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.  
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Valle Grande
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.

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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.  

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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.

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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.  

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Scotch eggs
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. 

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'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.
 
 
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.  
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Antonio Camba
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.  

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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.  

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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.

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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.