Introducing The Net – A New Painting by Jed Smith

Jed Smith, Italywise

The Net, oil on canvas, by Jed Smith ©2016

I’m excited to unveil my recent labor of love, with the current working title of The Net. This is my second oil painting to-date, previously having focused most of my painting career on watercolors. I love both mediums, but working in oil is expanding my horizons, and my ability to work on a much larger scale. This painting is approximately 40″ x 60″, and took at least a year and four months to complete. Mind you, if I had been working on this non-stop I would have completed it much sooner. I decided to live and paint by the Italian credo of “piano, piano” – which means “slowly, slowly”. In other words, be patient!

This new Jed Smith work of art was inspired by a scene of everyday life in the rich and colorful fishing village of Burano, Italy. If you’re not familiar with Burano, it’s a 30 minute vaporetto ride from the Fondamenta Nuove stop in Venice. It’s well worth your attentions if you find yourself in Venice.

I’ve made a promise to myself to not explain or intellectualize why I choose a particular subject matter. I believe that would only get in the way of the viewer experiencing the work without being unduly influenced. With that said, I’ll leave you to contemplate this latest work. Meanwhile, I am moving a new, large, blank canvas to my easel. A new subject has been chosen – one that will provide a dramatically different perspective. Stay tuned….

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

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The Caretaker – Watercolor by Jed

watercolor, Jed Smith, Italywise

The Caretaker – Private Collection of Shelley and Ed Hobson

Just a few days ago I returned from a short trip to the beautiful town of Sulmona in Abruzzo. The experience was incredibly rich and warm (thanks to my amazing host and new friend Novelia) and I am hard at work on writing a blog post (soon to be published) about this amazing slice of paradise here in Italy. While I enjoyed many things in Sulmona, it was impossible to really scratch the surface with all the area has to offer. One thing, in particular, at the top of my list for my return trip is to do a “walk about” with a local shepherd. Novelia already has made calls and is working on possibilities to make this happen. What an artist/photographer’s dream to be able to camp out with and walk the sheep herder’s paths!

As I contemplate and look forward to such an experience, I remembered this watercolor that I painted several years ago, called The Caretaker. I love painting this, not only because of the unique perspective and composition, but because of the theme of a shepherd looking after his flock. I believe I inherited my fascination with flocks of sheep and goats from my highly influential artist mother, who frequently made them the subjects of her paintings.

I am drawn to the theme of the shepherd and his sheep, also because of the metaphorical meanings of having a benevolent force in my life that always is looking out for me, and always on my side.

I’m anything but conservative or fundamental in my spiritual beliefs, but my soul does respond to images and metaphors that become inspiring companions when fear shows up in my life. Currently, I am reading Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, and she speaks, quiet effectively, to how fear can stop creative pursuits in their tracks. She doesn’t reserve the concept of creativity for artists. She speaks to creating a life that allows a person to express their unique gifts and ideas. This resonates with me as an artist and writer who, all too frequently, can let the voice of fear talk me out of plunging ahead with a project. Ms. Gilbert wisely counsels each of us to not fight our fears, but to allow them to coexist. However, she advises not to let fear have a say or a voice in how we proceed.

As a person who has altered his life dramatically, these sage words of advice also come in handy. Leaving the security of the known can invite some pretty big catcalls from the voice of fear.

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Remembering Morris

Watercolor of Morris

Morris – Collection of the Artist

I’m still getting familiarized with the holiday schedule here in Italy. Many of the biggies correspond with those in the U.S., but others, like Father’s Day, vary significantly. So, since Italy’s Father’s Day was celebrated in March, and since I’m not receiving a barrage of advertisements for the U.S. event, Father’s Day, as I have celebrated it, almost passed me by. Tributes to dads, ramping up on FB, reminded me to pause and be thankful for being blessed with not just one, but two great dads. My birth dad, Ed Smith, died twenty-three years ago, and his passing came too soon, and the pain cut me to my core. But, soon, another wonderful dad came into my life, and his presence helped ease my pain – especially since his presence brought so much joy to my mother Liz Smith-Cox.

Morris Cox, was an extraordinary man, and a wonderful stepdad. Mom married Morris in her early 70’s, a few years after my dad’s death. I remember Liz remarking, after the first years of being married to Morris, how fortunate she was to have experienced “love like this” twice in her life. Morris made a point of telling her, everyday, how much he loved her and how fortunate he was to have her in his life. This was a powerful lesson to me, as Morris exemplified the belief in gratitude. Studies show (check out this article from Greater Good) that our brains “light up” when we remember and practice gratitude.

Morris also demonstrated an engagement with life and with keeping one’s mind and passions engaged. He was an English professor (and Dean of the Liberal Arts College) at Clemson University, yet in his 60’s he became a student again, this time of law. He practiced law (this is how he met my mom) into his 90’s.

Morris was the epitome of a fine, southern gentlemen. Whenever he and my mom were out and about (often in his baby blue Rolls Royce), he would race around to Mom’s side of the car to open the door for her. He was keen on having impeccable manners and always being kind and generous.

I am incredibly grateful for Morris’s loving presence in my life. His marriage to Liz also brought three wonderful step-siblings into my life, and we enjoyed many “big family” gatherings.

In 1999 I painted the watercolor above of Morris, after a trip with Mom and Morris, and my sisters Shelley and Dale, to Santorini, Greece. I always loved watching Morris. I found his face rich with character, intelligence and kindness. Painting him was my expression of love for this remarkable man.

Morris, I miss you. You lived an extraordinary life, and you gave handsomely.

