Your experiences with art and travel

I love to travel and I love to see new art when I travel, and it seems I’m not the only one. In this blog post are the answers to the May/June contest question, “What was your best art experience while travelling?”
I was amazed at the detailed answers I got, the question seemed to stir up the wonderful trip memories. Emi wrote that she made the subject the topic of a dinner conversation and I got three great entries as a result.
Some people had their best encounters with art in Europe, where treasures of art exist both inside and outside the museums.
Amy wrote:
My best art experience while traveling was my very first art experience while traveling–and maybe my first real art experience ever (I don’t count being dragged to art museums during field trips, because no one ever pays attention during field trips). My sister was studying abroad in Spain during my junior year of high school, and I went to visit her for two weeks. It was my first big solo trip traveling anywhere at all, and I was excited to go to Europe. My sister and I spent several days in Madrid, and she took me to the Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen museums. While I was just wandering aimlessly around the Prado, not really sure what I was looking at because I was just seventeen and surrounded by surrealism, I saw Máxima Velocidad de la Madonna de Rafael. I loved it because it was like I was looking at Raphael’s painting, except it had been painted over with some blues and some spheres of other colors. For me, it was the perfect mixture of the realism in Renaissance paintings with something new, bright, and different. I must have looked at that painting for at least ten minutes, trying to absorb every detail and facet of it. I bought a postcard of the painting in the gift shop and tucked it away inside my photo album of memories from that trip to Spain. Every once in a while, I’ll pull it out and look at the image again, and I find it as equally mesmerizing as I did then–almost ten years later. 
Salvador Dali, Máxima Velocidad de la Madonna de Rafael


Emi wrote:
I was visiting the Czech Republic where a girlfriend of mine worked for Mitsubishi Steel in Prague in 1994. We went north of Prague into the countryside. The countryside was populated with razed denuded mountains that had been mined but the place we visited was pastural. We visited a former film-maker and his wife who host a sculpture event annually where people gather and created installations that take advantage of the natural landscape. For example, creating sculptures and patterns from the earth and metal sculptures through which through the woods behind could be admired – pieces that integrated natural landscapes and were intended to make a counter statement to the destruction of the nearby exploited natural environment. It was fascinating to walk around and admire these sculptures, some of which were naturally decaying with time. Down the road, we came upon a wonderful glass exhibit in an art gallery, which had formerly been a castle. It seemed amazing to find such a rich exhibit in the middle of an isolated countryside. My mother had just begun working with glass in Japan and I was keen to appreciate the medium better. The gallery was called Klenova Castle and is located in Janovice. It is apparently one of the most famous art galleries in the Czech Republic now. Later that night, we wanted to watch a world soccer cup game but there were few pubs or restaurants in the area and they were closed. We could see a few tv screens in private homes. Instead, we sat with glasses of wine and our host shone film spotlights onto the trees above us, creating beautiful shadows, natural entertainment, and art.

PW wrote:
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.
Picasso, Guernica

Some people love to travel and find local artists, then bring home art as a lovely souvenir of their trip. Souvenir in French means to remember, and what better memory of a trip could there be than an artist’s vision and your remembrance of meeting the artist?
Caroline wrote:
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.
Liz wrote:
Oh this is easy ;). While traveling in Italy years ago I found out there was a little gallery in Vernazza. We ventured upon it after hiking the Cinque Terre and found the owner to be a most charming gentleman. To this day, the paintings that I purchased from him are my favorite reminders of his gorgeous little town and our trip to Italy with our kids years ago. Those are the paintings that I would retrieve first if God forbid my house was burning!

Others found inspiration closer to home, back here in North America.
James wrote:
When I was on duty in Ranklin Inlet in 1983 as a peace officer, I watched Adam Totalik sculpt soapstone carvings. I realize now I should have bought a sculpture but hesitated at the time because they were $90 apiece!
I also remember watching a group of 10-12 men sculpting wood figurines (elephants, giraffes, zebras) for 45 minutes while in Namibia, Africa. They were quietly focussed, occasionally sharing a joke he didn’t understand. I enjoyed the energy of their purposeful work and watching the sculptures take shape.
Eiko wrote:
In 1961, when I first came to the US from Japan, I saw a Thai art exhibit in the Seattle Museum of Art. It was not the exhibit that was significant but who I met. I was introduced to another woman, who was going to go to the same school with her and we hit it off right away. Marion and I fast became best friends and were roommates at Yale School of Design.
Marianne P. wrote:
I have had so many unforgettable 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 observed 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.

Emily Carr, Dream Picture
Thank you for sharing these lovely and thoughtful answers. From a random draw, the winner is Amy, congratulations.

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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!

What’s the first artwork you remember liking?


Yesterday I talked about the first painting I liked and today it’s your turn. In April’s contest, I asked  “What’s the first artwork you remember liking?” and I got some wonderful answers. Thanks so much to everyone who shared their memories, I think you’ll find them all inspiring. I’ve added some images to give you a taste, but unfortunately I couldn’t always find the ones you described

Some people first loved the work of very famous artists.

