Even the most creative individuals occasionally find themselves stuck in a rut, or as they say in Spanish "ser esclavo de la rutina." Working in the same location, using the same method, approaching the same subject matter, employing the same style, ad nauseum, can be a mind-numbing trap for artistic types. When art-making loses its lustre and spark, it's time to cut loose, break out of the studio, seek new experiences and get back into joy mode.
Artist Kate Kirby and her friend Vicky Stuart have organized a get-away program for visual artists that allows painters to practise their craft, while enjoying the scenic environs of San Rafael, Argentina. "Art in the Andes"
includes art instruction, accommodation, all meals, sightseeing, wine-tasting and more, as part of a combined education/travel package. It's like summer camp designed for grown-ups.
Finca la Susana
The Stuarts, a Scottish couple whose family has been established in Argentina for three generations, play host to visiting artists in their gracious Victorian country house. Finca la Susana has a lush perennial garden, a swimming pool and a large screened-in porch that's ideal for summer gatherings. The grounds provide plenty of interesting locations for plein air painting, but if garden subject matter seems too tame, the desert, Sierra Pintada mountains, Valle Grande and the snow-capped Andes are not far away. Instruction is offered on a one-to-one basis by Kate Kirby whose background includes 11 years of teaching experience at the Open College of Art in the UK. Both Vicky and Kate are graduates of the Edinburgh College of Art, where observational drawing was taught as an essential skill, one that serves as a solid foundation for painting. They encourage the use of sketchbooks, facilitate group discussions about art-making, and help individuals to discover and develop a personal style.
At work outdoors
Kate explains that she adapts her painting and drawing program to meet a variety of objectives. "If the client is a complete beginner, I can provide a structured teaching approach for however many days are required. Alternatively, if an established artist wants to spend time here and just wants to be pointed in the direction of interesting landscapes and then have a chat about their work at the end of the day, they are welcome, too. (And of course anyone at any stage in between can participate.)"
The atmosphere for this art adventure is informal, relaxed and open-minded because after all, it is intended to be a holiday - a refreshing break from the usual routine.
In keeping with the Scottish theme and in the spirit of experimentation, we opened a bottle of thistle and tartan-labelled Caledonia Torrontes/Semillon 2008
. Ronald MacKay, who hails from Coupar Angus, near Dundee, Scotland produces this wine from the grapes grown on his finca in Rama Caida. He also owns and operates a nursery which sells quality vinifera rootlings for five varietals. The Finca Caledonia website
offers some fascinating historical tidbits regarding Scottish settlement in Argentina. This lightly-oaked blend of fruity Torrontes and dry, citrus Semillon is a pleasant, elegant vino, perfect for summer porch-and-patio days.
I made Scotch eggs, a simple-to-prepare treat that's ideal fingerfood for Sunday brunch, a picnic or a tailgate party. In the UK, this is pub food, a hearty snack enjoyed with a pint. The eggs are boiled for 8 minutes, peeled and cooled, then covered evenly with a layer of pork sausage meat. I spice the meat mwith nutmeg, cinnamon and a little grated onion. The meat-covered eggs are then rolled in dry breadcrumbs and deep fried in hot oil for about 1o minutes, until thoroughly browned and crisp on the outside. These eggs can be eaten warm or cold, and are great with a spoonful of mango chutney. For an unusual variation on the Scotch egg recipe that's become a big hit in Manchester, England, have a look at this article from BBC news
A bottle of Caledonia Torrontes/Semillon sells for 16 pesos at La Cava wine store.
The all-inclusive rate for "Art in the Andes" painting holiday is 400 pesos per day.
Here's an image of a Kate Kirby
painting that I purchased at a 2009 exhibition of her work at Casa Burgos in San Rafael. It's a piece that lifts my heart every time I look at it.
'Once More' mixed media, by Kate Kirby
"The Last Knit" an animated film directed by Laura Neuvonen of Finland, gives a humorous account of creativity that leans toward obsession, the exhausting struggle to relinquish a familiar routine and the exciting discovery of a new source of inspiration. Sometimes letting go is the hardest part of change.
In need of a cultural break, we visited Buenos Aires for a few days to enjoy some music, dance, fine art, film and theatre. There is a daily flight with Aerolineas Argentina from teeny tiny San Rafael airport to the big city. It takes only an hour and a half to travel from quiet campo to bustling metropolis for a weekend of entertainment.
The most exciting event of our recent trip was the arteBA '10 contemporary art fair held at La Rural exhibition space. Over the years we have attended art fairs in Frankfurt, Maastricht, Amsterdam and Toronto, so we have several models for comparison when it comes to rating the Buenos Aires event. This fair was first class all the way - from curatorship to lighting to visual presentation. The artworks, drawn from commercial galleries all over South America, ranged from representational to abstract and included photography, installation pieces and video, as well as more traditional paintings and sculptures.
Anzizar with his painting
"Urban Birdwatching" by Jose Luis Anzizar appealed to me as a joyous and elegant series of canvases created with collaged elements cut out and applied to the surface. The artist's catalogue quotes him as saying that this group of paintings,"rescues the surrounding visual chaos which we usually overlook." The random nature of the squiggled lines suggests a haphazard flight path, or the casual doodles of a wandering mind, intercepted every now and then with an image of a bird or the silhouette of an aircraft. These paintings, presented by Elsi del Rio gallery, seem to capture the buzz of Buenos Aires.
