And the Winner is…”Haughty in Houndstooth”

Italian street life, Italywise

I had the best time reading every submission in this caption contest, for a photo I took of a street scene recently. Its working title was Wall on By, but that easily was surpassed with the variety and creativity of entries. Creativity is far from an exact science, yet I had to make a choice, and Haughty in Houndstooth, by Susan, took the top spot. Brava Susan!

What I like about having this kind of creative contest is how art evokes stories. When I had my first solo exhibition of watercolors many years ago, I resisted talking too much about the intent behind each of the paintings. On one hand, I wanted to respect the curiosity of the gallery patrons as to what made me choose a specific subject. However, I would endeavor to turn the tables and inquire first as to what each person saw in the image, so as not to influence them with my creative process.

Each one of us is always looking at the world through our individual filters and conditioning. We may not realize it, but we’re constantly scanning the world around us, and creating stories about what we see. The human imagination can take just a few elements of a scene and quickly construct possible story lines. What I love about art is that it is both about what the artist wanted to capture or express AND what stories and emotions it evokes in the viewer.

Who really knows the truth of this particular scene, and as your entries demonstrate, many interpretations are possible.

As an artist and photography I’m constantly in scanning and observation mode. Italian street life is ripe with vignettes unfolding. I can’t help but attach my personal narratives, but I’m learning to do so lightly and with humor, and remembering I can never know the truth of an entire situation.

Thank you all for bringing your creativity into this photo caption contest. Stay tuned, I may make this a regular thing!

Caption Contest! Win a Amazon Gift Card!

Italian street life, Italywise

Walk on By is a new photo by Jed Smith.

I’m happy to introduce a scene I captured on one of my recent photo excursions. I’m constantly intrigued and entertained by “snippets” of Italian street life, and I was happy to be quick on the draw to capture this one. The expression of this well-heeled signora is the focal point of this image. Looking at the image now I can imagine countless captions. So, I decided I’d have a little fun and invite you to bring your unique perspectives to this image and submit a caption in the comments sections of this website/blog Italywise.com. One entry per person*, and submissions must be made by end of day Tuesday, April 19 midnight PST. The winning submission will receive a $30 Amazon.com gift card (or the equivalent in the country of the winner).

To see this and other photography and paintings be sure to visit my online gallery.

*Family/relatives are ineligible (though you can still submit for fun!)

At Rest – New Photo by Jed

At Rest, Italywise

At Rest is a recent photo by Jed Smith

I am drawn to, in my art and photography, scenes of simplicity and calm. For me these are meditations and reminders of the importance of stepping out of the torrent of “doing” and allowing my soul, and mind, to breathe.

I’ve always had a fascination with physics, especially the paradoxes of quantum physics. For an artist? Yeah, go figure. I guess my dad’s nuclear engineer genes haven’t been crowded out by my mom’s art genes.

What continually does a number on my head is that the world/universe actually is 99.99% empty space, yet we’re convinced by the swirling activity of infinitesimal particles of energy that what we see is solid and real. I know that I all too often forget about this ocean of empty space which holds everything, and where anything can happen. Like me, unless you’re an Einstein or David Bohm, your brain will shut down if it tries to assimilate this into anything but an intellectual concept.

In light of a brain that can’t conceive of the inconceivable, I “feel” my way towards truth with my art. The above scene brings me calm. In contemplating such a setting, perhaps my mind, like the waters, becomes still, and the realization of the depth and richness of the unseen space that connects everything returns to my awareness. The neurotic need to do, to figure it all out, abates. And, the insanity of the world’s current events temporarily loosen their grip on my attention. For me, this in incredible gift.

In closing, I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite actors…

Learning how to be still, to really be still and let life happen – that stillness becomes a radiance. – Morgan Freeman

To see other photos be sure to visit my online gallery.

Seeking Clarity and the Illusion of Reality

Watercolor of Clairty

Clarity – Private Collection

The painting above, Clarity, is one of my favorites. I was drawn to this woman’s face because I sensed clarity and peace in her eyes. I also saw a wise woman who had relaxed into accepting “what is” and the inevitability of living with paradox.

I’m learning to step into paradox. I’ve been doing this somewhat begrudgingly because my bossy left brain interpreter insists on coming to conclusions of reality and nicely tucking them away on the shelf. You might not think an artist would have this kind of struggle since creative types tend to reside in their expansive, non-verbal right brains with greater agility. Yet, often I do struggle to make the shift and, paradoxically (there’s that pesky word again), the struggle itself tends to keep me trapped in the jaws of analytical thinking. The best thing, for me, is to pick up my paintbrush and start painting. Soon, thinking settles down naturally, and my insistence on a fixed reality abates.

Why do I write about seeking clarity and the illusions of reality in a blog about building a life in Italy? Because making such a huge life change has asked me, again and again, to let go of my insistence on what is reality and how my story is “supposed” to play out. If you’re contemplating a similar big life change, you might want to ready yourself to live with paradox, and the elusiveness of a fixed reality.

