Monday, September 29, 2014

APPLEDORE, Isles of Shoals ( week 5 )


"It must be so nice to be able to paint on an island off the coast of New England...."
"Appledore ain't exactly Martha's Vineyard, lady."

West Wind, Isles of Shoals, 1904
Childe Hassam

The Isles of Shoals are a group of islands lying ten miles off the coast of New England and are divided between Maine and New Hampshire. Appledore, Smuttynose and Duck belong to Maine, Star and White to New Hampshire. It is not easy to go ashore on Appledore. Both Cornell and the University of New Hampshire have research facilities on the Island. Beth and I managed to hitch a ride on a supply boat out of Portsmouth, NH.


Appledore Basket
James Aponovich
oil on canvas, 18" x 24"

In many ways Appledore is not a comfortable place. Hundreds of Black Backed gulls fill the air with their screams. Don't go there when they are fledging, they will attack you. Their white droppings are matched by the brown of the muskrats that roam the island, fearless and nearly blind. Poison Ivy rambles everywhere. Rogue waves have been known to sweep people off the rocks. Great Whites feed on the seals off Duck Island. Yes, the wild is still here.


Poppies, 1891
Childe Hassam

" Like the musician, the painter, the poet, and the rest, the true lover of flowers is born, not made."
                                                                                             Celia Thaxter

I had heard of Appledore as the summer home of Celia Thaxter, the Nineteenth Century poet and celebrated gardener who would host artists and intellectuals in her home. The American Impressionist painter, Childe Hassam was one of the more noteworthy and spent some twenty summers on the island.


Little Pond, Appledore
James Aponovich
oil on canvas

The Little Pond, Appledore,  1890
Childe Hassam

Thaxter had a charming summer cottage near her father's large hotel on the island. Many people from Boston would travel to the island to take in the therapeutic "airs". The Boston painter, William Morris Hunt, suffering from depression came to Thaxter's cottage on advice from his doctor. One morning she found his body floating in a pond behind her house, an apparent suicide. Eventually fire swept through both her father's hotel and later her cottage, leaving only foundation rubble. Her garden survived and is currently being restored. Appledore has a melancholy side.


Appledore in Fog
James Aponovich
oil on canvas, 20" x 22"

Beth and I came to see the garden and to paint it. It was a brilliant, sunny day and as I painted, I struggled with the buildings that survived the fire, as well as
 the large watchtower, a remnant of World War II.

Earlier, as we were approaching the island, I had noticed something on the horizon. I knew all too well, having once lived on the coast of Maine.....fog. The fog banks that roll in from the Gulf of Maine are thick and dangerous. Mariners say, "the ceiling has dropped," and so it had.......
But it erased the watchtower and softened the buildings, I loved it. It reminded me of a painter from Prouts Neck, Maine

The Artist's Studio in an Afternoon Fog, 1894
Winslow Homer

They will close Appledore soon for the winter. The ice and snow are too harsh, but come next season I will return whenever I need to wash my vision with sea, rock and gulls. Just watch where you step.

Agapanthus, Appledore
James Aponovich
oil on canvas

Monday, September 22, 2014



The landscape of Italy ( here I am referring to Tuscany and Umbria) is not necessarily overpowering. Romantically breathtaking, yes, but it is too refined and well thought out for high drama. The land has been sculpted by a succession of hands for thousands of years. The layers of numerous epochs reveal themselves subtly. An Etruscan wall borders a path trod by pilgrims in the 10th Century. It is a grand palimpsest  of time, but if you seek raw splendor, then you must go north to the Alps or better yet, cross the ocean to the "New World."


Little Harbor ( New Hampshire)
James Aponovich
oil on canvas

Early in the 19th Century, European artists grew bored with this groomed, orderly landscape. They had read Rousseau and they wanted to embrace the primitive, aboriginal eden, untouched by the European model. They came to America, primarily to the coast of New England and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Here, they thought they had found the raw, savage nature they were seeking.... until someone said,"the mountains are better out West.".......Bye.


What happens when the vision of the landscape dies? We, in the United States, have always been interested in the next, better thing. We are always ready to drop what we have and move on to the next chapter. Our attention span is measured  not in minutes but seconds. A landscape thrives in direct proportion to the love and need we imbue it with. When abandoned and we turn our backs to it, the wild returns. By the wild, I am not referring to the trees reclaiming the land, but something more sinister, highways, malls, fun parks, and fast food joints.


