Monday, March 30, 2015


Still Life with a Basket of Fruit, Vegetables and Flowers
James Aponovich
Oil on canvas, 28" x 26"


Some things just never go away. Take the basket. The first decorations on pots from the Ancient Levant were reed baskets pressed onto the clay. It was if to say, "I know this pot is new technology, but it's function is the same as the basket, hold things." Now, you can buy plastic woven baskets pressed out in China.
Once a year or so, I feel compelled to paint a bowl or basket of fruit and I owe a debt to a painter I probably would not have gotten along with....


Boy with Basket of Fruit
oil on canvas, 1593

Caravaggio was the genius boy painter as thug, but that's another story for another time. Let's just say, we would call him 'troubled'. The hand that paints the painting doesn't always belong to the body that walks and talks.
Caravaggio began his career painting two things, portraits and still lives. He is reported ( although most of his 'reports' are through police records) to have said,"Good still life painting requires as much of his artistry as good figure painting." Good painting is good painting regardless of subject matter, a bold statement in the 16th Century when most artists were trying to procure large religious commissions.


Still Life with Basket of Fruit
oil on canvas, 1601

His is only known painting that is exclusively still life. It was probably a commission from Cardinal Borromeo. To the Cardinal, these were not just pieces of fruit they celebrated God's creation in their fidelity to nature. Also, in true vanitas tradition the blemished apple and shriveled leaves are reminders ( as if we need them) of mortality and the ultimate vanity of earthly things. So, my debt to Caravaggio is that he was in fact, the first Italian painter since the Romans, to pay serious artistic attention to the still life. Later today, I will raise a glass of wine to him......he would have liked that.

{week 30}
Copyright 2015 James Aponovich

Monday, March 23, 2015

THE EGG { il uovo}

James Aponovich
oil on panel, 3" x 5"

"We Serve Breakfast All Day"
                                       - Slogan on an American diner

Americans love breakfast yet Italians couldn't give a fig about it. (In fact a fig would be breakfast).
In Italy, It's an espresso and pastry and they're off. Italians would be just as confused with the vast array of breakfast foods in the United States as Americans are when confronted with a multi-course dinner at 9:00 at night. Parity is achieved. That being said, there is an American breakfast staple that plays a prominent part in the Italian culinary and linguistic repertoire.....

THE FRITTATA  {aka. The Omelet}

The Italian Frittata Glossary:

1.  "Frittata" :   a multi-car accident

2.  "Fare una frittata" :  To make a mess of something.
     "Faccio Una frittata"

3. "Rigirare la frittata"  :  To flip over/ to turn around an argument

4.  "Ormai la frittata e' fatta"   : By now the frittata is made / the situation is irreversible

5.  "Non si puo fare la frittata senza rompere le uova"  : You can't make a frittata without breaking the     
      eggs / To get the best results, you have to pay the price.


As number 3 says, an Italian frittata is flipped, not baked. This is a great luncheon dish or a first course dish.

Frittata di Cipolle e Formaggio
{ frittata with onions and cheese}

Beat some eggs with grated parmesan cheese. Pour into a heated pan with olive oil . Add sautéed onions. Cook until set. Slide the frittata onto a plate, cover with another plate and flip. Slide the frittata back into the freshly oiled and hot pan and cook until done. Place onto your best Deruta plate and enjoy!

{week 30}
Copyright 2015 James Aponovich

Monday, March 16, 2015


Florence ( in progress)
James Aponovich
pencil and oil on panel, 16" x 20"

Florence fears death by water ( the Arno), not fire. But, as the year 1500 approached Florence was swept with Apocalyptic fever, many feared the Final Days and Resurrection were close at hand. This was brought to mind as I applied a wash of red ochre ( curiously called Burnt Sienna), to my drawing on panel. The wash creates an overall tone and makes the surface easier to paint on. Back to Florence, then


Portrait of Savonarola
Fra Bartolomeo

His name was Girolamo Savonarola and he was born in Ferrara in 1452. Girolamo was an introspective boy, gloomy and pale with a large nose and piercing eyes. It was said that he fell in love with a Strozzi girl, the daughter of a Florentine exile. She firmly rejected him, he looked into the mirror and decided to dedicate his life to God, rigid austerity and sermonizing. he would have not made a very good dinner guest.


