Forty years ago this month, I set out from London as a teenager on my ‘grand tour’ that was to take me from art history studies at the British Institute in Florence to an archaeological dig in Herculaneum, via Magic Bus to Marrakesh and the Orient Express to Afghanistan. You could hitch a ride to the Orient with a stranger encountered outside the American Express in via Tornabuoni, where Ferragamo is now. It was a more innocent and optimistic time, when such exotic journeys were still commonplace.
As it turned out, I got no further than Florence. As it has for so many others before and after me, the city initially attracted me with its art, history, surrounding landscape and manageable size. Yet I, like others, stayed on because of a certain chemistry between all these factors and something more—a welcoming atmosphere and ease of living that opened up life’s possibilities, allowing us to develop creatively and as human beings. But just as my younger self was in the throes of a love affair with Florence, a Florentine friend asked, ‘Don’t you find the city claustrophobic?’ She herself had gone to New York to escape her hometown and open up her horizons. I did not understand what she meant at the time, but I discovered the pattern subsequently.
There is a dual impulse in the city’s history: the Florentines who were exiled or chose to leave who discovered their Florentine identity abroad, and the foreigners who have come for a brief period or a lifetime. Through their own journeys of discovery, the latter contributed, and continue to contribute to the city’s identity.
This is the theme of this year’s cultural programme at Villa Il Palmerino: Città dell’esilio, città dell’accoglienza (City of exile, city of hospitality). The Villa’s forthcoming exhibition of work by four women artists, Karine Falleni, Caterina Margherita, Lorraine Thorne and I, is called Coincidenze. It arises from the ‘coincidence’ that the four of us, who have not previously met and come from different countries, will all be staying and working at the Villa at the same time. For the Associazione il Palmerino, the exhibition’s organisers, there is also the common factor of the artist as a nomad, taking what she needs from different cultures as she travels, with Florence as a significant reference point in our respective artistic journeys.
I lived and had a studio in the historic centre of Florence for 15 years, and this affected both the space that my works inhabited and their subject matter, highlighting tensions between urban reality and the need for solace in the natural world. Also, the experience of being a foreigner pushed me to explore my own cultural and linguistic roots, combining text and image in my work. Karine Falleni, who lives in Arizona, pursued an interest in gesture and movement, first through dance and then as a visual artist. She explores the possibilities of line through graphite, paint and string and beyond the confines of paper and canvas. Caterina Margherita lives in Venice and creates site-specific installations that transform our perception of space; she also works in film. Lorraine Thorne is based in the United Kingdom and creates paintings with a powerful material presence through colour and texture that appear to be influenced by the experience of Italian landscape.
Appropriately, the exhibition, scheduled to open on April 14, will begin with the presentation of the book by Jane Fortune and Linda Falcone, Art by Women in Florence: A Guide Through Five Hundred Years. These two authors who have, at different times, made Florence ‘home,’ have contributed to our knowledge and understanding of the city’s cultural and artistic heritage through their persistent work, aimed at discovering and bringing to our attention the work of women artists present in Florence through the centuries.
These events continue Villa Il Palmerino’s long tradition of welcoming visitors to Florence and providing a space for the exchange of ideas. Under a previous owner, writer Vernon Lee, the villa was host to Henry James, Edith Wharton and the painter John Singer Sargent. More recently, two separate guests who were staying at the villa at the same time discovered that both their great-grandparents had ties with Vernon Lee: they were the philosophers Bertrand Russell and Rabindranath Tagore. So the dialogue continues across the centuries and into the present.
April 15 to 21, 2013, Villa Il Palmerino, via del Palmerino 10, Florence
Open daily 4pm to 7:30pm, and mornings by appointment by e-mailing email@example.com, free entrance. Exhibition opening with book presentation Sunday, April 14, at 4:30pm.