North Wind Clearing: Appledore Island
James Aponovich
Oil on canvas

The vision still breathes, but you must look for it, you have to seek it out. One such place lies seven miles off the New England coast, again, on the 43 Parallel, The Isles of Shoals. The original wild is still very much evident there.

Let us make our visit.

To be continued........


Panicale, Hortensia ( in progress)
James Aponovich

Uh Oh....Heaven and Earth ain't workin' together. It's getting away from me a bit and I think I know why. You can paint from your mind or you can paint from your heart, rarely both. This is like sucking on a lemon. I'll see if I can fix it.


Amoskeag, Hydrangea ( underpainting/ in progress)
James Aponovich

"Va bene!"  The Italians would say. It is going well. It has taken a while to get the East Side washed in. Now, onto the West Side.

Monday, September 15, 2014


Panicale, Hortensia (detail)


Panicale's  profile is pure inspiration. It sits on a mountain and can be easily recognized from all directions.  How you see it establishes your bering. Mount Monadnock does the same thing, you know where you are by the view of the mountain. In Italy I most often see Panicale from the road to Missiano. On the left stands the Gothic Town Hall with its towering bell tower. Facing it, on the right, is the church of San Michele Archangelo. Civic on the left, and religious on the right, sound familiar? I wanted to paint Panicale, but how could I without it looking like some tourist vision? Maybe I need to abstract it a bit?


Artistic vision is different. In general, deductive reasoning is not how artists interpret information. Instead of linear thinking an artists approach is more circuitious. The visual context is dismantled and reassembled spatially into a new configuration. It is like the visual arena is a puzzle that the artistic mind repurposes by forming abstract relationships. I'll try to explain.

My symbol for Panicale is a circle. The towns shape is an oval that rises circuitously to a peak and then down again. You walk round and round Panicale
 and never really come to an end. ( O.K., maybe at Aldo's for coffee.)
Sometimes you feel as if you are in an Escher print.


I start with the circle ( Heavenly, eternal ) and square it with right angles (corporal, earthly),
as Panicale's design is medieval, so is this.

Then, I bisect the square over and over. This is a medieval formula called the Armature of a Square. The convergence of three lines divides the square into thirds (blue lines)

I then remove the Armature and leave the horizontal lines that establish three planes ;the upper, middle and lower. Using the width of a third I inscribe a circle from the center.

This places the town and sky in the upper third, the wall and flowers in the middle and the cloth in the lower. Heaven and Earth are now aligned.

Hortensia, Panicale (in progress)
J. Aponovich
oil on canvas

The hydrangeas  (Amoskeag) from week 2 post , are doing double duty. I painted those "alla prima". After completing one flower for the Amoskeag painting I drew it onto this canvas knowing that I was going to change the color of the flowers, I applied a light underwash of red. The red will affect the color I apply and impart a little dazzle...I hope.

To be continued......


I have been drawing the east side pretty carefully. I know from experience that people like to see familiar buildings where they are suppose to be, but its a painting, not reality. As the old Town Hall is prominent in the Panicale painting, I made sure to paint Manchester's City Hall.

Monday, September 8, 2014


La Cucina ( detail)
James Aponovich
oil on canvas

People in Panicale garden where they can. Some are fortunate and own a private enclosed garden, others use windowsills, roof terraces or even doorways to grow the most amazing flowers.

Our friend Janelle  on her Panicale "garden stairs"

Perhaps it is the shade afforded by the ancient walls that give the plants some needed relief from the scorching summer sun. One of my favorite flowers is the Hydrangea, which Italians
 call Hortensia ( the "H" is not pronounced ). Nowhere have I seen them more luxurious than on the streets of Panicale, that is, until Elizabeth and I began growing them here in New Hampshire.

Study for Hydrangeas on the Amoskeag
James Aponovich
pencil on paper, 13" x 21"


New Hampshire is blessed with many lakes, rivers and streams. The major rivers provide the driving element that powered the mills during the Industrial Revolution. Manchester is the largest city and has always been a significant industrial center as the Merrimack River runs through it. When Beth and I were first married we lived in Manchester and our daughter, Ana, was born there.

It was in the early 19th Century that the falls, called by the Indians "Amoskeag" were dammed so power could be harvested for the mills. The Indians harvested Atlantic Salmon there, but the dam put a stop to that for two hundred years. Henry David Thoreau, during his epic journey up the Concord and Merrimack Rivers passed these mills as they were being built.

