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The stones along the walls of the Bargello in Flo­rence are rubbed smooth by the cen­turies. It is a place rich with artistic history, and two Hillsdale art stu­dents took advantage of that legacy this past summer.
“It was just unbe­lievable,” sophomore Forester McClatchey said. “I mean, every crack growing out of the wall deserves its own por­trait. There are so many layers of history and beauty to it.”
McClatchey, along with senior Jasmine Noman, ven­tured this summer from Hillsdale’s art studios to “en plein air” painting in the land­scapes of Flo­rence, guided by an eccentric Italian woman, Daniela Astone.
“We had this Italian, quirky instructor who had the frizzy big hair and a little face, – – very Italian,” Noman said. “Daniela made me think a lot about com­po­sition. She was like, ‘Jasmine, look what you’re drawing, look how you set it up. You have the trees and the hill, but what about your back­ground and fore­ground? Erase this and think about the fore­ground the back­ground the values and the colors and look at it together. Is it cohesive work?’”
Impres­sionism in Italy went beyond the classroom. Noman and McClatchey began looking beyond a single tree to the entirety of Flo­rence.
“It is almost as though Italy was designed by a master artist because it does have a color scheme and the buildings and the land­scape mesh so per­fectly,” McClatchey said. “I didn’t sleep for 48 hours because I was too excited about exploring. I had to pull a bouncer off my roommate one night. And then, when we were out painting on the tiny side­walks, there was this truck with a bunch of trees in the back that was zooming past. As he passed me slowly, he just kind of bumped into my palette and dumped a little paint onto my shirt. You have to get used to that in Italy.”
The spon­taneity of the Italian culture, Noman said, inspired her artistic abil­ities and directly influ­enced a few expe­ri­ences.
“I just saw this restaurant down a little side street,” she said. “It was really small and I hardly noticed it. And then I was like, ‘this is promising.’ I didn’t even see it on the street, so it’s got to be off the beaten path and then I went in there and the food was great.”
Over the course of four weeks, at the Flo­rence Academy of Art, both McClatchey and Noman learned about oil painting as well as 19th-century Italian land­scapists.
“Spending a month there the world starts to open up on you and you realize how many of thou­sands of years of cool history and churches scat­tered throughout the city,” McClatchey said. “I’m pretty similar to Jasmine in that I get absorbed with detail, and I was really chal­lenging myself to be more ener­getic and impres­sion­istic. Daniela kept on empha­sizing the variety of brush strokes and just really going for the emphasis of it.”
The class con­sisted of varied aged groups. There was the high school student who simply wanted to go to Flo­rence, the college stu­dents like McClatchy and Noman, the twins from Denmark who decided one day that they were going to be amazing artists, the mom-like Swedish man in his sixties, and then, according to Noman, the “middle aged stu­dents who wanted to be artists after their careers ended.”
Noman said the class wasn’t simply set up around a par­ticular scene for the artists to paint or draw. Instructors merely encouraged stu­dents to show up at a par­ticular place and time and, once there, they would work at whatever pace suited the stu­dents best.
“The class was whatever you needed to work on,” Noman said.
Without cell phones, McClatchey said, it was like living in the “Stone Age.” This made life quite dif­ficult con­sid­ering the spon­ta­neous nature of the classes, but it also afforded McClatchey oppor­tu­nities to branch out and see and paint new sights with freedom. One day he left the group and searched for a scene on his own.
“I wanted a par­ticular feel. I wanted an alleyway of trees,” he said. “I didn’t realize how long I had been walking, but I turned around and I saw the perfect view. It was down this curving road, and there were these ancient olive trees that were going down in a line. And it was just a really beau­tiful com­po­sition.”
He painted for three hours.
“The whole trip was char­ac­terized by the carefree Ital­ianness,” Noman said. “Like the stores: you notice they are sup­posed to open at 9 a.m. but they won’t open until 11 a.m. if the owner doesn’t feel like coming in early.”
McClatchey and Noman spent a month striving to capture the essence of all that lay before them as several bystanders offered to buy their paintings or just gave their opinions on the student’s work.
“It seems that is where artists are des­tined to end up,” McClatchey said. “Its kind of eerie thinking about the names of those artists who passed away in Flo­rence, though. And it’s kind of sweet, but at the same time it has this dark magic about it.”
That magic that has rubbed down the walls of Flo­rence, from past to present, engulfed and imprinted its essence into McClatchey and Noman.
“Ever since going to Italy and doing that painting class I have been seeing brush strokes and colors every­where in Hillsdale,” McClatchey said.
McClatchey and Noman will be show­casing their land­scapes in the upcoming student art show.