(Water)coloring outside the lines: giardino raffigurato

Day 2: Part of my project here is to continue to use painting as a means to make the Giardino dell’Eden visible, despite the barriers. I am not the first artist to take up this subject, nor am I the first painter to explore this island. A very famous forebear, Joseph  Mallord William Turner, created Moonrise, La Giudecca, in 1829. This luminous watercolour, worked with coloured crayon, captures the glowing, rosy quality of Venetian architecture, like so many cubic peaches, and the beautiful interplay of light from the sky and light reflected in the water.

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I too plan to use watercolour and a small format to help paint my way to the Eden garden. For each day of my residency here, I will trace a line, through walking, to the garden, or more precisely to a location on the perimeter of the garden.

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Day 2 of Cynthia Hammond’s Giudecca residency, showing a 1.6 km walk to the Eden Garden.

There, I will bring my kit (a painter’s stool, 140-lbs cold pressed watercolour paper, brushes, colours, pencils and pens), and work on at least two images: one depicting what I can see, and a second depicting what I cannot. I will in this way take up the tradition of painting en plein air, which fell out of favour once colour photography became easily accessible. But I will also play with that tradition, as what I will be depicting at least half the time will be something I cannot see: the interior of the garden as it is, or as it was.

Because of the tension between the visible and the invisible, I will focus part of each walk as well on the haptic and sensory aspects of my destination. As sounds and scents are free to come and go from the garden, the sense of hearing, smell, taste and possibly touch are important registers for its presence.

I made today’s walk in the mid-afternoon sunshine, heading for the one accessible garden wall found in a public green space located south of the Quartieri E Centri Civici. I set up my kit in the shade of the wall that borders the public green to the south, enclosing a cluster of private apartments that face the lagoon. Positioning myself between two locked gates in that wall, I expected to have visitors coming in or out, but none passed me (although I did hear people pausing behind me as I painted). My sensory log reads:

“The south western tip of the Giardino Eden is not a quiet place in terms of sound. The mechanical system for the housing projects around me contains continuously whirring fans. A generator or engine of some kind gives off a constant, dull roar, intermingling with the birdsong, the motors of passing boats, and an occasional plane. Since arriving I have seen no one, except several frightened, feral cats. One dashed past me as I sat on my painter’s stool, slung low to the ground, part of its tail missing, scratching the flagstones with its rough paws. Further away I heard and saw a clutch of small dogs running joyfully and peeing in an adjacent courtyard. I smell sweet white oleander, because I am sitting under an oleander tree. But I also smell the little white daisies that dust this field, and the robust clover. It is not only grass growing in the field next to me, which I assume is mown every few weeks, or maybe months, as despite the density and diversity of plants the growth is no more than 1.5 feet high. The slightly damp stones and concrete beneath and beside me are also giving up an earthy, porous scent as the sun heats the area. And on the way here, and from time to time when the wind drops, the imperfect sewer system that must be attached to the housing complex makes its presence known. The sounds of the mechanical systems are constant. But so are the sounds of the birds.”

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