VO4 by Ventoso
A fascinating series of wall-mounted sculptures caught my eye in Renoir Galeria de Arte's booth. These works, created by Abel H.Ventoso combine forms and linear patterns made from chunks of high density foam. The artist's background as an architect clearly informs his refined volumetric compositions. I like the way subtle tonal variations of black and grey affect the spatial relationships in this piece.
Magdalena Murua's black and white
Artist Magdalena Murua's work was presented at the fair by Praxis International Art. Murua cuts and pastes minute pieces of comic books, creating a mosaic effect from the small bits of colour or black and white cartoons. She starts with a grid and then applies the segments intuitively in stripes or waves. These works read as op art abstracts from a distance, and collage at close range, where graphic traces and fragments of text from the comics are visible.
The only questionable aspect of the BA fair was the pricing of the art. When I asked gallery owners for prices, every small work was $3,500 U.S. and every large work was $10,000 U.S. I assume that this was a starting price point, meant to be negotiated. We are used to a North American square inch price formula that's objective and consistent with the size of the canvas. Nevertheless, the values at arteBA appeared to be quite reasonable for both emerging and mid-career artists, and any serious collector could find high quality work here at a good price.
After the show, while waiting for a cab to take us back to our hotel, we couldn't help but notice multiple graffiti stencils decorating the streetscape. This artist's message certainly hits home.
Looking at art does work up an appetite, so we headed for Empire Thai
on Tres Sargentos. Owner Kevin Rodriguez, a banker from New Jersey, moved to Buenos Aires in 1996 and established a Thai restaurant as an alternative to what he describes as "the city's three p's - pizza, pasta and parrilla." And what a welcome dining experience it is! The coconut soup served here is absolutely the best we've ever eaten, and accompanied by a dish of Pad Thai with krupuk and a plate of tender beef satay, makes a satisfying meal. Kevin lets me in on the chef's secret - he makes his own coconut milk from scratch.
Just around the corner on San Martin is the luxury shopping mall Galerias Pacifico, which offers a wide range of leather goods, cashmere sweaters, cosmetics, fragrances, jewels, designer purses and electronics. On the upper floor is the Borges Cultural Centre
, which houses a small auditorium. We enjoyed a Sunday evening performance of Evolutionarte
, a dynamic flamenco show directed by Marcela Rodriquez.
The streets of Buenos Aires reflect all the contrasts of life in Latin America. The well-to-do casually step over the poor souls who sleep on the sidewalk. The city is both charming and harsh, beautiful and ugly, with a veneer of extravagant wealth and an underbelly of desperate poverty. It is an eye-opener.
Buenos Aires' beautiful Teatro Colon offers the ultimate theatre experience: see my article on Hubpages
Spanish artist Antonio Camba
is showing a new series of paintings entitled "Fronteras" at the PHI Espacio de Arte in General Alvear. The abstract canvases are polychromatic and white-on-white compositions that refer to the experience of being a foreigner in a new country.
The layers of colour in each work vary from clean-edged stripes achieved with masking tape, to blended areas of scumbled colour. The strata can be read as the individual's borders or limitations in the face of new experiences; the lines defining character pressured into direct contact with an unfamiliar environment, mindset and lifestyle. There are instances where colours harmonize and other areas where tension is tangible, a dialogue represented by the formal juxtaposition of old and new, warm and cold, flexible and rigid, ragged and exact.
The Camba series reminds me of handmade Argentine textiles traditionally patterned with irregular striped sections of colour punctuated with white lines. We have a rug in our livingroom from Salta that is made from organically dyed wool, handwoven by a native artisan. The design is asymmetrical and non-conforming, with the occasional protruding knot of wool adding texture to the piece. It's as if the maker was playing by ear, improvising as the threads were added and used up. Weaving requires the binding together of a warp (long vertical threads) and a weft (threads woven horizontally) to make a unified fabric. As foreigners we sometimes assume that assimilation means a loss of identity or a challenge to totally re-invent one's self. Perhaps our adaptation to a new place should be more like the process of weaving, where each thread is integrated into the whole cloth, but still retains distinct and meaningful characteristics.
After attending the vernissage in General Alvear, we enjoyed a slice of Squash Strata, a dish made from butternut squash layered with cheese and bound together with an egg and milk wash. This oven-baked vegetarian casserole paired well with a glass of Castel Semillon-Chardonnay 2008, a white blend that combines the lively citrus notes of Semillon woven into the fig and honey flavours of Chardonnay. The Semillon provides a long finish with reduced acidity. This wine agrees with seafood, eggs and subtle rice or vegetable-based meals. A bottle of Castel costs 13.50 pesos at Vea supermarket.
Antonio Camba's exhibition continues until May 17th at the PHI Espacio de Arte
, at Zamenhof 46 in General Alvear. Hours for viewing are Wednesday to Saturday 10:00 am -12 noon and after siesta from 6:00-8:00 pm. A farming community located about an hour's drive southeast of San Rafael, General Alvear is home to the descendants of Russian, Polish, Japanese, Italian and Spanish immigrants. Like the Camba paintings, the town is a fine example of a cultural tapestry woven from varied threads.