Notes: Part 2

by Letizia Pitigliani

Jerusalem at the time was divided by a cruel wall. I remember visiting the Bezalel Art Academy and being cordially received by the respected artist Zahara Shatz, and also meeting the famed Mordechai Ardon and the young painter Naftali Besem. I recall the piercing intelligence of their glances and their almost palpable creative energy, and I admired their sturdy art. I saw their symbolism, however, as an abstraction, a distraction from the simpler, basic truths of the landscape. I could not adopt the approach of the Israeli artists; to me it was enough - indeed it was the only possible way - to try and convey, working right there on the spot, the bliss I felt, a sort of mystic oneness with my surroundings which at the same time felt quite natural. There was no way I could impose my ego or any pre-existing thoughts in my renderings of this miraculously evocative landscape, where earth and sky all but speak.

Working in Israel made me realize the light was different there in its interplay with earth and sky. It was almost as though the light itself suggested the imagined and real events that had occurred in that ancient land. Divine intervention seemed very close at hand in the powdery desert landscapes, cruel rocks and the misty sea. I toured the small, mythical country and painted a number of pictures which I showed upon my return to Rome at the Galleria l'Asterisco.

Quite different from Israel was the landscape of Paris where I worked the following year. There the sky keeps its distance, held at bay by blue-gray clouds, and we are left to our own devices. In the long summer afternoons, sometimes until nine o'clock at night, I would paint in the streets of Paris or on the banks of the Seine.

It was in Holland that I began to see the sky as a constructive element, another plane that was part and parcel of an architectural whole, with its own properties of texture and mass, not just as an accomodating background. I accepted a summer grant from the Royal Academy in Amsterdam, where my fellow artists and I were closeted in separate studios, a situation I found puzzling after the bolstering bonhomie of the Roman Academy. I worked in relative solitude, but I was not lonely: painting near the Amsterdam docks, I would be surrounded by groups of solemn workers. I could not imagine what they were thinking. No one smiled or spoke. As they filed away, men and women, they left on my palette little tokens of affection, chocolates or cigarettes. These quiet acknowledgements touched me more than carefully worded compliments.

My two exhibitions in the Netherlands made me realize that art in Holland, where the briny, filtered light precludes any technique except oil, is not thought of as a joyous, natural activity: styles and doctrines are taken very seriously and work is literally examined by the critics with a lens, in one case a jeweler's loupe. All aspects of the paintings were meticulously noted.