CHANGING CLIMATES: PLEIN AIR SKETCHING IN PORTUGAL

In May/June of this year I was an Artist in Residence at the Convento São Francisco in Mértola, Portugal. The former Franciscan convent stands above the convergence of the Rivers Oeiras and Guadiana in the Alentejo region, south and east of the capital Lisbon. Historically part of the Roman breadbasket, the region has grown increasingly dry in recent decades. A complicated pumping system brings river water up a steep hillside to the convent’s many irrigated gardens and interior patios shaded by Cyprus and Poplars. The old noria/well house offers relief at midday to painters and amphibians alike and became a favorite retreat from the sun. My atelier was within thick convent walls which provided natural air conditioning. At day’s end the Guadiana was my swimming pool—the best possible way to cool off.

It’s a short walk from the convent grounds into Mértola, across the old bridge over the Oeiras. Until modern times the road to Mértola was the river—first the Romans, then the Moors, then the Christian kings, and nowadays water sports enthusiasts. For an artist, it’s a dream—a 9th c castle, built by the Moors, a Roman baptismal fount surrounded by 3rd c AD fresoces, a parish church carved out of a former mosque. The Town Hall sits atop a Roman house, easily visited by entering the main door, enjoying the extreme A/C and descending a flight of stairs to find stellae, amphorae, ancient walls. Another modest house contains the Islamic art museum, and another Arte Sacra with paintings from the 15th-16th centuries. The old Customs House stands in ruins beside the Guadiana—on my nightly swim route.

Sheep and cattle trails marked the land for centuries. Increasingly prolonged droughts and extreme heat over recent decades have affected land use and caused flight. Like the landscape, the Convento São Francisco has seen its share of change, including closure in the 19th c, after which it fell into ruin. In the 1980s, the Dutch Zwanikken family arrived, by chance, in Mértola. They were quickly seduced by the landscale and light. They eventually acquired the ruined convent and grounds and set to work on what is now a 40 year restoration project—reestablishing gardens on an historic model, irrigating the land, involving the local community. Theirs is another chapter in the story of Mértola. And so, too briefly, was part of mine this spring.

Rags to Riches

In response to Columbia City Gallery’s call to the 6th Annual Chop Challenge, I decided to salute the world’s highest paid living woman artist, Jenny Saville, by celebrating one of her nudes. My nude was fashioned from Green Eileen rags, purloined from the scrap bin in the shop next door to Columbia City Gallery, Seattle. I snipped and glued bits of tees, sweaters, skirts and dresses into my voluptuous figure and added a bit of tempera in celebration of women, and fashion. I’ve given my Jenny a fetching pair or red mules, matching earrings, and a light cotton shawl.

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Enigma Variations

All of us are foreign to the other/s. The adventure of travel is the constant

reminder of our otherness but also our ability to learn and connect. A recent trip to

highland Mexico gave me a chance to appreciate differences and I responded back in the studio

with a few intaglio prints--my attempt to catch a bit of the mystery of 'the other'. May 22

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by Sarah Banks February 2017

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I was thinking about García Lorca today--his writings that always spoke truth to power. He gave voice to the often voiceless--scenes from Blood Wedding come to mind. It's the joy/exuberance mixed with sadness that has always struck me--"at the heart of all great art is an essential melancholy". Which is how flamenco, the gypsy lament, melds exuberant dance with mournful song. Así es la vida.....

Art Inspiring Poetry

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Immortal Mother
By Wendy Osserman
Inspired by ‘Thetis”

Is she drowning him?
Costumed in strips of water
     she holds him straight upside down
     his baby ankle cupped in her hand

I read the title
she is Achilles' mom
     Now I see the blade of moonlight
     pointing at his heel

Sky and field
past and future enclose her
     a goddess who can change shape
     and prophesy

She would hover here forever
to protect him
     She might save him
     if she let him go

This sea daughter will learn
what mortal mothers know
     giving birth
     is giving death

 

Dear Thetis"
By Teya Priest Johnston
Inspired by “Thetis"
ADULT JURY FIRST PLACE
This is what happened.

I was eleven, sequestered,
hellish, angry, Florida, summer.
Mercy a constant longing.
A reprieve in mother’s drug cabinet.
I slept, not for lack of love,
but a solemn anguish holding vessel.

There were pools everywhere,
except not in our backyard.
The slap of awakening
was severe. The house hotly full,
with no sound of baby sister.
I leaped,
the first time seeing,
every curtain closed,
meant no sight of tricycle,
no red wagon carting dolls,
no way to know the world.

Across the street, a manicured yard,
lines of black trim along the white
flat-topped pebbled roof,
no cars in the drive,
a snake-curve of sidewalk led
to the filigree iron gate,
hanging open.

In a fire walker’s
singular hysteria,
no pain, not knowing
how I arrived.
I held my breath.

Thetis, there she was
leaned over, peering down,
hands upon her precious knees,
little mouth pursed
with deciding.

Dreams

Submitted by and date: Sarah Banks February 2017

Alhambra Dreams

Alhambra Dreams

Dreams
by R.W. Schindler
Inspired by Alhambra Dreams
by Sarah Elizabeth Banks

Swaddled in unspoken words
Moorish squatter poses –
azure sea of time
still life, golden walls

scissored surreal
arms breasts ebony hair
lavender blue green
stark Muladi stare.

Inscriptions of lovers
restore Palacio scene
geometric letters by
poetic queen
views beyond
the door Alhambra Dreams.

This year´s Bank of the Arts National Juried Exhibition, New Bern, North Carolina offered Alan Shapiro, 2015 Pulitzer Finalis ,as the Judge for the Poetry competition/Ekphrasis 2016 to complement the visual art selection made by Dr Larry Wheeler, Director of the North Carolina Museum of Art. My collage Thetis inspired two poems. Dear Thetis by Teya Priest Johnston was awarded First Place.

And in 2015 R.W. Schindler was inspired by my collage Alhambra Dreams at the Bank of the Arts National Juried Exhibition. .