The Family at Breakfast Borgo Pace, 2004 - 60 x 78 ins. Oil on canvas
Passegiata Giove, 1994 - 38 x 48 inches. Oil on canvas
The Family at Lunch Borgo Pace, 2003 - Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches, 2003
End of the Day Parchiule, 2003 - 28 x 36 inches. Oil on canvas
Calcinaia Down the Millrace, 1987 - 35 1/2 x 48 inches. Oil on canvas
Palaggio, 1997 - 48 x 60 inches. Oil on canvas
The Track Down to Maria’s – Casole, 2002 - 30 x 50 inches, Oil on canvas
Calcinaia down the Millrace, 1998 - 39 x 52 inches. Oil on canvas
The Grey House, 1994 - 15 x 22 inches. Gouache
Beginning of the Viale, Midday July, 2002 - 15 x 22 inches. Gouache
Piazza Behind the Church (Giove), 1994 - 15 x 22 inches. Gouache
Viale and Track down to Maria’s, 2002 - 15 x 22.5 inches. Gouache
By the River, Borgo Pace, 2003 - 28 x 36 inches. Oil on canvas
Bridge by the river, 2003 - 34 x 60 inches. Oil on Canvas
Italian Paintings: Tuscany, Giove and Borgo Pace - 1987 to 2004
This is a small selection of paintings from three different parts of Italy. Tuscany (primarily Casole and Palaggio), Giove (a small town near Rome) and Borgo Pace (a small town in the Marche near Urbino).
Italy was a very important place in Sargy Mann’s paintings, as his sight deteriorated he needed brighter light to paint and Italy provided a combination of bright sun with subjects and a way of life that he loved. Of the twenty seven paintings he chose to write about in Probably the Best Blind Painter in Peckham, five were Italian subjects.
Below are three short extracts from Sargy Mann: Probably the best Blind Painter in Peckham where he describes the trips he made to Tuscany in 1987, Giove in 1994 and Borgo Pace in 2004.
Later that year (1986) Sabrina Crewe, one of Jane Howard’s many goddaughters, (my daughter Charlotte is another) consulted me about her setting up as an artists’ agent. I said that I could not be optimistic on her behalf but she was more than welcome to have a go on my behalf and it was thanks to her that I had my first one man show at Cadogan Contemporary in March 1987. The exhibition was a great success. I sold a lot of work, drawings as well as paintings and for higher prices than I had previously, and so for the first time since we were married we had some money, enough to think about going abroad in the summer holiday.
My great friend the painter Graham Giles who taught for two weeks every summer at the Centro Verrocchio in Casole d’Elsa in Tuscany, asked the director Nigel Konstam if he could find somewhere nearby which we and the Gileses could rent for the summer. Graham and I drove out first and on the way down I had for the first time an experience which I came to expect whenever I moved from England to a much brighter light somewhere. We stopped for lunch and after eating something outside we went for a walk to look at a magnificent church. The light was very bright and I started to feel strange and then became semi-blind. It was frightening but I was fairly used by now to scary changes in my vision so I hung on and waited. The next day I felt fine and was seeing much better than I had since we left London. My assumption was that my brain had temporarily freaked out at the strength of the light but had then recalibrated in some way. We spent the first fortnight at the Centro, with Graham teaching and painting and me just painting. I loved it. As well as oil painting, I was making a lot of gouaches in a nine inch by ten sketch book with heavy hot pressed paper and I was combining a lot of pencil drawing with the painted colour. It was my current way of combining colour to make light and space with a line which could move quickly and rhythmically through the space and could also define particular form and focus the eye at a chosen place. Sometime in the last year the low vision aids department at Moorfield’s Hospital had given me a little telescope or monocular which magnified eight times, to help me read bus numbers and notices and such, and I was beginning to use it a bit when painting to check out some detail that I needed to understand, and a pencil mark seemed a good way to respond to such information. I began to make oil paintings in the same way, drawing over the colour on the canvas with pencil or a stick of graphite. Using a line which attracted the eye without being a strong element in the pattern helped my feeble eye to reach out and find and touch forms and also to move quickly and rhythmically around the space of my subject as a response to the exploratory visual rhythms of perception.
After two weeks Graham and I set off for Palaggio which was the name of the place that Nigel had rented for us.After a while we turned off onto a side road along a little river where there was a paper mill. On the left of the dusty white road was a flat field of sweetcorn and then we came to a place where there was a washing pool, called La Gora, surrounded by young poplars, and which I later painted. We crossed the river to climb a steep white road (which I also painted later)at the top of which was a hamlet called Onci. There was a deconsecrated church with an enormous walnut tree in front and cottages and a farm. Leaving Onci on the far side was a track marked by the yellowest Robinia I had ever seen. We took the track which swung right to climb steeply through a wood of young oaks and the track got narrower and ruttier. There was a sharp twist and climb that took all Graham’s nerve to drive up and then it started to flatten out until we made the top of what turned out to be a plateau and came alongside a not very prepossessing house and parked. Around the corner was a handsome stone barn, smaller stone out-buildings and a fine mulberry tree. Between the barn and the extended wall of the house was a fig tree filling the gap which we pushed under to find ourselves in the courtyard of Palaggio…..