Fra Angelico
The Damned (detail)
San Marco

San Marco, interior

He became a Dominican monk and eventually ended up at
 San Marco in Florence, the City of God ( and the Medici's). He preached against what he saw as the physical excesses of the day and he proclaimed that God spoke through him to foretell the end of time. Thousands flocked to his sermons even though he spoke in a high pitched voice, heavy with Ferrara accent. They believed every word. He formed his own version of the Revolutionary Guard 
called the ' Blessed Bands'. Children in white robes and short hair would carry olive branches and red crosses and walk about the city collecting expensive clothing, jewelry, profane books and paintings ( the  Vanities) and build mounds of 'stuff' in the Piazza della Signoria and set it ablaze to singing and bell ringing ( the Bonfires). Even the painter Botticelli succumbed to the fervor and threw some of his paintings into the flames. Savonarola also condemned the Papacy for its rampant corruption. Rome was not pleased, in particular the corpulent and lascivious Borgia Pope, Alexander VI.

Fresco from San Marco
Fra Angelico

"Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come from miles to watch you burn."
                                              - Chinese proverb

Had Girolamo read this in his fortune cookie, he would have known his own demise was coming. The pope had excommunicated him and Savonarola saw and praised the invading French army under Charles III as the hand of God punishing the Italians. He was loosing his popularity, even his supporters turned on him. He was arrested, tortured and, along with two of his fellow monks, burnt to death in the same Piazza della Signoria where he held his Bonfires of the Vanities. Today, a plaque is set on the spot where he was exected. It is a strange sight to watch tourists walk over it, eating gelato.


Florence ( in progress)
James Aponovich
pencil and oil on panel, 12" x 20"

{week 29}
Copyright 2015 James Aponovich

Monday, March 9, 2015


Blue Hill, Maine

" You realize, James, " Barbara said as she cupped her glasses, as to emphasize her point, "You must choose, you are either Roman or Florentine, you cannot possibly be both."
I stared vacuosly into my drink and nodded. A cocktail party on Parker Point was a long way from Italy. I didn't have the foggiest idea of what she meant. At the time I had only been to Italy once and the closest I ever got to Rome was the airport. She had lived there for years! "Wh...what exactly do you mean by that?" I finally stammered in response. She backed off slightly, giving me a look that was part surprise and part benign dismissal. "Guess you'll just have to find out for yourself," she said turning to give her attention to another, more worthy guest. "Oh," I muttered.


James Aponovich
pencil underdrawing, panel, 12" x 16"

Q. Although I do not as usual read "blogs", I was advised to follow yours by my American colleague, Kurt ( whom, I assume you know). I cannot disagree in its interest, however, in reference to your depiction of the City of Florence, I was astonished not to find the Badia and Bargello. For what reason did you omit them?
                                                                                                     - Giancarlo A., Art Historian, Milan

A. It's not Florence, it's a painting ( I do not mean to be cheeky, refer to Matisse*)

* When Matisse was asked why he had painted a green stripe down the face of Madame so and so, he replied, " It's not Madame so and so, it's a painting!"

I admit that I have had a difficult time warming up to Florence. That does not necessarily mean 
that 'I'm Roman', but Rome is a Baroque powerhouse, full of ostentatious grandeur, spectacle and over the top flavor. Florence, on the other hand is a Renaissance city, prone to a certain somberness and restraint, attributes that I am well familiar with living in New England. However, there is something in Florence that literally rises above all else.

Santa Maria Dei Fiori

Duomo (detail)
James Aponovich
pencil on panel, 12" x 16"

Brunelleschi's Dome and Giotto's Bell Tower, together dominate the city. For the most part, as you walk the streets you cannot see them, turn a corner and they tower above you, all out of human scale like a leviathan breeching. I have always wanted to paint them.

"This is insane, this is insane!"
                                                                         -Tom B., Appliance Repairman, NH.

In the first light of the morning, I often draw at the kitchen island, my 'office'. I began a panel depicting Florence, after a sketch I had completed of the Duomo and Campanile from the top floor of Orsanmichele. It is pure fantasy, at that early hour, last nights dream cycle is easily conveyed into the buildings and streets of my imaginary yet real city on the Arno. When Tom, our friendly repairman was in the kitchen working on the fridge, he saw the panel on the island, picked it up, looked at it and kept saying, "This is insane..." Insane you say.... I'll show you insane!


