Pastel Painting – The Scala Contarini Del Bovolo during Venice Carnevale

During Carnival this year, I hosted an artist friend of mine, Marie Matthews for a couple of weeks at my rented apartment in Venice.  Marie and I went down to San Marco almost every morning to photograph the costumes.  These costumes are very elaborate, and take their wearers months to make, in most cases.  Most of them adhere to the styles of the 18th Century, tho there are some variations (for instance, a man dressed all in silver, portraying a time traveller).

One morning, when all of us – myself, Marie, my wife and our grandson – got up before dawn and went down to San Marco, Jeanne and Marie decided to go off on their own after the sun rose and the costumes drifted away, while I took Connor back to the apartment.  They wandered all around, Marie in her costume, Jeanne with our camera, and had several adventures which Jeanne has written about here.


One of the places they explored was the staircase of the Contarini house, which is spiral, like the shell of a snail, which is where it got its name – bovolo.  It’s a bit hard to find.  You have to turn down a narrow street that takes a blind turn, and then another narrow street which opens out on a small campo with the usual well head in the middle of it.  After taking several photos of the building and campo, they began to wander off, but met some of the very costumed figures we had just photographed at San Marco, coming back to their rented apartment to divest themselves and perhaps take a nap.  It turned out that they were Americans teaching in Germany, and were very forthcoming.  They’d been coming to Carnival in Venice for years, and always rented the apartment in the campo.  Marie, a novice at carnival costumes, took the opportunity to ask questions about their costumes, such as, “How do you get the neck drapery to stick around your mask?” “Glue gun.”  And, “Where do you get the hoops for your skirt?” “Turkey.”


They followed the costumed figures back to the Bovolo, where Jeanne took more photos, and thus was the idea for a painting formed.


The first thing I did was to make a pastel painting of one of the costumed figures as she unlocked the door to their house and went in.  I was enchanted by the view of the stairs behind her, and the look of invitation in her mask, tho she might well have been desiring only to be alone so she could remove the pounds of unwieldy costume.  I used a sheet of the paper I made and brought with me from home.  This painting is 8.5″x11″.


Then I made some studies of the costumes with pastel on handmade paper, also 8.5″x11″.


These figures were photographed on a nearby street, where they were first encountered, and so I left out the background to focus on the details of their costumes.  They were already very familiar, since I had photographed them in San Marco.  I don’t need to tell you that I used handmade paper, because you can see by the ragged edges that I made it by hand.


The next step was to get out a full sheet of Fabriano paper – 22″x30″, and start with the graphite drawing.  At first I only sketched in the details of the staircase and the house next to it, and concentrated on placing the figures.  I had decided to use all the figures that my wife had photographed near the house, instead of sifting thru all the hundreds of photos we had taken of figures at San Marco, and perhaps including people who weren’t staying there.  This was of minor importance, as we had formed the plan of giving a print of the final painting to the costumed figures, who had kindly given my wife a card so we could contact them.


However faint the drawing looks on the computer screen, it was dark enough for me to be satisfied with the proportions and placement, and to begin work in color.


I started with pastel pencils, which will take an edge, and put in the details bit by bit.


On a whim, I included a picture of Marie in the upper window, as I had plenty of photos of her in her costume.  The pose I used was taken at the top of the Rialto bridge, but that’s the wonderful thing about art – it’s better than reality.


The painting went thru several more stages than I managed to take photos of, but the finished painting is here.  When I get home, I suspect I will do a much larger painting, to do justice to the wealth of detail I couldn’t capture with pastel on paper, but we will see about that.


Here are some details of the figures.  The objects they are standing near are carved well heads, called pozzo in Italian.  They are everywhere in Venice, and it seems the people who own the Bovolo are particularly fond of them, because there is a collection of them in the yard.  None of them work, of course, as all the wells in Venice were capped when the city began getting its water piped in from the nearby alps.


Here is my tribute to Marie, without whom I would never have gotten up before dawn to go take pictures.



Going thru Jim’s paintings, chapter 2 – 4

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spoiler alert:  evil clowns.

The fabulous Robert Meredith made a second visit to Jim’s studio yesterday, in search of the important paintings this time.  Last time he came out here for the small works, and got distracted; this time he was distracted by Jim’s etchings and prints as well.

They started in the bedroom, where the light was good, and Jim showed him some of his prints that he has been keeping in the studio, mostly recent studies for larger paintings.

Here is Bob taking a picture of one of the studies for the graphic novel Jim will be working on in the near future.  Jim is still eating his breakfast.  In the background is a painting Bob absolutely hates.

Up in the attic, where most of Jim’s work is stored, Bob took a picture of Jim with the plaster statue of a water-bearer.  He has the mold made from this plaster statue, and has arranged to borrow back the bronze made from it, so he can show the process.  Bob wants to show only the masterworks, but we also discussed showing the process of making art, in recognition of the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art‘s tradition of visits by kids.

These are a few fragments from a tableau Jim did 30 years ago, that has been partially dismantled.  We were considering putting it back together and using it in the show.  It depends on whether we can get hold of the mirror/glass that used to go around the outside.