Valerie said: “The first art that really inspired me was Marc Chagall’s “lovers flying over the village.”  It is typically colourful and romantic but you can also barely make out a tiny figure going to the bathroom off in the field.  I love it when artists have a sense of humour!”

Caroline said: “Edgar Degas, The Dancing Class. I was about 11 years old and clueless about art. It was on a postcard you got somewhere for free. I still have the postcard.”

Toni said: “Hmmm, great question. As a kid I was totally enamored by Salvador Dali’s work…made me question perspective and view the world through a more colourful lens.”


Others liked the art they were exposed to at home.

Malia said: “I always really liked the art prints from the 60s and 70s that my mother had on the walls of our house. The most intriguing one, though, was definitely the grey and black Saito print of a woman with a green gem on her finger–muted tones with a particularly memorable contrasting focus point. It definitely piqued my interest in print making that I have maintained (though not necessarily practiced myself) since then. It was also a neat surprise when I eventually found out that Kiyoshi Saito was a well-known Japanese print artist. Thinking about the picture always reminds me of home.”


Lesley said: “Both of my grandmothers were amateur artists, painting landscapes & still lifes once they became empty-nesters in the 70s. Their paintings were all over our home growing up. But the painting I first remember loving was one that hung in my grandmother’s home, on a skinny wall just inside the front door. It was an architectural study of a historic looking building with green shutters and pink flowers tumbling out of window boxes. She eventually gave it to me for Christmas a few years before she passed away. Still one of my favorite possessions!”

Then there was the Frieske I fell in love with at a local museum, then once I was older I discovered so much amazing art that now it is impossible to have a favorite! 

Sandi said: “Probably my older sister’s sketch book was my first artwork that I really appreciated. Other than that, probably Bob Ross. He made painting look so effortless.”

KH said: “My mother has a close friend (Jean) who has been a painter since before I was born.  The first painting I ever liked/loved was one of hers.  Her style is very much abstract expressionism and this one was called “Sewers of Marrakesh”.  It hung in our living room and I was about 3 years old when I first mentioned to my mom about the ‘donkey’ I could see in the painting in amongst the shapes and curves  (it was very funny since no-one else had ever seen the ‘donkey’ but once I mentioned it everyone could see it).  Jean and her art is very much responsible for my love of art and fervent belief people should own and live with ‘real’ art.”


Others liked both.

Julia said: “So, the real first piece of artwork I ever liked? I’ve racked my memory and its so hard to remember because I feel like I have been surrounded by art since I was born. My mother’s work was definitely the first I can remember loving, specifically her colourful pastels of fruit and adorable furry creatures.
Other than my mother’s work and the fact that I basically grew up in an art gallery, one of my clearest memories of loving a painting was Wassily Kandinsky’s Black Strokes 1. I had to do a project on it in elementary school where we had to examine the painting in detail and re-create a small portion of it. I remember picking the painting because it was so colourful and exciting (and it reminded me of a combination of fireworks and pom-poms!).
Since then, my knowledge of art and artists has grown exponentially and my tastes have developed in a more modern direction (graphic artists currently dominate my preferences). However my love of bright colours (and pom-poms) still exists. I think its interesting that when I look back at the painting I loved in elementary school, I still love it today. But more than that, I can see the influence that painting has had on my artistic tastes today.”

Elea said: “My first exposure to art was what we had on our walls at home too: typical prints of English country scenes by John Constable, and several different versions of the 18th Century portraits of Pinkie and the Blue Boy. But I never really liked them. The first artwork that captured my imagination was when I discovered the Egyptians in fifth grade. I never thought of Egyptian funerary pieces as art back then, they were artifacts in my mind (art was paintings in frames). But now I’m all grown up and can appreciate the amazing skill that went into creating those pieces, as well as the spiritual element that marks most funerary work. The Egyptian style had a certain smoothness to it that still appeals to me, as well as the glorious colours.”


The winner…

Originally, I thought I could judge the answers and pick the best one, but I enjoyed them all so much that it was impossible to choose. So I put everyone’s answers in a dish and got Pat to choose one.  Well, actually I was so inspired by your answers, I added an extra prize and choose two winners. The winners of April’s contest are, drum roll please…Malia and Caroline.

Congratulations, I will be in touch to get your addresses and mail you your mini-painting this week.
And stay tuned for the May contest, which will begin this week, both on the blog and on my facebook page.



Win, win, win

Here’s the prize, pretty much life-sized.

As part of my year of giving, I’d like to give back to all the people who support my art, so I’m going to start some low key contests where you can win a little artwork. I wanted to keep it an easily mailed size so anyone, anywhere could win. This contest is running here on the blog and on my fb page as well.

The contest for April is to answer this question:
What’s the first artwork you remember liking?
I’ll post the answers and the winner at the end of the month.


Edit: I’ve already had one email response, if you can’t comment here or on fb, please send me your response at mat@matart.ca.