The Fairy Fellers Masterpiece
Richard Dadd ( 1817-1886)
oil on canvas, 21" x 15"

Richard Dadd was a Victorian English Artist  contemporaneous with Lewis Carroll of Alice Through the Looking Glass fame. Dadd, however is not a recognizable name. In fact, even when he was alive he was referred to in the press as, "the late Richard Dadd!" I feel for him. This is his most well known painting, it was a commission of sorts and it took him some six years to complete, he had plenty of time on his hands.
The painting is quite small but utterly fantastic with every square inch crawling with minutiae. The scene is set with an erect woodsman about to split a hazelnut with his ax. All around are an hallucinatory assortment of fairies,  Spanish dancers, Lords, dwarfs, and one spectacular grasshopper blowing on a long trumpet, well worthy of Bosch.

(detail with grasshopper)

(detail with Woodsman and ax)

Dadd used to say that he would stare at a blank canvas until  forms started to emerge. Curiously, Leonardo da Vinci recommends throwing an ink soaked sponge against a wall and then observe the 'pictures' left behind, ever wonder where the landscape in back of the Mona Lisa came from?
Bt the way, the person who commissioned Dadd was the Warden of Bethlehem Hospital in England, what we now call Bedlem, Dadd was legally insane and spent the last forty years of his life there.


{week 28}

copyright 2015 James Aponovich

Monday, March 2, 2015


THE MANHATTAN  ( Via Brooklyn )

Manhattan Cocktail with Cherries
James Aponovich
oil on panel, 5" x 5"

During the 1940's my mother lived for a while in New York City. Her favorite cocktail was, fittingly, the Manhattan, Rye Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth, Bitters and of course a cherry. It was and still is a noble drink, strong and balanced. When the war ended and she returned to New England to raise a family she softened quite a bit to the point where once a day she would drink something 
called a "Cape Codder"...hardly a cocktail. It reminds me of the Lobsterman, Dale from Bucks Harbor, Maine, dumping vodka into a Diet Pepsi and looking at me with a grin
 and saying, "My attitude adjuster, deah."


"After you've made your Manhattan. add a cherry only if you're hungry."
                                          -Brad, Mixologist

"Come on , Brad!" I would bet that most of humanity, when they order a Manhattan and it comes without a cherry? Long faces and deep disappointment! But, really, what for? Most cherries you get are insipid, overly sweet, bland and cute! They are better served as a photo op on an ice cream sundae or in a painting ( like, above). But, there is the real deal out there and I came across it where else, Italy.


That cute little red ball we know as a Maraschino cherry derives from a wild cherry called the Marasca. It grows on the Dalmatian Coast and the Veneto region of northern Italy. It is small, dark and a bit disagreeable but in the right hands it is cultivated into quite something.

Luxardo* Maraschino

* A raising of the glass to Frank W., of The Parker House, Boston.

The cherries are made into a clear liqueur normally sipped after dinner. The Italians also like to wash fresh strawberries with it. Whole cherries are immersed in Marasca syrup, tiny  but intense. This is the cherry for cocktails.


NO, I'm not talking about the Barclay Center, sbagliato is a difficult to pronounce word in Italian that means error............ I have to use it a lot.
As part of my research, I was reading Straight Up Or On The Rocks, The Story of the American Cocktail, by William Grimes, former restaurant critic for the New York Times. Much lore with a splash of confusion. His version of the Manhattan is a 3 to 1 mixture of Whiskey to Vermouth with a dash of bitters...cherry optional!
It was then I came across the Brooklyn cocktail, which includes a dash of Maraschino Liqueur, Yes!
I couldn't wait until 5:00 pm to arrive, however, in my haste and inattentiveness I misread the recipe. It calls for Dry(French) Vermouth , not Red (Italian) Vermouth. "Santo Cielo!" I had already poured red,so waste not, I made a 'Brooklynite' into a Manhattan with Maraschino, I know its a bit over the top but I'm sticking with it. Its a full figure Manhattan.


MANHATTAN ( William Grimes)

1 1/2 oz. Rye or Bourbon
1/4 oz. French (dry) vermouth
1/4 oz. Italian (sweet) Vermouth
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1 Maraschino Cherry (optional)
Shake in ice, pour

BROOKLYN ( Grimes)

2 oz. Rye or Bourbon
1 oz. French (dry) Vermouth
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1 dash Maraschino Liqueur
Shake in ice, pour (no cherry)

or if you can't pronounce that

3 parts Bourbon ( I use Woodford Reserve)
1 part Italian (red) Vermouth (Punt e Mes)
1 dash Angostura  Bitters
More than a dash of Maraschino Liqueur (Luxardo)
2 Maraschino Cherries ( Luxardo)
Shake in ice, shake some more, pour

{week 27}

Copyright 2015 James Aponovich