Curated by Bill Berkson
In this landscape to the southeast of Siena, one does not find the typical lush Tuscan views of vineyard and olive grove. There is no terracing and few fruit trees. The soil here is heavy with clay, suitable for raising sheep, planting wheat and hay or corn and sunflowers along the lower land. It is an intricate, hilly landscape with small scattered woods up and down the slopes. The soil is bone-grey in spots, yellow or yellow-grey in others. In June it gold with wheat; in winter all is green but for the reddish woods. In spring virtually everything is green.
The landscape has changed little since the time of the Lorensetti. Until the 1960's there were no poles or telephone lines. Now farming is mechanized. The "contadini" are townspeople; their houses are bought by foreigners who can afford them. Strict zoning prohibits the building of new housing.
The landscape is remarkable, and perhaps most unique, for its graceful mix of the "natural" and the cultivated. The fields and woods have a complex and compelling relationship. Cypress appear in odd and unexpected places. Italian oak pop up in the middle of a field or atop a hill. Things are allowed to happen by accident. Until now there has been no flattening or bulldozing of slope or field to make the farming easier. Woods are harvested carefully, and they stay where they are.
On any clear day in this southern portion of the province of Siena, one can see the profile of Monte Amiata, a long-extinct volcanic mountain. It is pictured by Sassetta in a panel where St. Francis salutes three airborne female figures (the theological virtues). In Sassetta, as in the other Sienese painters, we see the same gentility and asceticism that one finds in this austere and beautiful place.
by Bill Berkson
George Schneeman's Italian Hours
Over the past forty years or more, George Schneeman's art has comprised portraits of his family and friends on canvas and in portable frescoes on cinder blocks, collages and paintings based on collages, painted ceramics, and countless cover designs and drawings for books of poetry and little magazines. (He has also devoted considerable studio time to hands-on collaborations with poets in various media.) Bracketing these segments of work, and sometimes intercutting among them, have been the Italian landscapes begun during the time Schneeman first lived in Tuscany from 1958 to 1966 and resumed in the 1990s after he started revisiting the Tuscan countryside, having spent the intervening decades solidly in New York. He and his wife Katie now divide their year between apartments on St. Marks Place and in the commune of San Giovanni d'Asso, southeast of Siena.
The recent landscapes are tempera on carefully gessoed plywood panels. Practicalities -- storage and portability, especially -- argue for settling upon a reduced size, without stinting on a picture's energy requirements. Averaging twelve by nine inches, done on location in half-hour sittings, the panels exemplify, Schneeman says, "the struggle between miniature and landscape" -- which links the question of the size at which a landscape painting can register across a room to the thornier one of how in a compact two-dimensional space depth and surface will compare notes so that all that is visible can be both actual and clear.
"Distinct in atmosphere, thin clouds blown by the wind, forms bathed in and defined by light."¹ An allegorist by disposition, Schneeman brings out the characteristic drama of each scene, keeping it from being merely a view or bella vista, and projecting more of what he calls "spatial sentiment." By Tuscan standards, these views are as ordinary as their place names -- Il Moro, Castelletto, Poggio di Val di Rigo, and so on -- are plainly functional. Formed in a fissured slope or where a couple of rumpled, vivid gray and brown rises meet, a crotch of ground fills up lustily with thatched greens. There are subtler moments, as well, mostly little details daubed along the ridges: a dark vertical sliver says "distant cypress;" a cuticle of brick red makes an isolated farmhouse roof. Further off, exquisite incidentals of buildings cluster together amid trees, making some sought-after shade. Still higher, the necessity arises "to invent something in the sky that relates it to the land."
Is spatial sentiment a more far-reaching, iconic version of Cézanne's "little sensation," more keyed to the bigger sweep of what the persistent observer takes in? The answer may be found in the painter's process as Schneeman tells of it:
I don't forget the brushes or the water or the palette or the board to paint. And I have to take advantage of the clear days, because sometimes a haziness will set in for a week or more. We've already had one spell of that: and it's hard to paint clearly when the landscape is clogged. But even now I haven't had those beautiful clouds to work on. Clouds always make it clearer that there's a heaven and earth. And space between them.²