In August 1994 we stayed with some old friends of Frances’s in Giove, about an hours drive north of Rome. Sandro, who is an artist, and his wife Germana lived in a house where two streets met, just inside the old town and they had another smaller house down one of those streets, in which we stayed. We had first stayed with them at Easter in 1989 when Frances was pregnant with Michael, our fourth child. On that occasion I had painted oils from direct observation but I was very aware that this was no longer the best way for me to work and these were, I think some of the last paintings I made in this way. In 1994 I took only gouache, a lightweight half imperial drawing board and Arche satine paper which I loved, and still love, for gouache. It was wonderfully hot and I made gouaches in the places that I could get to on my own. I was by this time, seeing very badly and I had to learn my routes and proceed using my white stick very cautiously, counting paces on the difficult bits. I found that I could paint for an hour or even two in the full midday sun and I loved it, partly, I suspect, because I saw better when the light was bright and my eye was hot. My first subject, because it was near, was a house that fascinated me. It was on the corner, where the road that went horizontally round the hill met the road that plunged down into the valley. I had never before seen a white house from the shadowed side that looked so strange and beautiful and it reminded me a little of Morandi, as did much that I saw in Italy. It was only after I had painted it several times and was now working on other subjects further afield, that I realised that it was not a white house at all, it was painted a rather ugly grey. I had been looking at a grey house with the sun on it and assuming that it was a white house in shadow.
When I got back to Suffolk, although it was beautifully sunny, I couldn’t settle to any subjects. My head was still full of the intense, high, Italian sun which produced so much reflected light and in which the the sky seemed so thrillingly dark, and by comparison the English summer sun seemed feeble and the shadows seemed depressingly dark and black. After a couple of days of not doing anything I wondered whether I could paint a much larger oil of one of the Italian subjects that I had made a gouache of. I made a decision as to which, set up a canvas on the window ledge outside my studio, which was my preferred place to paint when the sun was shining and started to paint from memory. Now that I was doing all my painting looking through the telescope I needed to be in bright light, as a magnifying instrument reduces the light level considerably. I hardly referred to the gouache that I had made on the spot. Instantly I was back where I wanted to be and it felt so right that I spent the rest of the year painting large oils of all the subjects I had experienced in Giove.
Borgo Pace, 2004.
In the summer of 2001 we had rented a house near the top of the Apennines in the Marches across from Borgo San Sepolcro …. At this time I was seeing extremely badly, hardly at all in fact, and to begin with, I couldn’t go anywhere alone and when, after a day or so, I did, I got lost when I was only yards from the house. After three days, I had done nothing and I was getting pretty depressed. On the fourth day we made a trip to Urbania, a town on both sides of a ravine connected by a stone bridge high above the river. After we had had a picnic on the white pebble beach below the town, I started to make a gouache but it was hopeless. I knew that I was in a perfect subject; the cliff of the ravine casting its shadow across the river and half the beach, the pebbles at my feet a dazzling pink/white, little bushes then larger trees then the town all in sun, climbing up to the brilliant dark sky and the high bridge with sky and sunny distance and the river all seen beneath, but all I could make out was a blur and I could hardly see or make any sense of what I was doing on my paper. After about forty minutes, I gave up in despair. Well, if I couldn’t paint then I had better make the best of a family holiday without painting, whatever that might turn out to be.
The terrace at the back of our house was a square and the length of the back of the house was roughly the same as its height to the ridge – I like this sort of geometry. At the far edge of the terrace was a drop of about ten feet to where the wooded hillside fell to a river before climbing even more steeply up the other side to well above our height. At breakfast the day after the Urbania trip, I was mindlessly enthralled by the dark silhouettes of Charlotte and Michael across the table from me and in the shadow of the house, cut out against the absurdly bright yellow wall of the tree covered far side of the tight little valley, topped by the dark violet blue sky. I was reminded of my painting of lunch on the Centro terrace in Casole. At lunch that day when I was looking along the table with the back of the house on my right casting its shadow over my family but with just about everything else lit up by the high strong sun, I realised that this was what I wanted to paint, the most enjoyable part of each day, having meals with my family in this small space in this wonderful light. After lunch, I set up my easel in the sun on the terrace and made a gouache of what I had been seeing, and it went quite well. The next day I made another lunchtime gouache. Susanna had changed places with Michael to be on my left and, because it was a bit later, she was in sun, and Peter on my right was now wearing a black t-shirt which changed everything….