up on the sidewalk next to me the sweet, soiled faced ragazzo returns with inquiries. He wants to know what I’m painting (good question), why I’m painting (better question) and begins to chatter away. I am nice but tell him that I need to work ‘con calma’, that there’s nothing to see and that he should come back in an hour or two. He’s back in 20 minutes, this time with a little girl, his sister. I smile, say a few things, then shoo him away again. The session is punctuated with these interruptions. I knew this was going to be tricky when I saw the family across the street. There is both a mother and father who seem nice enough from where I’m standing. They lounge in the shade on what seems to have the back seat yanked out from a car. A bit of seatbelt is flung out like a lizards tongue. I continue to struggle, and soon it’s revealed that the little boy has at least five siblings (there could be more-some perhaps cannot yet walk, or are older and picking pockets at Termini Station.) I made a strategic mistake by being nice to him in the first place. I knew it but couldn’t help myself. Now he comes back with some of the family. I say a few things then tell them I have to work. I make them stand together to I can take a picture of them (after asking ‘posso?’ to the mother) but mostly to make sure they are all in one place. After I take the picture I tell them, yet again, that they should go because want to work. One of the little girls comes around to my left and puts her tiny dirt-dipped fingers on the ipod nano I am wearing in my pocket. I look at her and move her hand away.

By 5pm the boy and the oldest sister are back with more questions. I tell them in Italian that I don’t speak Italian. They ask me my name. I tell them I don’t have one, that in the United States we don’t use names, we use numbers. They insist on my name. The boy is brandishing a naked Ken doll which has speaker holes in his chest and a heart shaped button (in sternum) but it doesn’t work. The boy gestures with the doll and the nylon blond hair shakes. Then he tosses it into the street while the girl asks me my name again and again. “Dimi! Dimi! Come si chiaimaaaaaah.” It has started to rain and it’s a fine time to leave anyway. I’ll need to come back but will have to bring a saber tooth tiger or something to keep the zingari kids at bay.