Italy, Winter 2018, Simply Singers Choir
"What is this?" Gulliver said, standing up in his dream a few steps from the precipice.
The beach down below was riddled with stranded logs and ropes from a wrecked ship.
"Answer by yourself." The creature voice was calm and hollow.
"It's a limit." He said.
"It's an edge." The voice still calm and hollow. "Living close to the edge makes your vision clearer. Tell me what you see from where you are."
"I see the waters and the beach. Everything is littered with garbage, flotsam and junks from Lilliput."
"Now walk farther and tell me what you see."
Gulliver stepped onto the very edge of the cliff. The wind was just a whisper. Suddenly the abyss was close, closer than ever before.
"What do you see now?"
As he closed his eyes, Gulliver said: "Where Lilliput sees garbage, ropes and waste, I can now see a ship I could build and sail away with. I see my freedom."
And then quietly the creature said.
"Some ships are made from wood and ropes, you are right."
The voice was still.
"Be careful though. Some ships are woven from just tears and wind…"
Thus I was writing just a week before the first Wildlife Drawing Masterclass in Italy with the great Scottish artist Keith Brockie, organized by Arts&Conservation, the society/workgroup/workshop Silvana Grimaldi, Simonetta Volpe, Marco Preziosi and me co-founded.
In a few days we would have been honoured not only of creating images together with one of the greatest wildlife artist in the world, but even of sharing whole days with him. Taking part to his first wildlife drawing workshop in Italy, we would have been privileged witnesses of how are created in the field the works of a master of our times art.
The whole masterclass idea originated from several trips to Scotland and from three weeklong stays on the Isle of May, a scottish island in the North Sea, home to thousands and thousands of seabirds in their breeding season. Lots of Keith Brockie's masterpieces were born on the Isle, several of them collected in two beautiful books: One Man's Island and Return to One Man's Island. On this island we had the privilege of meeting the artist and to begin our friendship.
The secluded and yet sparkling with life atmosphere of May, the feeling part of a pristine and splendid environment had a first place role in the birth of Arts&Conservation. We were convinced, by experimenting it in person, that the will to preserve the nature may well be born in every single person immersing oneself in it. Staying day after day in an intact ecosystem let very intense emotions surface. The desire to share what one feels comes from deep inside, together with the will to preserve what one have learned to love.
Now, every person has his own emotions and builds up his own background in very singular ways. What the whole May's experience and Keith Brockie's art gave rise to in a fifty years old photographer (e.g.) may very well not be universal at all…
This is the reason I publish first this image (photo © Silvana Grimaldi) with Keith Brockie (second line, sitting in the center with a tartan shirt), taken at the end of the conference with students and teachers of Liceo Artistico di Sulmona (Sulmona Art High School).
The impact of being allowed to see his originals at close quarters, of being allowed to ask about techniques and emotions, about the kind of colours used and about self-expression has been very strong. Outstanding have been the many and disparate questions, the selfies (!), the autographs, and above all the final atmosphere of curiosity and interest. This showed us that, may they not be universal, but the emotions I was talking about before are truly shared by lots of people…
As Keith said frequently: you can just teach a little and just to a point, the rest is up to you, starting from the will to learn. We got a further teaching, during the week together and this one came without words: every inspiration comes from an encounter, every encounter comes from you being there, present and receptive. Toward nature as toward people…
Answering to a question about talent asked during a common meal at the course, Keith said that "you have something to start from", and probably this is not about technical skills, but more about a will to start and keep working, practising practising practising. The technical skills will come from this unrelenting making space to observation and exercise. It's not about a innate talent, then, but about a work ethic. We would witness the constant application of this method by Keith himself during the whole week we spent together.
Arts&Conservation begun to set up the event with this very things in mind: to try and create the chances for an encounter, for an "enlight" experience that might inspire people and leave tracks for everyone to remember and than possibly "bend" according to his own choices.
The first stop of Keith Brockie's trip in Italy was in Riserva Naturale Regionale - Oasi WWF Gole del Sagittario, situated in a Sito d'Importanza Comunitario (SIC IT7110099) in Comune of Anversa degli Abruzzi (Aq). The Reserve director Filomena Ricci e Piercarlo Di Giambattista (nella foto sopra è il secondo da sinistra in prima fila), president of Cooperativa Sociale Daphne, which operates in the Reserve management, greeted us with marvelous and warm thoughtfulness, giving us accomodations and making our work easy. Their advice and hospitality made Keith stay in Abruzzo pleasant and productive. The long hours spent in drawing red billed choughs and crag martins on the edge of a cliff changed the rhythm from the frenzy of the city and car driving to the deep breath of nature.
Drawing means to observe for a long time, before even to just think to rest the pencil point on the paper. Keith said several times that from this an identification process is started fusing in a single living reality the subject and the artist. The contact created in this way becomes emotion first and then memory, something not easily forgotten.
The power of visual arts portraying nature is great. The deep emotions they give rise to are so intense to inspire the will to preserve what one experiments on a personal plan to share it with others. It's not about the conservation of artworks in museum and galleries to admire them in the ages: it's all about to preserve untouched the source of their inspiration, to let nature live and keep us alive, in the most complete sense of the term.
