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En plein air, a British struggle and passion by Michele Del Campo

_MG_9343 ENGLISH: Last Friday I had the pleasure to paint from life with Haidee-Jo Summers and Adebanji Alade, such a high level there, for a very enjoyable afternoon of work and chatting. We took a couple of models to the sides of a canal that didn't look as picturesque as we decided it to become on canvas, and that is the beauty of improvisation: you don't need to go too far away to find inspiration, any small spot with some interesting colour or pattern could become a nice background for the models, in fact this place was convenient for us because it is just outside of my studio building, The Chocolate Factory. Having grown up by the Mediterranean sea, I still find that England is too difficult a territory for en plein air painting, if one is looking for strong lighting contrasts coming from the direct sun and needs to work over more than one day with the same conditions. In fact the best thing to do in here seems to be either avoiding the ephemeral sun completely, in order to be able to work over several days with similar lighting conditions, or, in those lucky bright days, to leave everything aside and rush to do a painting in just one quick session. In this case we had a typical variable weather, with sun, wind and clouds alternating, a very difficult condition to capture. It was difficult also for the models, who stoically resisted most of the times the temptation to adapt their clothing to the abrupt changes of temperature. Nevertheless it is always fulfilling to paint from life outdoors, and England is perhaps still the homeland of the plein air painters, and those painters that sometimes we encounter in our Mediterranean countries working in the streets are especially foreigners, many Anglo-Saxons among them, of course!

ESPAÑOL: El pasado viernes tuve el placer de pintar del natural con Haidee-Jo Summers y Adebanji Alade, para una tarde muy agradable de trabajo y conversaciones. Pusimos dos modelos a posar a lado de un pequeño canal, el cual no parecía tan pintoresco como lo pintamos todos nosotros en el lienzo. Esa es la belleza de la improvisación: no se necesita ir demasiado lejos para encontrar inspiración, cualquier lugar con ciertos colores o formas se puede convertir en el perfecto fondo para los modelos, y de hecho este lugar lo elejimos por comodidad, estando justo fuera de mi estudio, The Chocolate Factory. Habiendo crecido a lado del mar mediterraneo, tras varios años viviendo en Reino Unido todavía pienso que inglaterra es un territorio demasiado difícil para la pintura al aire libre, si uno busca los fuertes contrastes de luz que la luz directa del sol origina, y si uno necesita trabajar en esas mismas condiciones durante más de un día. De hecho, lo mejor que se pueda hacer aquí es evitar el sol por completo, porque es una condición demasiado efémera, si se plantea hacer un cuadro que dure varios días y se busca por ello una condición generalmente estable. Otra solución sería la de dejarlo todo en cuanto salga un día afortunado de sol más o menos estable, pero completar la obra en el mismo día. En nuestro caso, tuvimos una típica sesión variable, con viento, nubes e intervalos de sol, unas condiciones difíciles de capturar para los pintores, y también para las modelos, las cuales resistieron la tentación de adaptar su ropa demasiadas veces a las variaciones de temperatura tan bruscas. Y sin embargo, inglaterra quizás sigue siendo la patria de la pintura al aire libre, y en nuestros paises mediterraneos los pocos pintores que se ven pintando en la calle son sobre todo extranjeros o turistas... Muchos Anglosajones entre ellos, claro!

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My next painting by Michele Del Campo

I'm working on a new painting that has taken me many studies and a long research for reference material in scrapyards. I ended up finding what I needed in a visit to a scrapyard near Valencia, in Spain. Now the final sketch is almost definitive. I will start the painting next week and, after all the amount of work in sketches and research for this, I really look forward to enjoying the painting process.

"La pelea", the process by Michele Del Campo

My paintings have a complex construction most of the times and here I show an example of how I use my reference material to convey the visual idea that I originally have in mind. Sketches are the first and most important stage of the creative process, they are a dialectic research inside one's own resorces. Sketches do not only fix visual thoughts on a permanent support but also catalize their development from the stage of an abstract concept.

Photography is the following stage, the skecthes become now my guide towards a richer source of reference. Nevertheless, photography also contributes to develop further the initial idea, as they confront one with reality, which has to be tackled with a more adaptive approach.

The next stage is working out the composition through a rough elaboration of the photographic references, which can be many and from various sessions.

Finally I take the brushes for the real painting. Here I re-interpret and re-adjust the information that I extract from my rough photographic composition giving it the intention that comes from my original idea. I can also change completely the appearance of some character if I need (in this painting, for example, the central character, the guy that struggles to start the fight, appears also on the right hand side, leaning against the wall, but I changed his appearance).

This is the original reference material

Variations in life drawing by Michele Del Campo

My weekly life drawings in my studio are becoming quite varied, and variation is an element that inspires change and development, important things that nurture creativity.

Professional ballet or salsa dancers, performing twins, comparisons between the clothed and the nude bodies, costumed recitals of great literature pieces and belly dancing performances are among the treats that I am introducing in every new session.