Man plans, God laughs. – Yiddish proverb.

Maybe I would benefit from training myself to contemplate this sentiment every morning, first thing. Then, whatever needs to be done, and what remains to be resolved won’t take on such a sense of seriousness, or insistence on my part. Perhaps this will remind me to do the best I can, while simultaneously “going with the flow”. This can be a beautiful dance, and I’m finding the universe tends to open up a wealth of possibilities previously hidden to my thinking brain.

Italy has proven to be an excellent classroom in dealing with inconsistencies and paradox. I’m an anal-retentive Virgo who likes everything “ticked and tied”. These organizational and analytical skills certainly have come in handy plowing through the numerous logistics of living here, but I’m convinced a belief that you can simply muscle your way through the bureaucracy will only ensure your descent into insanity. I’ve talked to a few “newbies” and a few people considering a move to Italy who have this mindset. I’ve thought “Oh no,” because I can smell disaster coming at the first inevitable speed bumps.

If a person can sets aside their insistence on how things are supposed to “play out” and their indignation at certain Italian policies that seem unfair, they can spend their time and energies on allowing Italy’s riches to unfold for them.

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Being…Just Being.

The art of being, Italywise

Just Being is a recent photo by Jed Smith, taken in Basilicata (the arch of the “foot” of Italy)

In my photography and in my art I’m drawn to subjects who seem to be in a space of being. For me, it’s a representation of stepping out of the rushing stream of doing and needing to accomplish. Probably, this speaks volumes about my own addiction to constant movement and achieving.

Some people might look at the scene above and come to conclusions that reflect some kind of loneliness or sadness. I prefer to believe this man is in a space where the need to do, or to over think life, has dropped away.

Be – don’t try to become. – Osho

Moving to Italy has given me plenty to do, and to accomplish – learning the language, and tackling a pretty big list of logistical imperatives. In other words, I’ve had plenty of food for the hungry monster who thrives on being engaged in constant movement. Also, I’ve realized I don’t have to be physically moving to still be charging forward like a racehorse. I’m well acquainted with my restlessness, lying in bed after waking up in the morning, while my mind latches onto a laundry list of matters that need to be addressed or problems that need to be solved. Chuang Tzu referred to this as “sitting while wandering”. How appropriate.

I’m cheating myself if I remain in the rushing stream of doing. The funny thing is that I KNOW, from experience, when the doing part of me is exhausted, or takes a break, suddenly the world opens up for me. I feel present, and the world expands into dimensions that transcend thought or verbal explanation. In Umbria, I’ve experienced clear nights that wrap me in a magnificent cloak of stars – all made possible by the lack of urban noise and light pollution, and by the lack of thinking about what I have to do tomorrow or what I regret in the road behind me.

As life beckons me to a fuller life, I’ve come to believe that living with paradox is an essential element for my slowing down and residing in being. I’ve not been a fan of paradox for most of my life, because I like to have things figured out and to know where I’m going. That’s pretty ambitious, and I’m learning also, that it’s pretty damn impossible. I’ve thought I’ve needed to constantly steer life, which requires a vigilance that is exhausting. It also doesn’t trust the universe, or a higher power to move and take me to unimagined places. The funny thing is, the most creative and successful solutions to problems come when I quit trying to manhandle my way to figuring things out. The universe will provide answers (maybe not according to our timetable or expectations) if we let go and step into being.

I close with this YouTube video from Alan Watts, which speaks to the paradox of letting go while helping to remind me to let go and reside in “being”.

 

Well-Heeled in Italy

Italian fashion, Italywise

Well-Heeled in Italy is a recent photo by Jed.

I’m taking liberties by including the phrase “well-heeled” in the name of this recent photo. This two-word adjective most often has been used describing someone who is well off financially – as reflected in the quality of their shoes. However, its origins come from cock fights (check out this link at http://www.saidwhat.co.uk) – yes, cock fights. You see, spurs would be added to help them fight. Hence “well-heeled”.

As I study the prevalent sense of fashion here in Italy, I see much of it begins with the shoes. Most self-respecting Italians wouldn’t dream of being out and about with boring or crappy shoes – as evidenced by the two well-heeled women in this photo. You can’t see their faces, but I assure you they are well into their fifties. Fashion isn’t reserved for the youngsters and I love how these woman boldly and comfortably opt for sexy dresses and shoes that show off their legs (which often are kept in fine form by being part of a culture that embraces walking vs. opting for hopping in a car).

My favorite Italian fashion scenario to happen upon is an Italian wedding. I love snooping around to see the decked out crowd – men and women alike. It’s not unusual to see attendees standing outside (taking a break from the wedding in progress) to have a cigarette and/or check their cell phones. For me this is one of the best “cat walks” for checking out the latest Italian fashions. Hint, stay tuned for a future post about Italian fashion using Italian weddings as a backdrop.

In closing, I pay tribute to the Italians’ seemingly uncanny ability to effortlessly express fashion sense. I can’t articulate the exact “how” or “why”, but I sense it is hard-coded into the DNA of the culture. It doesn’t mean that fashion tragedies can’t be witnessed on the streets here – I just find it’s a pretty rare occurrence.

