Life-lasting lessons in the Eternal City

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Going to Rome on the Go Abroad Fund presented me with a thrilling opportunity on many levels – the chance to experience a city I had dreamt of, but never been in, partake in a course in a deep passion of mine (oil painting) and study the art of great masters in the city’s cultural institutions, all the while educating myself. After weeks of planning, I headed to Rome on my own for three weeks May-June 2015 with my brushes packed, and with a grin of excitement across my face, ready to paint and learn in this city radiating with history. And learn indeed I did – about history, painting and myself. Whereas I expected to gain skills relating to painterly techniques, as well as an enriched understanding of the history of western art through indulging in cultural richness on offer, what I didn’t quite expect was how much I would learn about myself as a person.

In the mornings, I attended my portrait oil painting class at Atelier Canova, in which we were instructed through traditional oil painting methods through working sight-size from a model. There were only 2 students (myself included), which meant both of us were given extensive individual attention from the teacher. What I knew about painting intuitively, or what I thought I knew about painting, was taken to square one. The method we followed was very systematic, almost mathematic, from measuring the model’s proportions using a plumb line to make a charcoal drawing, to mixing colour and matching them to life, to using mirrors to work out shadow shapes, and finally painting starting from larger shapes and progressing into details. Having such a structure was very refreshing and allowed me to approach painting in a different manner, more than anything, allowing me to really train my skills of observation and exercising a constantly critical eye to my own work. The discipline inherent in the process is definitely something I can from now on always apply to my future practice.

Having morning lessons meant afternoons were left free for exploration. During this time I visited museums such as the Vatican Museums, the Capitoline Museums, the Galleria Borghese (and the list goes on) where I tried to absorb as much Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Bernini and Raphael as one person possibly could, and could make liaisons about what I was creating in the mornings and what had been created by the greatest artists of history. Throughout my time I also made unexpected discoveries about myself. I became more aware of my independence, the responsibility and freedom I had to make decisions, as well as the pleasure I gained in being on my own.

Rome: a city we know all too well from postcards, films and history (even if we’ve never been there) – defined in the collective conscience by the Colosseum and ‘Come stai?’s, the piazzas and pizzas – after my experiences, resonates with me on a much more personal and profound level beyond the touristic and the pictorial.

Glazed in Roman sunshine

Glazed in Roman sunshine

Mapping out a charcoal drawing from model

Mapping out a charcoal drawing from model

The model, my finished portrait and myself

The model, my finished portrait and myself

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