Last July, I shared the first ten pictures of my Venice series. Here’s the next batch.
Please note that I will not be giving away pictures in 2020 due to the pandemic. Eventually, the ones I’m introducing here will be offered, but over the next few months I’ll be using them to create a virtual exhibition (more about new projects at the bottom of the article).
The Spring Lockdown
Early on in the pandemic, Italy was severely hit; and now they have the highest death rate for the coronavirus in Europe. But, in the springtime, Venice was locked down and cases dropped. Without masses of people outside, this already picturesque city took on a more poignant beauty, which I tried to capture.
“Pandemic Calm” (#11 below) is one of my favorites. When I look at it, I’m drawn to peacefulness and think about the people isolated behind all those windows. The colors convey a mellow, tranquil vibe and a sense of loneliness. Are those essential workers on that boat?
Earlier, I painted #3 (below left) that shows parked gondolas. The setting is vibrant, the vessels are ready for passengers and the windblown harbor is dynamic. In contrast, “Lockdown Gondolas” (#12 right) shows them fully covered, the golden foreground is shallow, and the canal is a still, tropical aqua—a more tranquil view.
Similarly, the two depictions below of the Rialto Bridge are subtly different. The flooded scene (#8 left) is drab and feels threatening as the water rises above the doorsteps. Conversely, the lockdown version (#13) offers clear skies, bright colors, and serene reflections. There are no signs of people or boats in the first because of the storm, and in the second because of the coronavirus.
On a personal note, I’ve had a lockdown mentality since March. I only go out (always masked) for bike rides along the coast, to walk the dog, or on rare errands or appointments. I say hello to neighbors at a distance when I shoot baskets in the driveway or take out the trash, but the rest of my socializing is virtual. Although we had a few safely-distanced visitors over the summer, I haven’t been around anyone other than Lindsey since then. Like nearly everyone else, this is the most seclusion I’ve ever experienced. Fortunately, I like it!
Nowadays, only occasionally do I consider mortality—especially with the election a done deal—and spend much more time contemplating the various paintings I’m working on at any given time. I may wake up in the middle of the night and my mind jumps to which canvas I’ll work on next or what to do about a particular area that doesn’t seem right.
For example, #15 (below left) is essentially the same view as #11, but the palette includes some different colors, such as Sap Green—prominent in the reflections. Just to include that hue took me days of consideration. In the detailed area (right), the brightness of that particular green is more apparent, and it really seems to ground the picture. Also, notice how attention is drawn to the rowboat by the only pure white on the canvas. These are the kinds of thoughts I have in the hot tub—hmm, maybe more white on the boat.
There’s a good reason why “Beautiful Day Lockdown” (#17 below) is obviously the brightest of the collection. Painted during the NBA playoffs, my enthusiasm for basketball is translated here. In the midst of the pandemic, the NBA bubble provided me and Lindsey with optimism and connection to something outside of our personal circle other than disease and the political horror show. Plus, we were ecstatic when the Lakers won the championship!
More from George & Claude
As I’ve previously mentioned, I found many of the photographs I used for this series online and manipulated them all one way or another. My friend George also provided me access to a trove of vacation pictures. “Gondolier George” (below right), offers a counterpoint to what he would probably call “Gondolier Leigh” (left) from a photo I took in 2003. Mine is more about the riders. An art critic might ask, Why are the passengers sitting apart? Lovers quarrel in metaphorical choppy waters? George’s conveys solitude and mystery. What’s on the other side of the bridge? Covid-19? Death? Hope?
You may recall from “Painting in a Pandemic” that this project was initially a follow up to “My Year of Monet,” who visited Venice when he was my age. One of George’s photos reminded me of Monet’s “San Georges at Dusk” (below left). The church tower in #16 is on the nearby island of San Michele.
Although I started the year with Venice, I figured I’d soon move on to something else. But any dreams of traveling to interesting sites quickly vanished. While looking online for more images, I found photos of the flooding that Venice experienced in November, 2019. That’s when I decided to expand my vision to include works that would be more thematic. My goal was to provide a visual comment on the effects of global warming.
Of course, my 2020 themes evolved: Monet, climate change, and the pandemic. These are all somehow evocative in the final three paintings. “Arches Framing San Giorgio Maggiore” (below) presents a picture in a picture. Monet finished five paintings of this church, and I was standing right there in 2003 when I took the photo I used for #3. Then, as in normal times, this scene would be bustling with tourists, but in 2020 it was empty. The arches isolate the viewer from the outside world, much like when I look out at the street from our kitchen window.
Many of Monet’s Venice pictures are hazy, and I emulated some of his techniques in “Covid Fog” (below). However, I was not merely trying to create atmosphere. After a summer drop in cases, Italy’s situation worsened in September, when I started this composition. Unfortunately, that surge has continued unabated, even as I write. This is no ordinary fog, it a treacherous murkiness, the sky is filled with the virus. Each stroke represents those particles. Other than that, it’s a pretty cool picture and was a lot of fun to paint!
In October, Venice encountered abnormally high tides. When the flood sirens went off, 78 giant barriers rose at the Venetian lagoon’s three main entrance points. In development since 1984 and being used for the first time, the results of the “MOSE” system were generally successful. Most of the city stayed relatively drier than usual, but St. Mark’s Square was nonetheless calf-deep in water as it had been a year ago (#7).
“Venice Storm” evokes my fears for Venice, which exists precariously on the edge of destruction. Rising oceans, higher tides, and more severe storms are on the way due to climate change. I hate to even imagine that my paintings might still exist after the city itself, which leads to my next project.
I’m not done with Venice! All 20 of these paintings have the same 28″ x 22″ format. Now, I’ve combined six such canvases to create a seven-foot-wide hexaptych featuring the façade of the Doge’s Palace. This masterpiece of architecture, construction of which began in 1370, has been repeatedly damaged by severe weather. But it may be doomed. My depiction of it flooded (below in progress) has been heartfelt. Although I’m not shy about creating a legacy with my paintings, I’m disturbed as I paint and consider the tragedy the world would face by the loss of this iconic structure and the exquisite city in which it sits.
Wait, there’s more! These 20 individual paintings fill the walls of our converted garage, but I really wish they could be seen in a gallery. Instead, I’m creating a virtual exhibition, “Painting Venice in a Pandemic.” This short film will showcase the entire Venice series, the process behind “The Doge Palace Flooded” hexaptych, my untold Venice love story, home movies, and an in-house soundtrack. Scheduled for a Spring release. I also hope to announce the next painting give away offer at that time.
Until then, stay safe, be well, and know that better days are coming in 2021.