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Travellers Tales

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Woodford Arts Group member Ged Rumak explains his love of Venice and why he chose that city for his entry in the group’s travel-themed virtual exhibition

I have visited Venice many times on business and for pleasure. My first was in 1961. So, when it was decided that the Woodford Arts Group spring exhibition at Packfords Hotel would be titled Travellers Tales, I reached for my Venice sketchbooks.

Is there anyone who does not suppress a secret thrill on arriving in Venice for the first time, or returning after a long absence? People flock to the world’s most photographed and painted city from the four corners of the earth, but to arrive by train from the railway station is tantamount to entering a palace by the tradesman’s entrance. The only way is by boat from the wide expanse of the open sea or by one of the fast small boats from Marco Polo Airport.

The large skies and the halo of light reflecting on the lagoon as you approach the city are thrilling. There are moments when the light is perpendicular or extremely low and there are no shadows; the city seems poised in space and air in such a way that it seems a prismatic, unreal object of contemplation.

We seem to be racing towards a globalised future where differences between local customs, accents and peculiarities are becoming ever more blurred. But not so in Venice. Its pageantry, festivals, carnivals and religious processions are the heartbeat of this city.

Drawing is the basic grammar of painting. It is a language that can be learned by everybody. It is a teachable and crucial skill, a tool to help the artist understand the subject.

My sketchbooks included drawings of magnificent palazzos, views of the Piazza San Marco, the Doge’s Palace and various aspects of Palladio’s Renaissance masterpiece, the church of San Giorgio Maggiore. Other studies included views of ‘backstreet’ canal walls, domestic buildings, wells and working boats.

One sketchbook is filled with details of some of the 418 bridges that anchor the 116 islands that make up the city, and another with gondoliers skilfully laying the gondola on its side as they scull, giving them more control. In the past, Venice would have been impossible without the gondola weaving its way through the complex network, a never-ending maze of waterways.

I feel that in order to say something substantive in painting, it is necessary to really know the subject you are trying to portray. Not just the surface visual aspects but also something of the people, history and customs. This affinity with the subject becomes highly personal and evident in the work. My fascination with the skies, weather and architecture is driven by the light. Rain in Venice is a delight. It’s only the tourists who believe in the sun. The rain awakens the colour and the smell of the stones. And do they know it snows in Venice?     

I was progressing with two works for the exhibition when along came the pandemic. The Woodford Arts Group decided the event would continue, but as the Virtual Spring 2020 Gallery: Traveller’s Tales.

From news reports, Venice, glittering in spring sunshine, was eerily deserted. In an effort to catch the mood from what I could see and what I knew of the city, I painted a shadow on a wall of iconic Venetian brickwork, a passing gondola and gondolier (shown here). The second painting is of a lone cherry tree just breaking into early spring blossom in a Venice backwater near the Ghetto.   

Venice has suffered several plagues throughout its thousand years of existence, Covid-19 is just the latest. A sheer creative folly, a work of beauty that was desired and constructed by human beings. A totally unique city. If its many problems are not handled with thought and intelligence, I fear it may disappear.

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