John Updike once said, “The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.” West Branch painter and longtime East Coast loyalist, Giovanna Cecchetti, recently traded the crowded skylines of New York and New Jersey for the uninterrupted vistas of California and proves that even a true New Yorker can find serious inspiration in the beauty of the “best coast.” We’ll be sharing occasional updates from Giovanna’s creative endeavors on the Pacific Coast here on the blog! You can always follow along on Giovanna’s personal blog here.
Driving California… Or How Life is Going 3,000 Miles From “Home”
It’s been four months since my arrival on the west coast. Coming to terms with being in a locale that is so very different from where I’ve spent the majority of the past twenty years has challenges I had not expected. First, the spaciousness is mind-blowing. A positive challenge indeed. Compared to the density of the NYC tri-state area where sight lines are measured block-by-block, the experience of being surrounded by distant vistas gives me the feeling of being a much smaller person — like one of those Alberto Giacometti miniature existential-people walking sculptures, which are so tiny Giacometti would carry them in a matchbox in his pocket. Whenever I’ve had the opportunity to see one these sculptures in person, on exhibition, the tiny figures always seem to make the space surrounding them feel so much greater. When I now walk across the neighborhood street and the terrain is a field of tumbleweed desert, with a middle distance view of rolling foothills, and even a further distance view of 10,000 ft. snow-capped Mt. Baldy, I feel small. So very small. I’m used to walking down a city block where proportionately, my size felt in right relationship to that environment. Now I’m tiny. And ungrounded…but developing anchor points.
Feeling ungrounded is a bit unsettling for me. I, whose favorite color toenail polish is red and whose feet have traversed miles of New York City pavement with firm connection to the concrete covered earth. On an initial visit to a chiropractor here in Pasadena I complained of this ungrounded feeling. “Well, you know.” she said “California is not like the solid bedrock of New York! The ground under your feet is always moving here; that’s why people in California are so floaty.” A week earlier, around 10:20 pm, I was reading before sleep when my bed began to shake side-to-side. Items on shelves and tables were all vibrating. A 4.3 earthquake with an epicenter about thirty miles away, in the Lucerne Valley, was reported. Now I keep an earthquake tracker on my iPhone.
Freeways and “I love not having to pay tolls.”
Facing the inevitable: If I want to get over to Los Angeles to see Brice Marden’s new paintings I will have to drive on a freeway. Three weeks went by before I could gather the courage to drive through the Cajon pass on CA 15. Southern California is all about driving through mountain passes, valleys, another pass, another valley and so on and on. Breathtaking scenery; tempting distraction. Everyone here complains about the traffic! I’ve found traffic not to be so bad. Relatively, a drive into Manhattan fifteen miles from the Paterson, NJ studio used to average sixty to ninety minutes. From Apple Valley I drive eighty miles to Pasadena and the average time is seventy to ninety minutes. Which is the better deal? And no tolls!
Studio-less…yet the magic art-making medicine continues.
My heart broke a little when I had to interrupt work and pack up the new series of paintings I began in 2015 for the studio move. Once I unpacked the paintings here, I found it necessary to take some time so as to re-acquaint myself with them. I’ve now begun to resume work on these paintings, but I can already feel the spaciousness of the desert environment having an effect on my visual perception regarding space and the picture plane. Somehow I know a different kind of space will emerge in future paintings. I’m not sure what it will look like but I can sense what it will feel like. The California “space and light” movement, so historically important in SoCal, had to happen because one is daily bathed in space and light here. How could this not be reflected in the work of artists’ experience of California.
I may have coined a new term. Beautiswoon. Swooning from beauty. This is what living in California is like to me so far. And I’ve only experienced a small percentage of the state. So I am comfortable in my shared little house in the desert, which demands little responsibility, so I can wanderlust and beautiswoon through the western terrain. I’m not sure where a new studio will eventually take place for me. Exploration feels right for now.
Text and Photographs Courtesy of Giovanna Cecchetti