To see other photos, be sure to visit my online photo gallery.

Street Life in Sicily

Life in Italy, Italywise

Street life in Cefalu, Sicily is rich in vignettes.

I feel like a paparazzo (that’s just one photographer vs paparazzi, which indicates many) of street life in Italy. I do this not only for photography, but for inspiration for my paintings. I try to work in stealth (that translates into having a zoom lens), so as not to disturb the energy of the scenes that unfold before my eyes.

So it was on this day in Cefalu, Sicily, that I begin zigzagging through the streets with my periscope up on the lookout to see what presented itself. Much of the movie Cinema Paradiso was filmed Cefalu. I can see why this was a perfect movie set, and still is.

The translation of Cefalu is “head”, and theories suggest this refers to the shape of the hill and rock above the town, adorned with an ancient castle.

Learn more about Cefalu at ItalyGuides.it.

In this particular image, the gentlemen in the chair was fixed, as if rendered in stone. Meanwhile la suora (the sister) moves up the street, and enters a home. I love these layers of street life in Sicily, and I hope to return for a longer visit, solely to for the purpose of capturing life as it unfolds on the streets of Sicily.

For this and other photographs, please be sure to check out my online gallery.

Burano is an Artist’s Dream

Burano, Italywise

Almost every doorway in Burano is a work of art.

Today’s post will be brief. I want to share one of my latest photos from the island of Burano, a stunningly “painted” fishing village. A short vaporetto ride from Venice will take you there. I would love to gain a better understanding of just how the practice of adorning the buildings in such vibrant colors in this village came into being. Does this practice imply some kind of inherent optimism of the villagers? Maybe that is the hopeful part of my mind. Nonetheless, my spirits are always lifted when I visit this wonderful village.

Most importantly, my brain shifts into creative overdrive when I wander the canals and alleyways of Burano. I feel a bit as though I am cheating when I point my camera, compose a shot, and snap the shutter. It is as though an artist has gone before me and done most of the work already. Still, I’m not complaining.

The scenes of daily life against this rich backdrop also inspire other photos and subsequent paintings (see my post about No. 331).

If this post sparks your interest in learning more about Burano, be sure to visit the Official Website of Burano.

I hope you enjoy this most recently posted photo, which is also in my online photo gallery.

Happy viewing!

 

Emerging from the Pantheon at Dusk

Pantheon, Italywise

Looking out from the Pantheon entrance at dusk.

The Pantheon is my favorite landmark in Rome. The sense of awe I feel when I round the corner and see this massive feat of architectural splendor never gets old. I remember the first time I entered the building when I was a mere 19 years old and studying art in Italy for a summer with the University of Georgia. My jaw dropped and I was struck speechless, marvelling that something this huge and this beautiful could have been built nearly 2,000 years ago.

Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. – Wikepdia

Until recently, almost all of my photos of the Pantheon have been taken looking towards the facade or inside the voluminous interior. On this chilly January day last year I was struck by the view looking out. I love the contrast of the stately columns against the always-hopping Piazza della Rotonda.

This photo reminds me to keep changing my perspective on the world and to always “play” and mix things up. It’s far too easy to get locked into a more standard view of the world, and go for the “expected” angle.

If you like this image, please be sure to check out my online photo gallery.

My Love Affair With Faces

Jed Smith, watercolor

The Blue Door – Private Collection

My favorite museum is the National Portrait Gallery in London. You see, for years I’ve had a love affair with faces. Take me to an exhibition full of portraits and you’ll have a hard time getting me to leave.

For me, the older the faces, the better. Smooth, youthful faces also have stories to tell, but my fascination and artistic focus remain with faces etched with lines that more readily communicate the subjects’ histories and personalities. And, on a personal note, I don’t want to march through my later years trying to ward off the evidence of the life I’ve lived.

I completed this watercolor in 1998, and I met its subject on the Island of Naxos in Greece. “She” reminds me to value the wisdom and journey of getting older. Here in Italy, I see a goldmine of fascinating, rich, older faces. I think I have enough material to last me multiple lifetimes of painting.

Maybe it’s a mistaken assumption, but in the Italian culture, the older generation seems to reside more closely alongside the younger generations – at least more than what I experienced in the U.S.  Older people are respected, and not hidden away, and finding four generations in one household isn’t an uncommon occurrence. Constantly I’m amazed at how many older people I see (well into their eighties and nineties) still out and about. It’s almost as though the daily stroll, and continuing to commune with friends, are non-negotiables.

When I paint faces, such as the one above, I feel as though I have a responsibility to capture and honor the essence of the individual. At times, it’s intimidating. I can only hope each person who sees my work also experiences some of what I have felt when I have met my subjects.

Ultimately, I believe my love affair with faces is a manifestation of my search for truth. Words can be so easily manipulated, but I believe faces never lie.

If you like this painting, be sure to check out my online gallery which features many other portraits.

 

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