This is very different from a disembodied romantic ideal, some sort of idealistic daydream with no real impact whatsoever, by artist sheltered in their studios, well protected from the external world. Keith Brockie has been involved since many years in concrete actions pro environment conservation. He took active part in the osprey reintroduction in Scotland, building and guarding artificial nests, protecting them from eggs collectors and poaching, working along scientific organizations gathering datas, ringing and tracking with GPS devices the migratory routes of the new born raptors. In Pertshire, the Scotland region he lives in, Keith personally looks after 40 pairs of ospreys.
Creating wildlife art is never detached from acting in favour of nature conservation. Art, in fact, enhances the public awareness about conservation issues bringing them to a much larger audience through the beauty of its creations. The environmental sciences have an essential ally in art and in its ability to translate conservation issues in a more largely accessible language. It's in mankind own interest to live in an intact environment and, to make this interest evident and central, it is pivotal that people get moved from deep inside, emotionally involved and moved by the will to understand and preserve. In the struggle for nature conservation the micro- and macro-behaviour changes are essential, from personal awareness to international politics choices.
The capacity of art to be nature and its conservation ambassador gave good proof of itself in the meeting with Liceo Artistico of Sulmona students, during the second stage of Keith Brockie's trip in Italy. The meeting, as already said, was very intense and the participation active and strong. I only would like to add that, way beyond the multimedia media utilized, what really "worked" and involved the public was to have the chances to talk with Keith in person and to admire at very close quarters the many sketches and watercolours he brought along. In fact, the be an eye witness is a winner in communication matters.
Young generations sensibility, their will to create for themselves a less "standardized" future and the richness of their contributes are strongly undervalued, probably… And the art has and will have a lot to say here, either.
The next stage of the trip was in Tuscany Maremma, at WWF Reserves of Lago di Burano and of Orbetello. After Abruzzo mountain ranges, the coastal lakes and Orbetello lagoon. Here our amphitryon was Fabio Cianchi, Burano Orbetello and Rocconi WWF Reserves Director. His constant presence and advice really made our days. One episode among many: the unforgettable boat trip on the Burano lake at sunset, in a splendid light, while on the horizon lightnings fell from an overcoming black tempest front and migrants flocks flew by looking for a shelter for the night…
From Holy Friday to Easter Sunday Keith would have tought the Masterclass. He personally choose among the several proposed locations the ones fitting the most for his work with the italian artists who were already arriving at the Casale Giannella.
The attention Keith put in picking the places revealed, beyond the thoughtfulness in offering an intense experience to the participants, a fundamental aspect of wildlife art: drawing in the field. This would be one of the strongholds of the Keith's workshop: not using photographs or videos, not drawing animals never seen in person (e.g.: exotics), but observe and draw animals you are looking at, right in front of you (through field scopes or binoculars, if necessary).
Keith would stress several times the reasons behind this choice. The most important is probably the "transfert" between animal and artist during the process of direct observation. Witnessing the variety of behaviours an animal shows in nature gives to the observer a chance to get a first hand idea of the subject "character". He would catch typical "poses" during feeding, courtship, parental cares, territorial defense, interaction with other individuals and different species etc. This will take hours of patient observation of the same subject in the field, resulting in a non occasional knowledge, through the means of eyes and of pencil strokes on the paper. Keith insisted on the memory effect of the observation practise, a knowledge which accumulates in time allowing a real rendering of the subject in the artworks. Keith accented sternly the experience you have in nature, on the harmonizing coming from the patient permanence in the same environment of the animal you wish to portray.
Other reasons included the idea that to draw from a photograph basically means to work on choices made by another author about composition and interpretation; further more in a photo the process of going from tridimensional reality to bidimensional art is already accomplished, bypassing for you the passage from volume to shape.
We would have a very practical demonstration of this "theories" during the masterclass. After a brief introduction, Keith immediately brought the participants in the field to draw their first subject: the flamingoes. Unique advice was: draw what you see, not what you know…
This would have been repeated again with the next (and main) subject the day after: the herons at their roost.
And further more during the session with dead animals, retrieved and preserved by WWF. In this last case, Keith stressed the importance of making sketches and studies of particulars, as beaks, legs, articulations, plumage, to be used and modified for successive artworks.
During the "indoor" session we all lived a very moving moment when Keith went from one of his heron sketches to the final watercolour. The emotion to watch such a Master painting coming to life with my own eyes has been deep. And the silence and concentration of the participants made it even deeper. We all were witnesses of something unexpected and priceless…
We had lots of eye-opening moments, most of them difficult or outmost impossible to tell. This convince me further more of the value of this experience: it had many levels, from technical to interior, from meeting a master to the upbringing of new ideas and friendships. You should have been there to experience the full force of it! Words are simply not adequate…
In this image (photo © Silvana Grimaldi) is shown the final stage of the course with the "critique" of the three days work.
It was a moment of reflections and emotions, not only for the natural tension of showing your works to Keith Brockie, but above all for Keith's words and advices, so empathic and honest. And everybody realized that while the craft (the techniques) received corrections and suggestions, the "art" part (the art everyone personally expressed in the drawings) only received words of appreciation and encouragement.
And thus the circle came to its close: that "something" intimate whom everyone is driven to create by is expressed in the constant will to keep in practising the creation…
To tell the nature in this way has meant many things: to immerse in it, to let it fill you up, pacify you and in that calmness meet other living beings (men and otherwise), learn, appreciate and will to preserve…
It was an honour, for all and each one. After these premises how could we not have further appointments?