When I visited Torino, I had a chance to have the best hot chocolate in the world. I dream of this hot chocolate, because it is not like the Swiss Miss stuff we have in America (that barely qualifies as hot chocolate). This hot chocolate known as cioccolata calda(or cioccolata in tazza) is a sort of thick, creamy chocolate as if one had melted a chocolate bar into a cute little cup. Genius! I recommend anyone visiting Torino to try this decadent treat!
Today I got caught in the rain. The previous days have been sweltering so I assumed I would have more sunshine. I have been sick for the last few days as well. Today I was feeling slightly better so I decided to go out to look at some shops. Only, instead of sunshine, I was caught in the rain without an umbrella. A sengalese man was walking around the streets selling umbrellas. He came up to me and asked “L’ombrello?” and I asked “Quanto costo? How much?” “5 Euro.” At this point it was a torrential downpour and I needed that umbrella. It was pretty crazy.
by Marissa Danielsen – studio art major
When I imagine her coming to Italy in the 1970’s, I imagine her gazing out of the window of a jet plane holding a book for a companion: Willem De Kooning’s drawings; his chaotic figures speak to her soul. The plane roars to life, angels into the air, taking Marsha Steinberg away from her native Los Angeles, to her new home in Florence, Italy.
It is 2012. I am in her apartment in Florence facing a wall filled with her paintings and etchings. They resonate with color and energy.
“Would you like something to drink? Like water or a coffee?” she asks me.
While she is in the kitchen, I examine her bookshelf. It is filled with art books: Andy Warhol, art through the decades, books on abstract expressionists. She returns with a glass of water. I am one of her studio art students enrolled in the California State University studio art program in Florence Under her guidance, all thirteen of us studio art students passed the entrance exam for the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze. We are attending the Accademia in courses of painting, sculpture or etching for the entire academic year 2011-2012. We have weekly critiques in our art advising sessions with Marsha at CSU that are lively, refreshingly honest and helpful. I volunteered to do an interview with Marsha Steinberg for Flo N’ the Go because Marsha represents what CSU studio art is all about.
She tells me about her life. In her early 20’s, she went on a vacation to Europe and she fell in love with Italy. This journey led her to choose the California State University System for its International Program over OTIS College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. At California State University, Northridge she took classes in painting, etching, drawing and ceramics, as well as a variety of art history courses. Marsha was also passionate about literature and political science. She tried to understand the political situation of Vietnam, gas rationing, and the formation of OPEC. Furthermore, she expanded her political knowledge by reading books on Marxism and other political and economic systems. Marsha has a love for poetry, English and American literature, especially for the greats such as Yeats, Keats, T. S. Eliot, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck.
At the time, she was the only student attending the Accademia from her CSU International Program. I begin asking questions.
When did you know you were an artist?
“I discovered I was an artist when I was 19 years old. I was passionately engaged. I remember vividly my first year at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze: I was in a big room by myself and I was painting a woman in different perspectives and combining the perspectives into a single form, then I began undoing the lines. I fell in love with it then and there. The teacher, who watched me paint, told another student to leave me alone and let me work. I was really feeling it at that moment.”
How did your parents feel about your decision to become an artist?
“My parents were afraid that I wouldn’t make any money as an artist. This is why teaching and painting are in perfect relation to each other. They provide inspiration and also a secure place in the world. I am very resourceful.”
Do you feel that by moving to Italy you were running to something or away from something? If so, what?
“Honestly, I was running away in order to find out more about myself and take a leave from my family. I was running away with 53 other kids to another country.”
Why did you become a professor?
“I am not the type of person who just works in a studio. I need to go out and mingle with people, relate with the world directly. I also wanted to combine my painting and etching with teaching young people. I wanted to teach them about how to express a personal vocabulary through art. But, not only that, I had a desire to learn more as well. When you teach, you also learn from your students. I wanted to be around minds hungry for knowledge, eager to learn new things, open to new ways of making art and especially to an Italian-European point of view towards making art – research. Then the expression of this investigation reveals itself in painting, etching, sculpture and drawing (and a multitude of other media forms).