Biding Time and the Art of Waiting

Watercolor of Biding Time

Biding Time – Private Collection  – Jed is a Signature Member of the National Watercolor Society

Biding Time is a watercolor I completed many years ago, and is in the private collection of some very dear friends (I love it when my “children” find good homes!). Of the many subjects that draw my attention, quiet moments of contemplation or just “being” is a reoccurring theme. I might have entitled it “At Peace with Waiting”, but that title doesn’t seem quite poetic enough.

Still, waiting is an important topic for me, especially when it is paired with patience. Perhaps this simply is something that comes with age (and hopefully wisdom), because being in waiting mode, and practicing patience have been elusive qualities for most of my life. In these past few years of living in Italy, I’ve been learning the benefits of taking my foot off the metaphorical “gas pedal” of life. When did I buy into the belief that I always had to be straining at the reins, and exerting constant efforts to make life happen in the manner of which I had predetermined? The current shift continues to be “let life happen” or “let life flow” without trying to manhandle how things turn out. On one hand, insisting on effort and control is downright exhausting, and on another hand it demonstrates a lack of trust in life, and in God, the Force, or whatever you want to call the energy that infuses life into everything. And, actually, I’ve had a rather stunning realization, even though it has always been staring me in the face. In my times of impatience and rushing to get somewhere or to make something happen, I’ve been telling myself this present moment isn’t good enough. It is a stepping stone to be endured until I get somewhere “better”. What a crock. And, I bought into this belief, hook, line and sinker – until now.

I don’t want the next chapters of my life to be characterized by a race and an insistence to get somewhere else. Humans beings, as a general rule, intellectually know that we will all die, yet we behave as if we won’t. Time is viewed as plentiful commodity and we all too often overvalue achieving and accomplishing, while discarding the value of the quiet, in-between moments.

I believe most people are not at ease with moments of stillness, and of space. Perhaps we are afraid that “we” won’t exist if we’re not thinking, solving, and doing.

And, then again, perhaps we are most of afraid of being alone with our incessant, and demanding stream of thinking. Practicing the art of waiting, or biding time, can be an excellent opportunity to make peace with one’s inner noise, rather than doing battle with ourselves and/or distracting ourselves by being in constant movement.

In closing, I offer this brief YouTube video of Adyashanti offering an interesting perspective about the thinking mind. Paradoxically it is entitled Don’t Wait for Your Mind to Stop.

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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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.

 

Living in the Present Tense.

Watercolor of Present Tense

Present Tense – Private Collection

I don’t often go through the archives of my past paintings, but recently I looked at this one, entitled Present Tense. I chose this title because, when I met this man, his direct gaze hit me as coming from someone who clearly resided in the present moment. I’m continually drawn to painting older faces. My intuition tells me this is because I am seeking out a wisdom that often comes with age – wisdom that has made peace with the past, and no longer fixates on a future idyllic state. I sold this painting very soon after completing it, and I miss having the real thing hanging on my wall to remind me to come back to the present moment, especially when I have strayed into realms of analyzing and wanting a “do-over” for the past, or obsessing about the future.

When I was jotting down a few notes before beginning this post, a powerful realization smacked me in the face. I often get lost in thought, or in “doing” to avoid the present moment. It is as though my chatty mind keeps proclaiming it is the real me and, therefore, is invested in keeping me lost in a world of thought. I confess, I am addicted to doing and achieving. Might many of our modern-day addictions, not just drugs and alcohol, but digital addictions, be manifestations of not being at peace with the present moment? Has Descartes’ famous pronouncement “I think, therefore I am” fueled a massive case of mis-identification – one that robs us of an ability to be present?

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No. 361 – New Painting by Jed

361

No. 361

I’m happy to present the latest painting in my series of watercolors depicting street life in Italy. I love the movements of everyday Italian life. This scene was inspired by a recent trip to the island of Burano, which is just a short vaporetto ride from the Fondamente Nuove stop in Venice. I love being on the island when the town is waking up and when you can see people emerging from their homes and going about their daily rituals. Almost every angle in this fishing village, rendered in a vast array of colors, presents an unassuming, yet compelling work of art.

See this and other paintings in my online gallery.

Alla Stazione – New Painting by Jed

Alla Stazione

Alla Stazione

I’ve just finished a small watercolor “study” of a perennial subject here in Italy – a group of the “old guys” hanging out and “chewing the fat” (a decidedly American expression – I’ll research it to see if there is an Italian equivalent of this expression). This scene was inspired by a local gathering outside our local train station.

I’m fascinated with the old boys’ club here in Italy. Just as you see groups of women congregating on park benches to talk about the latest and greatest news, the men, also, are constantly finding time and space to converse about current affairs and to editorialize about life ahead.

You might be tempted to describe such a scene as a group of bored old boys with nothing better to do. In Italy, conversing and being together in the moment, without a bunch of other noise, seems to be a well-developed art. I know that my American conditioning and upbringing often lead me to label such scenes as “unproductive”. What I’m learning, after so much time here, and after observing Italian life, is that people here seem to be adept at relating to and staying connected with one another.

For me, it is as though the question is being asked “Why the rush?” – followed by an admonition to “Be here now”.

I like that the Italians are helping me to look at life differently, and to step aside from a constant need to always be in “achievement” mode.

Lei aspetta – She Waits – Painting by Jed

Lei aspetta - She Waits

Lei aspetta – She Waits

I am always fascinated with life at the bar/cafes of Italy, as represented by this smaller watercolor that I recently completed. This painting was inspired by a cafe that was my regular hangout for a month, just around the corner from my intensive language classes in Rome at Torre di Babele. Everyday, during the “pausa” (the 30-minute break), I would head to this wonderful little cafe, where they roast their own beans, and where they make a mean espresso. I inevitably would linger to watch the locals coming and going. This woman in particular caught my eye with her protective and watchful body language. Who knows what her story is…

For this and other paintings and photography, check out my online gallery.

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