Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Academy of Carlo Pittore

When we moved up the coast to Woolwich from Sanford in 1988, which was an hour and a half drive, I had to stop attending the weekly Wednesday night sessions with The North Berwick Drawing Group. I sorely missed it - it was so hard to move! But I soon received a postcard from an artist named Carlo Pittore, inviting me to come draw at his "Academy" out in Bowdoinham. This was the start of a wonderful friendship. Carlo was a real character - his given name was Charles Stanley, which he changed when he was an art student in Italy after the children there followed him around, calling, Carlo, pittore! (Charles, the painter). Carlo was talented, energetic, quirky, loud, theatrical, funny, irreverent, smart, determined, hardworking, loving, and eccentric. He was an admitted Italiophile, saying, "Italians do everything with love." He dressed in the red and green of the flag of Italy, and painted with red and green. These were his favorite colors. He was handsome, too - looked a bit like Robert DeNiro, but much happier. Carlo loved to laugh, and he had a great laugh - very distinctive. I can hear him now - he started off with a loud enunciated triple "HA."
HA! HA! HA! then he repeated that a few times, HA! HA! HA! He would fade a bit: ha! ha! ha! but then he would keep going, ha!ha! ha!, ha! ha! ha!, ha! ha! ha!, on and on, laughing to himself this way for several minutes, way beyond what seemed like the normal amount of time to laugh about anything.

I could write a book about Carlo, as could any one of his huge multitude of friends. He founded the Maine Union of Visual Artists in the 70's and was at the hub of the Maine Art scene for years. Along with Ray Johnson, Carlo was one of the founding members of the Mail Art movement which attracted artist friends from around the world. Carlo died three years ago of cancer, leaving behind a gaping void in the art community.

For years Carlo held figure drawing sessions in his studio which was housed in what had once been a chicken barn in Bowdoinham. When I first met him he lived in a yurt that was situated about a quarter of a mile back in the woods behind the barn, part of a commune of yurts that had been there since the 60's and inhabited seasonally by Bowdoin College students. Carlo's studio at that time was very primitive. He had an oil drum wood stove, a hotplate, and a sink with cold water. There was no bathroom, just a roll of toilet paper by the door that you could take into the woods if needed. Carlo had all his clothes stored in this space as well, hanging on racks in the back room, because his yurt was too small for anything more than the bed, bookshelves and wood stove that completely filled it. I remember visiting Carlo at his yurt and seeing his "bathroom": there was a small mirror nailed to a tree, and below it set a washbowl on a tree stump, along with an olive oil can that held his shaving brush, comb, and razor.

Carlo also had a small apartment in NYC, and in the early 90's he sold that apartment and renovated the barn in Bowdoinham, making a new upstairs studio and an apartment for himself downstairs. It was still a very humble place (he wall papered his kitchen with the red and green labels from tomato cans!) but it felt quite luxurious after the yurt experience. Carlo told me that he made the decision to do the renovation one sub-zero winter night after falling off the roof of his yurt. He'd been up there fixing the chimney pipe when he lost his footing, and lying dazed, on his back in the deep snow he realized that he could die out there and no-one would know it!

So I attended many, many drawing sessions at Carlo's over the years, in the old studio, and in the new one, with Carlo's beloved opera blaring in the background. Carlo had no "day job." He painted every day. I don't know any other artist who worked as hard or as consistently at his art as he did. And if you showed up to draw, there was no fooling around. "We're working, people!" was his war cry. After our sessions, Carlo would often whip us up a batch of his signature pasta made with lethal amounts of garlic. Leaving his studio late on those cold winter nights, our breath could melt a path through the snow.

I will write more about Carlo later. Here are a few of my figure studies from those early years in the old studio.

Regan, 1990
pastel, oil and charcoal on Rives BFK, 22" x 30"
private collection

Male Torso/Yellow Studio, 1989
pastel, oil and charcoal on Rives BFK, 22" x 30"
lost in studio fire

Christian, 1990
pastel, oil and charcoal on Rives BFK, 22" x 30"
lost in studio fire
Matthew in an Italian Undershirt, 1989
pastel, oil and charcoal on Rives BFK, 22" x 30"
lost in studio fire
Matthew, 1988
pastel, oil and charcoal on Rives BFK, 22" x 30"
collection of the artist


Anonymous said...

Hi, Martha. What nice memories of Carlo. Few people have had such a lasting impression on me as he did. We were privileged to know him and to have been considered his friends.

Your paintings are beautiful.


martha miller said...

Hey, Ron!

Glad to hear from you! Yes, Carlo does have staying power!!! I am writing more about him today. He was a dear man.

take care!