When I started working at Il Bisonte, an etching school here in Florence, I was an assistant to Prof. Viggiano and Prof. Kraczyna. I loved it but I wanted to teach CSU students who had decided to come abroad as I did; students who wanted to enhance their artistic vocabulary by attending the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze. I got going by getting other people going. Something sparked in me; so I went back to school to finish my Master’s. I needed my Master’s to be able to open up the CSU Art Program again.
I organized a pilot program in 1989 to reinstate a relationship between the California State University and the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze. This program has been going on for 23 years and is the only American University program in Florence that collaborates with the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze.
This program was and is in my heart. I loved attending both schools here in Florence when I was in college. As a teacher, I wanted my students to have this wonderful opportunity to immerse themselves in a true Italian reality where they could meet Italians and international students and share their views with a new world. TheAccademia offers a completely different reality from the universities in the States. Each student, while continuing his or her undergraduate studies, works on a personal project, first researching an idea and then developing this idea or concept into a very personal body of work. The influence of all the art that Florence offers is of great inspiration to my students, as it is to me. The old with the new is a perfect combination. To study the old masters on site, digest them and let yourself learn to love them is what I did and I want to pass these experiences on to my students at CSU.”
What do you feel are the differences of being an artist in the States and being an artist in Italy?
“I don’t think there is a difference. An artist is international and feels and sees art everywhere in the world. The basis of today’s art comes from the past: Gothic, Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque, and so on, and they are all available to the artist here in Italy and especially in Florence.”
You’re familiar with the movie Midnight in Paris. If at midnight you could be transported to any time period, which time period would it be? Who would you want to encounter?
“Well, I mean if it were Midnight in Italy then of course I would want to go back to the early 1900’s and the 1920’s and meet Giorgio de Chirico, or the Futurists like Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Balla and Boccioni. I would also want to meet the Macchiaioli in 1865, the Italian Impressionists, Giovanni Fattori, Silvestro Lega, and Telemaco Signorini. I would also like to meet some great painters from the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods: Giotto, Pontormo and Caravaggio. If we are talking about the Rinascimento, then above all I would meet Piero della Francesca, I particularly love him because his paintings are sublime. He transcends beyond what we are looking at.”
Political climates: Do you think there is a parallel between the political climates of the 70’s and today?
“I definitely think there is a parallel. I come from the post WWII generation: baby boomers. When I was in college there was the war in Vietnam. We were the “flower children”. We were “hippies”. We were rebels. The generation of Vietnam, of rebellion couldn’t help but find itself within the new artistic tendencies that deconstructed and melted the forms, opened up the spaces, and refused to carry out the regulatory function of The Name of the Father as painters like De Kooning, Gorky, Rothko, Pollock, among others, did. Similarly, regarding quantum physics, a theory was developed “devoid of sense” to explain the strange behavior of electrons, as Richard P. Feynman says. Following this line of thought, Art invented the free gesture (as if it were chance contrasted against the necessary), the events, the performance, New Dada, Nouveau Réalisme, etc., as a renunciation to Western Hegemony and I am dealing with the recuperation of a re-presentation that relates to reason and to measurements. History repeats itself. In the art world, there was nothing guiding artists then and nothing guiding artists now. From the 50’s to the 70’s, Abstract Expressionism was very anti-establishment. Even today, art is very anti-establishment: look at Banksy’s appropriations. It is a return to subject matter but still anti-establishment.”
Is there anything else you would like to say to the young artists of today?
“Try to find a balance between chaos and stillness. If you go too much into the chaos, you could be easily led away by violent radicals like the ‘68ers. You need to find a happy medium. In those days, chaos fit me perfectly. The scream of Nietzsche (the need to have chaos inside oneself so that a star can be born) is what I was feeling. I was pure form and color. Now there is stability and ground but also energy. There is balance.”
What are you currently working on?