1. John-Pope Hennessey on Sassetta's predella for Madonna of the Snows.
2. George Schneeman, letter to the author, May 24, 2003.
Born March 11, 1934, St. Paul, MN
U.S. Army 1958-60
Residences: Tuscany 1958-66, New York City 1966-present
Married, with two children
BA, Philosophy and Literature, St. Mary's College, Winona, MN
Graduate work, English Literature, University of Minnesota, MN
1995 "Landscapes and Ceramics," Homeplate, NY
1993 "Drawings, Frescoes, and Ceramics," Homeplate, NY
1991 "New Frescoes and Ceramics," Homeplate, NY
1986 "New Collages and Ceramics," Homeplate, NY
1984 "New Work," The Red Studio, NY
1983 "Homeplate," a storefront environment, NY
1981 "New Works," Holly Solomon Gallery, NY
1980 "Recent Work," Holly Solomon Gallery, NY
1979 "Fresco Portraits," Holly Solomon Gallery, NY
1977 Holly Solomon Gallery, NY
1976 "Nude Portraits," Holly Solomon Gallery, NY
1973 "Collages," Fischbach Gallery, NY
1972 98 Greene Street Gallery, NY
1971 98 Greene Street Gallery, NY
1970 Star Turtle Gallery, NY
2001 Banner exhibition, Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy
1999 Invitational Exhibit of Painting and Sculpture," American Academy of Arts and Letters, NY
1998 "A Secret Location on the Lower East Side," Berg Collection, New York Public
1995 Jacklight Gallery, NY
1993 "Fresco: A Contemporary Perspective," Snug Harbor, Staten Island, NY. Traveled to Boston College, Boston, MA
1991 "Poets and Painters Collaborations," Brooke Alexander Gallery, NY
"The Tree," Elysium Gallery, NY
1990 Atlantic Center for the Arts, Ayers Gallery, Orlando, FL
1985 "The Drawing Center Show," Elaine Benson Gallery, Bridgehampton, NY
1984 The Red Studio, Holly Solomon Gallery, NY
1983 Holly Solomon Gallery, NY
"New York Artists," Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA
"New York Now, " Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover, Germany
1982 "Intoxication," Monique Knowlton Gallery, New York
1981 "Be My Valentine," Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE
"Out of New York," Root Art Center, Clinton, NY
"Alternatives in Retrospect, 1969-1975," The New Museum, New York
Holly Solomon Gallery, NY
1980 Audrey Strohl Gallery, Memphis, TN
27th Annual Exhibit, Bayonne Jewish Community Center, Bayonne, NJ
1979 "Small Is Beautiful," Albright College, Reading PA, and Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA
1979 "Poets and Painters," Denver Art Museum
1978 Painting and Sculpture Today, Indianapolis Museum of Art
1976 Holly Solomon Gallery, NY
1975 Holly Solomon Gallery, NY
Fischbach Gallery, NY
1972 "Male Nudes," School of Visual Arts, NY
1968 Star Turtle Gallery, NY
Collaborative Works with Poets
With Bill Berkson: approximately 25 mixed media works on illustration board
With Ted Berrigan: approximately 50 mixed media works on illustration board, three silkscreen prints, and three handmade books
With Michael Brownstein: six mixed media works on illustration board
With Ron Padgett: approximately 100 works on paper, illustration board, and canvas, eight silkscreens, two handmade books, 10 ceramic pieces, and a slide show of his poem "Cufflinks" with 80 drawings
With Anne Waldman: 20 mixed media works on illustration board
Many other mixed media works with Peter Schjeldahl, Tom Clark, Dick Gallup, Larry Fagin, Lewis MacAdams, Alice Notley, Elio Schneeman, and Tom Veitch
Cover art for books by Frank O'Hara, Paul Auster, Bill Berkson, Jane Kenyon, Ted Berrigan, Larry Fagin, Dick Gallup, Samuel R. Delaney, Michael Brownstein, John Giorno, Peter Schjeldahl, Anne Waldman, John Weiners, Lewis Warsh, Steve Katz, Alice Notley, Ron Padgett, and many others
1985 Fresco painting, Parsons School of Design, NY
1983 Fresco painting, Tyler College, Philadelphia, PA
1979-81 Fresco painting, Skowhegan School, Skowhegan, ME
1963-65 Italian language and literature, SUNY Buffalo Program Abroad, Siena, Italy
Poet and art critic Bill Berkson was born in New York in 1939 and became active in the literary and art worlds in his early twenties. He is the author of 14 books and pamphlets of poetry, including Saturday Night: Poems 1960-61, Shining Leaves, Recent Visitors, Enigma Variations (with drawings by Philip Guston), Blue Is the Hero, Lush Life and most recently, Serenade and Fugue State. His work has been included in many literary journals and anthologies. He is also a Corresponding Editor for Art in America and a regular contributor to Artforum, Modern Painters, Art on Paper, American Craft and other magazines. From 1971-78, he was editor-publisher of Big Sky magazine and books. He has received awards and grants for poetry from the Poets Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Yaddo, the Briarcombe Foundation, and Marin Arts Council, and in 1990 was given an Artspace Award for Art Criticism. In recent years he has also curated exhibitions of individual artists such as George Herriman and Ronald Bladen and of contemporary painting, and served as an adjunct curator for Facing Eden: 100 Years of California Landscape Art at the Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco. He has taught and directed the public lectures program at the San Francisco Art Institute since 1984. He lives in San Francisco.
Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, L.L.P.