At the end of every session sometimes we have normally one or two longer poses of 20 minutes each and I take the chance to sketch with oils on scrap canvases or watercolour sketchbooks. Here you can see some of them:

New photos in Valencia by Michele Del Campo

I am an individual artist, I don't have a team work and a big budget so I have to rely on friends, improvisation and creativity to find what I need as a visual reference.

Only one month after my previous journey, I went back to Valencia in the middle of February, as I still had in mind some good ideas and locations for a photo shooting with Carles and friends.

I went well prepared with a precise idea of what I needed, after my previous visit to Valencia and many sketches studying the scenes. The chosen location was a bridge on the peculiar Turia old river bed, which now is a park that stretches along the old city walls (the water has been diverted from the city after the Big Flood of 1957). The dried bed of the river has left large, imposing bridges under which pedestrians can go by. If I give these bridges the right atmosphere in my paintings, it can be ideal to host scenes of dark, gritty and desolated urban environment, which will be a common feature in my next solo exhibition "Journey of no Return".

I needed several male and female characters with a fairly rough look idling about under the bridge, a couple of nice looking girls with an upper class appearance and a scooter, possibly an old Italian Vespa. Sometimes the air had to be tense and the anger tangible among some of the characters, creating a sharp contrast with the two upper class girls passing by. Carles and friends had to play the role of the rougher young people, while the beautiful sisters Carla and Alejandra had to be the more elegant girls.

The difficult bit was to find an old Vespa, in fact, looking around in Valencia, I realised that this is a very rare scooter nowadays. However often I have inexplicable strokes of luck and just the day before the shooting, in front of my flat's door, while I was entering after my unsuccessful search, a guy with a beautiful and curvy red Vespa from the Sixties came to stop just beside the door. Javi is his name and he is the owner of "La Oveja Negra", a quality restaurant and tapas bar near Plaza Xúquer. He at first liked the idea, so very kindly accepted to take the Vespa to the shooting and even to pose with the others.

I start my project "Journey of no Return" by Michele Del Campo

Finally I have begun to convert my sketches and ideas into photos that will be my main reference for my next painting project which, with many probabilities, is going to be named "Journey of no Return". After several months of thinking, doubting, processing raw ideas on paper, reading, looking at new references, experiencing real-life situations, I have come up with this new solo exhibition project which will show a darker side of the reality, in comparison with my previous paintings.

For a couple of paintings I had to look for a disused rail tunnel to use as background and, after a long research, I found just what I was looking for. It was a challenge to overcome the bourocratic obstacles that I found on my way everywhere I asked for information, help or permissions. I understood that I had to do it all by myself and try my luck. I researched, traveled, spotted the railway tunnels and found the prohibited way in: it was impressive, a tunnel filtered by the light through a series of magnificent arches.

It requiered a dose of courage and daring to organise the shooting there. I arranged everything the same day (and night...) that I found the tunnels, also thanks to the help and availability of four good friends who would be my models the next day. It was a greatly enjoyable experience for all of us and I was amazed at how they all took the shooting so seriously, also challenging the weather in one of the coldest days of the year. Three of them had no previous experience before a camera but I could not have found better "actors" to stage what my sketches only vaguely suggested.

Drawing the nude by Michele Del Campo

Life drawing is an indispensable practice for the artist, it enhances our ability to see, understand and create. Since the first official Accademia was created in the XVI Century by the Carracci brothers in Bologna (Italy) drawing the nude, activity commonly named "life drawing", has always been a central discipline for any aspiring artist.

Since I started studying arts I have never stopped practicing life drawing because I know that the quality of my work depends on the quality of my drawing. Even when using photographs as a reference, knowledge of the human form is essential to "fill the gaps" and go beyond the poor bi-dimensional reference. Lifeless portraits are the result of mere dependence on photography and poor knowledge of the features in real life.

Nevertheless it is as easy to build up drawing skills as to lose them in periods of inactivity. I can spend months without painting after a solo exhibition, when I am in search for new inspiration, and soon my ability to put visual ideas on paper suffers from lack of practice. I always compare it with sport: if you stop doing it, you will have difficulties starting again and will be out of shape. This is why I always try to do life drawing especially when I am not painting.

Life drawing in my new studio by Michele Del Campo

Since I came to London, in the beginning of 2008, I have been trying to go to places where I could draw the nude. Sometimes they were far from my house, sometimes the models were always the same and I would get bored, sometimes the classes were too full of people, sometimes too empty and they disappeared after a few weeks. But as soon as I decided to look for a bigger studio I started to cultivate the idea of using my space to host weekly life drawing sessions that I would organise myself.

That way I could not only be comfortable in my studio and have models coming over every week, but I also could create a social environment inviting friends artists and make the practice of drawing an enjoyable experience to share with them.

The idea worked out very well, also thanks to the help of my friends who continue bringing new artists. We gather every Wednesday night in my studio to draw all together, normally we are from 6 to 10 people. When we finish we go out to have a drink and talk, after all we are in Soho, there can be no better place to create a social meeting point.