“I’m currently working on a series called Cattivi Maestri e Donna / Iniquitous Masters and Woman. They are appropriations of works of my art heroes with my own tweak, a woman in front of them gazing at the painting. It might be hard to explain but I’ll try. I believe that the artist is supposed to guide the viewer to see something; which is the perception of the artist, to guide the viewer to see. In other words, as my analyst Prof. Panaiotis Kantzas says, “to fulfill the function of the Father. After we have eliminated all Fathers: from God the Father up to the Father of the family,” I felt and still feel the need for the Father, who shows and reveals that which I am unable to see, as well as what I am unable to say. My heroes are the Abstract Expressionists, and looking back, they gave me a lot of things, but they did not give me everything. They taught me how to paint, but not what to paint. They took me to chaos and left me there. The woman in front of the painting is me. It is the artist who interrogates abstract art. And in her questioning, only with her presence, she adds something to the chaos: a question. I want these paintings to raise a question in the viewer’s mind on their own relationship to the work of art, the act of looking at art. There is a breakdown of separation between the artist and the viewer. It becomes like an infinity mirror. You look at the art and the spectator in the art, while you yourself are a spectator looking at a work of art. I wanted to do these paintings because they are difficult. Especially Rothko’s works since he paints nothingness.”
Why do you paint bulls?
“Often I went with my ex, Beppe, to a ranch in Maremma (south of Pisa) where bulls, horses and cows were raised and I was very interested in the bulls. I loved the stillness and their forms. A Bull is like a huge still life to me. For me it also brings up the idea of Greek mythology, the idea of Theseus and the Minotaur. The bull is an entity that brings us to the Minotaurs of Picasso and then to their simplicity: bulls without being Minos. The energy of the beast presented in its stillness. The bulls have the same energy as my abstract paintings: they felt like a manifested energy form. As Prof. Rolando Bellini says: “they are masses of physical forms of nature’s energy like rocks, mountains, enormous natural forms, etc.” I liked the challenge of including abstract forms inside and outside a large animal form.”
What do you want your legacy to be?
“Through painting, I want to transmit passion. I want to express the relationship between myself and my students and my painting and my students’ painting. I want to express the interconnectedness of everything. I want to be a guide for myself, my students and the viewers of my paintings. I want to raise questions and create a dialogue and not leave my viewers or students in chaos.”
Is there anything else you want to say?
“Yes. I want my new dialogue between myself, my past and present art heroes and master painters to be viewed, to become visible. I want to be and declare myself as being an artist who realizes the function of The Name of the Father.”
“Thank you Marissa. It was great fun and enlightening having this conversation.” Marsha
Just booked my flight for Florence. How surreal!
Last night in America.
here I am at the airport. it’s pretty awesome.
lots of firsts: international flight, first missed connecting flight, first time flying an overnighter. jesus. I must say that I love the French though. They are amazing people.
I got my luggage back! Amazing. I need to get a phone.
First few days in Florence.
Everything is going well so far. I’m just exhausted from exploring the city and the nightlife. I bought a cellphone for cheap and I set up skype. I don’t know when the best time for you is to take calls, just let me know….
looking for my first apartment – in Florence.
I have a home! – I finally got an apartment! Hurray! I’m not homeless. hahahaha
I visited the Accademia today. – I snuck in and walked around the courtyard. I will upload pictures as soon as I am able. It is SO BAD ASS. In other news, when I get a bike I’m going to spray paint it black and name it Balerion, The Black Dread.
I want to buy una chitara so bad.
I’m alive everybody, don’t worry. so i have been sick for the past week or so. it has sucked. sorry if i havent been posting my internet is shotty at best.
pigeons. we have a pet pigeon that visits our apartment all the time. he is a handsome pigeon. he is darkly colored grey and purple. his name is francesco. francesco and i are going to have a problem. you see we only have a tiny washing machine and a clothesline. clothes take quite a bit longer to dry than in a dryer. francesco thinks its funny to shit all over our clothes when they are drying. at first i thought pigeons were kind of cute in a stupid kind of way. now i think they are vermin with wings not as bad as zanzare/mosquitos that will eat you alive like tiny pireahana but still annoying and worthy of a vendetta.
today i walked aroumd the top of the duomo. it is open to the public for only one day… on mary’s birthday. words cannot describe it adequately. i felt very god like looking down on all of florence. tomorrow i go to siena and to casa di machiavelli. good thing i downloaded it to my kindle. tonight i shall be reading the prince.
