I’m back from my stay in Salzburg, Austria, where I was at the Summer Academy for three weeks. Each residency experience I’ve had has been unique, and this time abroad was no different. For all the positive things about being away in a new environment to create art, without the distractions of daily life at home, there are also things that I’ve found hard about doing residencies. Maybe it’s the lack of familiarity of daily life, and having to navigate a new city in such a short amount of time, where you are still a tourist but need to function and work day to day as well. There is also a sense of isolation that can be inherent in residencies.
Salzburg is a small city, but while I was there, it also coincided with the Salzburg Festival, one of the largest classical music festivals in the world, and a few days after my arrival, the city was teeming with tourists. The Summer Academy is also located in the Festung Hohensalzburg, one of the main tourist attractions that sits high above the city. Every morning I would have to cram into a packed funicular to go up the steep hill to my studio in the walls of the fortress.
The site of the Summer Academy offered spectacular views of the city and its surrounding mountains, but it also was up on the top of a very steep hill that was in the middle of a large tourist attraction. And the summer tourist season was in full swing while I was there. I was struck by the sheer number of tourists in such a small city, of the bus loads of people going on The Sound of Music tours, women around walking in traditional dirndl dresses, and families being taken around in horse drawn carriages every ten minutes. It was slightly surreal.
My time in the studio was spent mainly working from life models – we had two models that worked with us for the entire day, for three weeks straight. When I first applied for the Summer Academy, I was unsure what the structure of the studio time was going to be. It was described as a course about life painting, but also sounded like a residency with free time to pursue your own projects. When I arrived, there was a mix of artists there, from complete beginners to professional artists, and while this was interesting in some respects, it was also frustrating in others. The model poses were often too short for me to paint from, as I had brought my oil paints with me, and many of the more inexperienced artists rushed through their paintings well under an hour and wanted to move onto the next pose.
So I spent the first week or so, working on quick sketches, to loosen up my hand and get back into drawing from the nude body. But this grew tiresome, as I did not want to continue this for the entire time I was there. I thought back to previous self-directed residencies I have been on and decided to treat this the same way, and to try to find something about where I was, in this new environment, that I could work from.
And that’s when I thought about actually being in Salzburg, and my experience of it, in the height of summer. The Sound of Music is not very popular with Austrians, but there were so many large tour groups of foreigners, including sing-along bus tours, that took people to see where they filmed the movie. And tourists dressed up in dirndl and lederhosen wandering the streets, mixing with locals dressed up in fancier versions out at the opera. It is a bit hard for me to imagine what the city is like without all the tourists, as I imagine it is much more tranquil and quiet, surrounded by the green mountains in all directions. The other thing I noticed about Salzburg, and many other cities in Europe, is the colour of the buildings. Unlike in North America, where you get houses and buildings in every colour, it seemed like a very restrained palette of pastel peaches, creams and yellows in Salzburg. And of course, the main reason I was in Austria was to be at the Summer Academy, working from the life models, and with the short time frames available for me to work from, I decided to focus solely on the arms of the model.
And so I created these oil paintings, drawing from the mountains I could see out in the distance, wrapped in the colours of Salzburg, where “the hills are alive”. I worked on primed linen that I had brought with me, and I intend on mounting them onto board now that I’m back in Vancouver. I haven’t decided on the background yet but I don’t think I will leave them white. A flat colour perhaps. The work is still unfinished. Working in oils can be limiting, as I’ve learned from past residencies, I need to leave enough time for the paint to dry so that I can take the work back with me without damaging the surface. And in the end, I felt good about the work that I created, and that it can lead to further explorations here in Vancouver.