What was your best art experience while travelling?

“Study for the chimpanzee” by Francis Bacon. As usual, the reproduction colour is not right, the canvas is actually a gorgeous red/pink.
My daughter, Julia, is backpacking her way through South America right now. On her very first day, she went to an art museum in Bogota and saw some Botero and Bacon. (Try saying that quickly three times!) Obviously, my parenting work is done here, since my kids love art even when not being nagged about it.
I have so many great memories of art I’ve seen while travelling. I couldn’t take my eyes off an extraordinary Francis Bacon painting of an ape on a bright pink background at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice.  I saw a huge Ed Ruscha retrospective at the Whitney in New York City that made me fall utterly in love with his charming and intelligent work. And I went to Palm Springs just to see a show of Wayne Thiebaud work, where his confectionary colours and lush paint application seemed to fit perfectly with the artificiality of an oasis city in the desert.
However I think that my best art moment came 10 years ago in Milano. After touring through Italy and seeing the wonders of ornate cathedrals and dark Renaissance masterpieces we were drawn to a strange anomaly: a Whitney show of American art which had travelled to Italy. We wandered through the bright lights and white walls which contrasted completely with the dark spaces we had been touring. The kids laughed at giant Oldenburg food sculptures, while Pat contemplated a Lee Krasner work that vengefully dwarfed the Jackson Pollock beside it. I recognized artist after artist that I had been studying at art school, this was a greatest hits collection of the rich period of American art in the 50’s and 60’s.

Mark Rothko, in living colour
Afterwards, as we relaxed in an outdoor patio with fizzy Italian drinks, we compared notes. “What was your favourite painting?” is a question I often ask the kids.  Amazingly, Pat, Julia and I all liked the same painting: an absolutely luminous Mark Rothko. I can’t even remember exactly which one it was, but the yellow on the canvas glowed so brightly, you were drawn to it from across the room. We all agreed, it was the best painting we had seen that day.

I remember being impressed that we could all love a simple abstraction so much, and also shocked that a painting I had seen in books could be a thousand times more beautiful in real life. Even now, looking back, I remember a certain happiness, perhaps at seeing something new and yet familiar, something simple and  modern after so much ornate history, or perhaps just a connection to North America while we were so far from home.

Bacon, Rothko and….me? Yikes.
This brings me to the May contest.  I wanted to know, what was your best art experience while travelling?
I have the appropriate prize for this contest, a painting using the topographical maps I got through the kindness of Natural Resources. However this photo shows a work in progress, I’m not quite finished the painting yet, so it will still change, hopefully for the better…but who knows. 
It measures 8” x 8” or 20cm by 20cm. Anyone can enter, even if you’ve won before. You can enter in the blog comments, on facebook, or send me an email at mat@matart.ca, I will summarize the comments at the end of May and have a draw for the map painting then. 
One question came up about why I’m running contests, and I’m not trying to promote anything; I just wanted to give a little art to people who want it. Good luck!

8 thoughts on “What was your best art experience while travelling?

  1. Seeing Guernica at the Reina Sofia in Madrid made me think differently about the power of art to create cultural touchstones. The painting was constantly surrounded by a crowd about 50, almost all of them Spaniards. People would look on in respectful silence for a few minutes and then move on. They already knew what the painting meant because their parents and grandparents had lived through those terrible times. It was if they weren't looking in order to understand the painting but instead were using it as a reminder of what can happen when we lose our capacity for empathy. I think that this kind of secular worship gives a culture a moral foundation that surpasses any flag waving or anthem singing.

  2. The nice practical thing about Guernica is how big it is. When you see the Mona Lisa, everyone is shocked by how small it is and there's always a pushy crowd around it. But with Guernica, not only can you see it from afar, but as you noted, you can see the reactions of people to the art as well, which adds ro the experience.

  3. Sometimes you can find the most beautiful things where you don't expect them. So my best art experience isn't a famous one. When visiting The Forbidden City I encountered a local artist who spent his days painting there. I was struck by a painting of a detail of a gate, a handle shaped like a dragon head. I ended up buying it. I don't travel much unfortunately but whenever I travel and something catches my attention I buy it. On a trip to Wales I bought a lithography which depicts the local beach, by coincidence the one I visited, covered in snow. The first snow that part of Wales had seen in years. They're better memories than pictures to me.

  4. I have had so many unforgetable art experiences abroad but the one that comes immediately to mind is one I had close to home in Victoria at the Gallery there. I found myself completely alone in the little room devoted to Emily Carr. As I looked at her work and read the information I found myself in a complete state of emotional overwhelm. I was grateful to be alone as if anyone had peered in they would have oberved me with tears streaming down my face. I suddenly had this deep feeling of understanding. That's really the only way I can describe the experience. It was so profound. Oddly enough, when I was much younger I was always very uncomfortable around her work as it evoked a feeling of fear and dread in me. Now 35 years later I feel a quiet sense of wonder.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing your intense experience, Marianne. One of the things about aging is how we see things differently, I wonder if we have new insights or we become more empathetic. I hope that our art can become much better as we age and learn both how to refine our skills and intensify the emotion in our work.

  6. How lucky you were to go to China, I intend to go sometime. I think that making a human connection while we travel is so important, as you did with the artist. And now you have art for souvenirs, to remind you of your travels while you're at home.

  7. Totally agree, as I get older I react less and respond more to life in general and just am more comfortable with who I am. I think that difference for me allows me to be much more open to what happens with my own art making and it also allows me to see other artist's work differntly. I just don't force anything anymore. Umm maybe that's why I haven't created much lately!!!LOL

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