today we went to siena. we saw the frescoes on the wall of the town hall. gold gilded beautiful frescoes. then i had the best pizza of my life for three euro and sat in il campo which is a seashell shaped piazza in which they have bareback horse races twice a year for il palio. i went to il duomo in siena. it was an overload of beauty. i had to sit down and not look at anything else. there are frescoes on the ceilings on the walls. there are mosaics on the floor. gold everywhere. jesus.
when you wake up still buzzed from the night before and your apartment is in a state of disarray with dead soldiers gleaming on the opposite table across the room from your still life which is perfectly intact and illuminated with the pure light of the tuscan morning sun as church bells call for sinners in the distance.
Going to Torino this weekend. Apparently they have a legit Egyptian Museum. Well, as legit as raiding the cultural treasures of other nations can get.
I saw some straight up dead people at the Egyptian museum in Torino. Not sure this is what the ancient egyptians thought of as an afterlife. I don’t know. You die and then your grave robbers stick you in a glass coffin and your mummified ass becomes famous several centuries after you had your heart weighed against a feather. I guess that’s life though.
Tomorrow I will be in Paris.
how many flights do I have to miss before I can just travel with minimal misadventures?
Went to the Louvre yesterday. Saw the Mona Lisa and the circus around her. A lady pushed me out of her picture with the Mona Lisa. Saw some Botticellis, Raphaels, Carravaggios, Delacroixs, some old ass greek and roman statues, some old ass egyptian statues and that was not even the whole wing of one floor of the Louvre. Also french is a difficult language and I cant even say hello correctly.
Paris is the best place take a walk when you have got a lot of things on your mind.
No tears. No fears. Hung out by Jim Morrison’s grave today. A man poured a bottle of champagne onto the grave. Cheers.
My painting class at the Accademia will be fun I think except for the fact that everything is in Italian. My brain already hurts. I hope the professor doesn’t think I’m stuck up because I haven’t been responding to her.
My Italian art professor silently smokes a cigarette behind me pondering my painting as I am working on it. What even is my life.
I would have made an 11:11 wish, but I am already in Florence having the time of my life.
I finally broke down and REALLY looked at a map of Europe. Geography is my new hobby. I keep meeting people from places I’ve never heard of.
So I figured out what four downward triangles on Italian ovens mean. It means you just broiled your apple pie.
my life is a series of misadventures.
my Italian professor caught me daydreaming in class today. It was the classic wubwubwub voice then “what do you think Marissa?” Epic failure on my part. I don’t think I am going to survive this grammar class. I can understand most of what she is saying. Grammar is just so BORING.
Idyllic meadows stretching onwards towards violet mountains. A ginko tree silhouetted against its own golden leaves. White and orange fish swimming in the crypt of a church. I really must be a pagan if I can visit the amount of churches I did this weekend and focus on those three things…
In Florence, if you see a redhead dodging vespas carrying a box ridiculously full of books… it’s probably me. In other news, I got a lot of books for free at the market.
Today walking in Florence I saw a dude that looked like a cross between Ludacris and Vladmir Lenin. I didn’t know whether or not to holla at the comrade.
in a coffee shop in Florence with a caffe latte in front of me and bookshelves all around me. yup just another day in the life.
life takes you strange places sometimes.
If there was a heaven it would look like the Boboli Gardens and I would be a lazy cat roaming around them. If there was a hell it would be a bookstore cafe filled with interesting books that are all in a language I don’t understand.
I’m feeling good. I feel like I could raise some hell this week.
A mistake in your grammar notes is a gift that keeps giving.
Perhaps absurdity is the proper reward for hubris.
That awkward moment when you’re listening to Giuseppe Verdi and you’re like “hey! it’s that one song from Looney Tunes.”
In the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. Cannot stop thinking about the childhood game of “the floor is lava.” Probably inappropriate.
As I hold my life’s work in my hands, I come to the profound realization that blue really is my favorite color.
Focaccia. Bread is not supposed to taste this good. This must be the work of the Devil.