The city of Manchester, New Hampshire was built on the banks and is bisected by the Merrimack River. Simply stated, on the East  ( or left in drawing)is the commercial district, and on the West ( right) lies the residential  and religious  buildings. Much has evolved, now the city  hosts one of the great small museums of the Northeast, The Currier Museum.


Hydrangeas on the Amoskeag 
( in progress /detail )
James Aponovich
oil on canvas,  34" x 55"

The flowers you see here are cut from our garden. I first determine the grouping and then bring into the studio one flower at a time. It takes about one day to complete one flower. I paint those flowers directly onto white canvas with no underpainting. In Italian this technique is called "alla prima", or all at once.

The overall idea here is to funnel the viewers down the river so that everything converges on the center of the rectangle. To emphasize this the flowers form a loose "V" shape to counter the banks of the rivers inverted "V". The fabric will also repeat this...


so far, everything is about the surface, the obvious "stuff". It is what the Chinese call
"The Manifest". However, it is underneath in "The Hidden" where the real important elements exist. Let me try to explain.

The canvas is a "Golden Section" rectangle. It is  based on a numerical sequence codified by the Roman Architect Vitruvius in the First Century B.C. It actually dates back to the Greek Mathematician Pythagoras, but it is now called the Fibonacci Series.
You start with 1, then add 1 to get 2, add 2 plus 1 to get 3, 3 plus 2 to get 5, etc.
The ratio between the numbers remains the same as they get larger and larger.
1  1  2  3  5  8   13   21   34   55   89  and so on.
Remember DaVinci's naked guy with the outstretched arms (and other parts) ?
The same deal.


1 plus 1, well, that is a square, one side equals one side. So, I took two squares and overlapped them until I found the sweet spot, the Golden Section Rectangle. The size of the canvas is 34" x 55". You can find these numbers along side each other in the Fibonacci Series mentioned above.

Here are the two overlapping squares and the breakdown of the numerical sequence....
So what ! you say.

O.K. Now the left square is the East side and the right square is the West side. Where they overlap is where the flowers are. Plus, if I make two smaller overlapping squares
with the two sides ( not the flower part ) it delineates where the entire horizontal  stretch of the city and river are situated. This is called composition.
Now I have to paint "the stuff" and that is the hard part.

To be continued......

Monday, September 1, 2014


Calla Lilies : Lake Trasimeno
James Aponovich
Oil on canvas

Panicale is in Umbria, Italy. It sits on the side of Mount Petravella overlooking Italy's third largest lake, Lago Trasimeno. From Piazza Masolino one can easily see the lake as well as the Tuscan towns of Cortona and Montepulciano. Although Panicale has been inhabited since the Etruscans, it is basically a Medieval hill town. My wife Elizabeth and I found Panicale ten years ago , on a tip from our curator friend Kurt, while searching Umbria for paintings by the Renaissance Master, Pietro Perugino, and we haven't left yet.

The Vision of St. Bernard
Pietro Perugino
wood panel 
(originally in Santo Spirito, Florence, Italy)
collection of Alte Pinakohek, Munich

During our first visit we noticed that the sun rose at the same time as it does at home in New Hampshire, and looking at both places on a map, we realized that they lie on the same latitude, the 43rd Parallel, although an ocean apart. Perhaps it is the light, so like our own, that makes us feel at home in this small town so far away.


Umbrian Sunset

People always marvel at the light in Italy. The 19th Century Romantics said Italy's light contains an ethereal nature reflecting the numinous, maybe so, but practically speaking, Italy is a narrow peninsula jutting into the Mediterranean Sea with water on three sides. One is never more than a three hour drive to the sea. Could it be that the sun light bouncing off the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Seas saturates the whole countryside with a particular radiance? Or is it something else?........
Like being in Italy.

                        -Thornton Wilder

Mount Monadnock
James Aponovich
Oil on canvas

Peterborough is a small country town nestled in the Contoocook River valley, in the higher elevations of south western New Hampshire. It lies in geographical center of New England. It is often referred to as Currier and Ives Country due to its historical charm, and one mountain, Mount Monadnock dominates the area. The ancient Abenakis named it Monadnock, "the mountain that stands alone." It was the spiritual guardian mountain of the east. We live within sight of this beautiful and powerful symbol.
So begins the story.