Here is the source of Bob’s distraction.  Jim must have several hundred prints and etchings in the attic, most of them uncatalogued.  Once Bob found them, he couldn’t contain his enthusiasm.  He calls Jim the best etcher in the Southeast.  It was funny seeing him go thru the stacks and exclaim and gesture.  Every stack has better work than the last, and we had to keep him from venturing into dangerous parts of the attic to look at more stacks.

Then he moved to the stacks of paintings that fill three sides of the huge attic space.  He was entranced by this painting of Moses.

This triptych of the labyrinths of Minos is especially interesting.  It’s egg tempera.

Most of the works you see here are likely to be in the show.  We only took pictures of the ones Bob was particularly enthusiastic about.  But he took 60 pictures the last time he was in Jim’s studio, and about the same this time, and there are only 14 walls in the museum, so it’s likely that many of the pictures you see here won’t be represented in January.  However, that’s the process.

Bob could hardly contain himself when he saw this koi painting.

And he loved this one of Jim’s model Margaret with a fan.  Unfortunately, Jim spotted some mold damage that looks like it’s in the paint, so he’s not really sure what he can do about it.

This is a very old painting, done in the ’70s.  But Bob loved it for its impact from across the room.  He wants the paintings in the show to reach out and hit the viewer.  According to him, the problem with Jim’s work is that it’s so detailed and impactful that if you bunch it all together you get overloaded too fast, so he wants to use a balance of busy and big.

After awhile Bob had to get off his feet.  We were up in the attic for hours, and it got hot after awhile.

But it was really good to see old friends having fun together, sharing their favorite subject in the world – art.

But enough was enough, and we all had to take a coffee break after awhile.  So while they’re resting, let’s look at some of the prints Bob pulled.

This is actually a drawing on brown paper, a study for an etching that he’s not really sure where is.  From the early ’70s, the first one of the big etching he did.  It would be interesting to stumble upon a proof of the print.

One of a series of six etchings of antique dolls that Jim did for Transart Publishing in the early ’80s.  Their customers bought up the entire edition and it was sold out, but Jim still has a few proofs.  Somewhere.

Fairy tales being a kind of mythology, Jim has had some interest in those, and done several paintings and etchings over the years based on fairy tale stories.  Dig the textures on the frog.

This image was eventually printed as a color etching, and worked out nicely.  It gives people nightmares.

All the boy clowns are having a great time, but nobody’s paying attention to the partially nude girl.  Maybe they’re gay.  Gay clowns, geddit?

Many happy figures.  This finished etching was made as a very long scroll of both etchings and woodcuts.  Early ’70s.

A variation on a renaissance style crucifixion, but it’s done with all scarecrows; there’s not a single living person in it.  Etching, mid ’70s.

Both this and the one below were done as a series of decorative landscape prints for Transart in the mid ’80s

A fair number of Jim’s etchings are in color, not as many as his black and white etchings, but they really stand out.

One of a large series of monoprints based on circus characters that Jim did in thruout the ’70s.  An image is painted directly on an unetched plate and then transferred to paper with the etching press.  Jim always pulled a single print and then washed the plate off.

This color etching, also reproduced by Transart,  Many of these girls were members of the Atlanta Ballet, where Jim would go to do studies several times a month.  ’70s.

This is a large, full sized paintings.  One of the most complex of the ballet paintings he did, based from images drawn from both the Atlanta Ballet and the Sandy Springs Ballet companies.  Pastel on board, late ’70s.

This was to be a full-sized wall mural, but the commission was never finalized, and so he has this painting instead.  There are several walls around Atlanta that still have murals on them from this period of Jim’s work.  Late ’80s or early ’90s.  A lot of costumes were borrowed (and returned freshly laundered) from woodcuts by Albrecht Durer.

In gothic imagery, it was understood that frogs spewing out of a person’s mouth represented heresy.  Jim still finds it a fascinating symbol.  Acrylic on panel, early ’70s.

This mermaid was made in the mid ’80s, just because Jim was having a really good time working with found objects as well as creating acrylic figures.

This is one of a number of mermaids Jim did trying to think out the image of a very large mermaid sculpture that he was asked to do for a hotel in the Caribbean some designer asked him to do.  The finished sculpture was six feet tall, in bronze, and completed in an edition of two or three.  These little studies were thinking out the process of what the mermaid should look like.  Since it took a lot of room to do a six foot plaster sculpture, he did it in the kitchen of his newly bought house, and then sent the plaster out to a casting studio in Canton, GA to do the actual mold and sculpture.   Done in the mid ’80s.

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Works on Paper 2 – Asha

On Friday February 12, from 7-10pm, Jim Yarbrough is opening his new exhibit at Mason Murer Fine Art, 199 Armour Drive, in Atlanta.

Below are some of the works on paper he will be showing.  They are drawings and preliminary paintings of his friend Asha, a belly dancer of renown.

If you are interested in any of these paintings, please contact Jim for more information.