I just wanted to say that among many things, Botticelli paints hands really well.
tomorrow will be the Art Olympics. How many canvases can I transport to the Accademia without being run over by a vespa?
Somedays I just can’t speak in any language.
Did I just explain how to do a math problem in Italian? You can bet your sweet ass I did.
nothing like having daffodils and tulips on your windowsill looking over the stone city of Florence. I have never before loved flowers this much in my life; with their absence they are sorely missed. Life is more beautiful with seasons.
home is not a place, it’s a state of mind
Dublin, you sure know how to treat a lady.
Spent some time in jail/gaol then frolicked under rainbows through green fields and finished up the night with shepard’s pie and a glass of Jameson. Just another Monday in Dublin.
drinking some holy water from the Vatican. this has really cured my hangover. pretty sure it’s a miracle.
these pictures awaken ancient memories
Always beautiful to see the sun rise in one city and set in the next.
greedily inhaling Dutch culture.
preparing myself for the coming of the sound and fury of Koninginnedag.
I’m all sixes and sevens and nines.
It’s raining outside and I’m lost in the storm cloud of my own thoughts.
I feel like a fish in water.
I need to call a lady about a dog.
champagne you are a cruel mistress.
I have the strangest luck sometimes.
2 days until my art show, 5 days until my final exams, 20 Days until I’m kicked out of my studio art for good, 40 days until my final exam for painting at the Accademia, 41 days until I start house-sitting in Rome, and exactly 70 days left of my Italian adventure, and 71 Days until I return to America a different woman.
It just feels like time is slipping through my fingers at an exponential rate.
how does one pack away an entire life-changing year? I’m going to need an armada of suitcases to haul back these memories.
empty chianti bottles. maps. ticket stubs. old boarding passes. receipts. loose change originating from separate continents. drawings and paintings scattered everywhere…
E’ sembra che non abitavo in Italia. E’ sembra che quest’estate e’ l’estate scorso. Tutto e’ ugale, ma tutto e’ differente. Mi manca moltissimo Firenze. Mi manca i profumi e i puzzi quando caminavo. Mi manca le stesse faccie italiane che vedevo. Mi manca la bellezza meravigliosa di Firenze. Veramente sono tanto tanto triste per partenza dal Italia. Non sono brava a dire arriverderci. Preferisco dire ci vediamo a dopo. Adesso rimango in California, perche c’e sempre una bellezza unica nel posto che crescevo.
The natural history museum in Florence. It is full of taxidermied animals and wax replicas of human anatomy. It is also infinitely creepy and fascinating at the same time. They have a lot of animals that I have never even heard of before. They also have a few extinct species like the tasmanian tiger and the dodo. I mean perhaps they would not have been extinct if those ones had been allowed to live but hey that’s how my brain works.
I got some good sketches of the creepy wax human figures. Basically think of it as a three dimensional medical text book bisecting and disecting the human body. skull overlayed with muscles. hands over layed with muscles. muscles overlayed with a circulatory system. the human heart broken into quadrants and then again six different ways. pieces of the forearm overlayed with muscle. a section of the spine. a full skeleton with only tendons overlaying it. muscle over laying a rib cage looking eeriely similar to cow meat or prosciutto or pork. I felt like I was at the meat aisle of a grocery store. but then again eating any mammalian animal is also like eating a distant cousin if one subscribes to evolutionary theory. I don’t know. Made me think.
Also saw some cool crystals they had for an exhibition. geometrical chaos. with colors. that are shiny. definitely happy I saw that. the malachite was out of this world!
After a week I have finally had a conversation with my Italian art professor. I have been avoiding her because I freeze up when I need to speak Italian. It’s kind of hard to even describe what I’m going for in a painting in English.
So basically, I’m painting the creepy old man in my dirty hospital dream. My bosetto (tiny reference sketch) was beautiful but I was having a difficult time recreating it on a larger scale. Besides that I am painting in acrylics because I have to paint larger scale this semester. Acrylics are cheaper than gouache/tempera. I have a tendency to destroy my brushes anyway.
I also like to just glob paint on my paper. As many colors I can come up with, I put on the paper. So I’ve been over working my paintings. My professor told me to choose two or three colors and then repaint it.