The Portrait of a Lady [Umbria]

We are very happy and honored to host for the second time on our blog an interview to an artist who has represented our region in her art-works.

Like Terry Bhola, writer, we had the pleasure, first to “stumble on” and then to stay in touch with Jenny Smith on the social media, exacly on Facebook, under the common interest that is Umbria.

I was so impressed by Jenny’s works on Umbria when she posted some pictures of her paintings on her Facebook profile. I loved the way Jenny has painted my home-land, the bright colours and especially the different shades of green.

Therefore, “easy” as the social media are, I simply asked her if she would like to be interviewed in this blog, which she very kindly­ accepted.
Another exciting “2.0 moment”

Jenny Smith was born in England and moved to America in 1984. She has been painting professionally for over 20 years and lives with her husband Douglas Campbell Smith, who is also an artist, in Bend, Oregon, where they have their studio.

Jenny tell us why you ‘dropped’ in Umbria.

Doug and I had been travelling and painting in the UK and Cyprus since we got together in 1987, but on the strength of a fellow artist’s suggestion we decided to visit Italy in 1999. We rented an old house just outside Cortona for three weeks and had a wonderful time painting and exploring the towns in the immediate area. Although Cortona is in Tuscany it is very close to the Umbrian border and Lake Trasimeno. We both fell in love with the small town of Castiglione del Lago where we painted the view over the lake from the town walls (using these walls as a support for our paper and paints – very handy!) We also discovered Citta della Pieve a unique little red brick town not far from the lake that is billed as ‘the city of art’ and although we couldn’t find the art galleries we were expecting we enjoyed a stroll around the narrow streets. Another time we perched ourselves on the edge of a field of vivid red poppies and painted. It was fortunate that we did this because driving by two days later we saw that they had gone – ploughed in by the farmer.

“Castiglione del Lago”

Everything we saw was enchanting and we were smitten, but our time in Italy went by far too quickly. On return trips to Italy since then we have rented apartments in various areas of Umbria and have enjoyed the diversity of the landscape. During this time we have also explored the Trasimeno area more thoroughly and have discovered the other delightful small towns and villages that are dotted around the shore. One town we are particularly fond of is Assisi with the pale rose tinted stone buildings that have featured in our paintings. We have stayed three times at an artist friend’s accommodation that is in the hills above the town. The landscape gets pretty wild and rugged up there and Doug has painted 2 paintings inspired by the views.

The hill town of Todi was another discovery that we found when we were staying close by just outside the town of Marsciano. We had a brief visit in the early afternoon but of course the shops were closed at that time and it was very quiet. We returned to have dinner in a restaurant over looking the valley below with friends and enjoyed seeing the nightlife in the town when we all strolled to the local gelatiera for a cooling dessert. The place was full of happy young people – so nice to see after observing some of the behavior elsewhere in Europe. Apart from Assisi, which has many visitors because of Saint Francis, we have found Umbria to be a refreshing change from Tuscany, where quite often the crush of tourists can be overwhelming. And this large volume of tourists can introduce an element of commercialization. But in Umbria where there are fewer tourists there is still a sense of authenticity and we both find this very refreshing.

What inspired your works on Umbria?

Almost everything I look at in Umbria inspires me! I love the buildings, the landscape and the flowers, especially the brilliant red poppies. The possibilities are endless – I could spend years painting that landscape and never tired of it.

Regarding your paintings, do you paint on canvas or do you use other materials?

We always travel with watercolour paints and paper as well as sketchbooks. Painting or sketching on location is very satisfying and the results are more direct and spontaneous than painting in a controlled environment. I paint my large-scale works in acrylic on canvas in the studio using the photographs I have taken as a resource and this can be a very pleasurable experience – especially when we are in the midst of a freezing cold Central Oregon winter!

What artists do you feel connected to?

I admire many artists but I don’t really feel connected to anyone in particular and if I tried to list all of them I would run out of paper! But just a couple of names that come to the forefront of my mind are David Hockney and Squeak Carnwath. I don’t think I need to explain David Hockney’s work here, as he is well known, but Squeak does not have an international reputation. She is from California and is known as a West Coast artist. She paints large abstracted canvasses that include personal elements such as icons and words with obscure meanings that are hard to interpret. Visually I find them very powerful.

“Assisi Bean Flowers”

What would you call your style?

I have never tried to adopt a style of painting because I think it is important to let your work evolve naturally – and so I find it difficult to categorize what I do. At the moment I suppose you could call it ‘painterly realism’.

Which of your artwork pieces on Umbria is your favourite?

Although I am very happy with my paintings of poppies from the Assisi area I would have to say that ‘Assisi Bean Flowers’ is my favourite. It features the pink bean flowers that were growing in a field below the town. I was delighted when I saw these and I think it makes for an unusual painting.

How do you feel while you are painting in Umbria?

I feel very happy when I am painting in Umbria. I love being surrounded by such exceptional subject matter, I love the peace and tranquility of working quietly with just the sounds of nature (and the odd church bell ringing) to accompany my observations, and I even love the drone of agricultural equipment chugging up and down the fields and the voices of the workers that accompany them.

What is the best thing about being an artist?

There are many good things about being an artist but the one that really makes me so happy is the knowledge that I have created something completely unique. I start work on a blank canvas or piece of paper and when I have finished something exists that wasn’t there before – and I am entirely responsible for that. This is a wonderful feeling!

Jenny and Douglas in Umbria

What advice do you have for artists coming to Umbria to paint?

I think booking a vacation rental is a good idea. You have the space to work on paintings and hopefully some good things to paint in your immediate surroundings. When travelling around you can be spoiled for choice as far as beautiful views go, but it can be difficult to find a suitable place to position yourself and your equipment when you find something that appeals to you. Choosing an apartment or house with a garden and interesting views means you can work from ‘home’ at least some of the time.

Where can we find your paintings, Jenny?

Both Doug and I have our work in The Portland Art Museum’s Rental Sales Gallery in Portland, Oregon as the profits from painting sales there benefit the museum, but we really prefer to work directly with buyers. It’s hard to let a painting go off to someone you haven’t met – I always feel like a part of me has gone into the painting and I like to know it will go to a good home! People can visit our studio, by appointment, and our work can be viewed on our web site

Pictures of the paintings and the artists in Umbria copyright Jenny Smith

Posted in GUEST POSTS.