The Good Life

For most of us, our commute to and from work usually involves sitting in traffic staring at the snaking queue of cars in front of us, getting stuck at every red light or sitting on whichever toy the children or grandchildren left behind after a hectic school run that morning…

Alan Painting in Todi, Umbria
Alan Painting in Todi, Umbria

For Alan and Susan Reed however, their commute to work was becoming increasingly longer as they racked up air miles from their home in Ponteland to Rome, Florence, Umbria and seemingly everywhere in between. Sipping espressos en-route to pick up their hire car and head off (quite literally) into the hills of Italy’s unspoiled countryside became the norm for internationally-successful artist Alan Reed and his business partner and wife Susan.

A selection of sketchbook studies by Alan Reed whilst on-location


Thanks to the success of Alan’s unique watercolours of various Italian locations and landmarks (referred to fondly as The Italian Collection), Alan jetted to Italy at least twice a year to gather research for commissions and new paintings to add to the collection with his tried and trusted collection of handmade Italian sketchbooks on hand to gather reference. The autumn of 2007 saw Alan return to Italy with wife Susan to gain reference for a number of commissions he had been contacted about. Flying to Pisa in the October of 2007, Alan and Susan picked up their hire car and headed to Chiesa Pagano – a beautiful hilltop villa nestled in the Umbrian valley.

As far as business trips go, Alan and Susan certainly made the most of theirs – sampling the fresh, local cuisine served in nearby restaurant agriturismo Calagrana – a 19th century farmhouse serving “lost dishes” of traditional Umbrian cuisine and comforting classics such as asparagus served with poached egg and drizzled with white truffle oil, or baby goat with seasonal vegetables and fresh tagliatelle.

Commission near Panicale, Umbria
Next stop on their trip was the Niccone Valley, a lush green hilly area dotted with restored private farmhouses, luxury villas and apartments where Alan sketched the incredible home of an interior designer. With one more appointment to make on this week-long trip, Alan and Susan headed to the medieval town of Panicale which overlooks Lake Trasimeno on the border of Umbria and Tuscany. They were here to meet a gentleman called Michael Box to discuss a commission of his home which nestled in the grounds of a large olive grove.

Alan and Susan had booked to stay at the historic Villa LeMura and arranged to meet Michael and his family at nearby Albergo Ristorante Masolino. Run by two brothers – one with a penchant for wine and the other desserts – Alan and Susan enjoyed a wonderful meal here before taking a trip to The Abbey of Sant’ Antimo, a beautiful Romanesque church, in a picture-perfect setting just south of Montalcino in southern Tuscany to gather reference for another commission, this time of the church.

Sant' Antimo, Tuscany

Sant’ Antimo

 

San Antimo
San Antimo sketchbook watercolour for commission

Fast forward a year and Alan and Susan were off again, this time to Papiano, a tiny village tucked away in the Province of Perugia to stay with Ian and Barbara Harrison whom had invited them to see their holiday home in the hope that Alan could paint it for them.

 

 

The couple still vividly remember how quickly they slipped into the local way of life – sipping espressos at the coffee bar across the street in the warm autumn sun, or buying cheese and fresh vegetables from the piazza as they chatted to the locals.

The Cheese Van, Papiano
The Cheese Van, Papiano

As Alan headed off to paint on-location, Susan thoroughly enjoyed immersing herself in the Italian way of life, cooking typical Italian dishes from scratch just like she had in her twenties with dear old friend Nai while living in Venice.

 

Sketchbook watercolour of Papiano

After two days at Ian and Barbara’s beautiful apartment in Papiano, Alan and Susan made a beeline for one of their favourite hotels – the Relais il Canalicchio whilst in the area to say hello. One of the unexpectedly lovely bonuses of being invited to Italy for commissions of particular landmarks or locations meant Alan and Susan were able to broaden their knowledge of Italy’s tourist-dense areas, but also the more suburban areas and uncover authentic hidden gems and beauty spots. Unknown to them at the time, this “local knowledge” would come in exceptionally handy when the couple launched their Reedart Painting Holidays in Italy some years later.

Papiano Commission
Papiano Commission

Fortune favoured Alan and Susan that day, and as luck would have it the hotel had a fantastic deal on offer, so they made the spontaneous decision to stay for a few extra days here instead of heading elsewhere to meet up with Alan’s old school friends David and Val. Naturally Alan and Susan loved showing David and Val the sights – stopping by Casa San Gabriel in Umbria to introduce them to owners Chrissie and David whom they had become very close to and driving to some of their favourite nearby hilltop towns for a leisurely lunch, glass of wine at a bustling wine bar or fabulous evening meal.

Both trips were not only productive in terms of helping Alan gain new reference to grow his Italian Collection of paintings and seek inspiration for his commissions but also wonderfully fruitful for both Alan and Susan in terms of relaxation and exploring new places off Italy’s well trodden tourist track.

A Foodies Paradise

Touching down in the beautiful Côte d’Azur, Nice in March 2005, Alan and Susan picked up a hire car and headed an hour’s drive away across the borders to Liguria – also known as Italy’s Riviera for a week-long trip of research and getting reference.

The couple had booked a space at the hugely popular La Dolce Vita event in London (a three day event hosted by Italy magazine aimed at promoting all things Italian) later in the spring, so their trip to Liguria would be a fantastic research opportunity for Alan to sketch and add to his collection of Italian paintings which he would be showcasing at the La Dolce Vita event. Despite its reputation as a jewel in Italy’s coastline, Alan and Susan arrived in Liguria on a dull, grey rainy day.

Corso Palladio, Vicenza by Alan Reed
Corso Palladio, Vicenza by Alan Reed

They had decided to book a hotel once they arrived, giving them more freedom and scope to explore the area but with the weather being so bad they decided to drive to their next destination and see whether they could check in at their hotel a few days early.

As luck would have it, heading straight to Alba turned out to be the best decision they could have made… Stopping for directions on the way, Alan and Susan were told “you will eat well” in Alba, and they certainly did! Alba is known for its slow food movement – no fast food culture grows here, but instead an appreciation for seasonal, organic local produce.

As Alan and Susan would discover, there were no menus in Alba’s Osterias. Instead, you were served what was seasonal and fresh that day – like pizza topped with deliciously soft stracchino cheese which is unavailable to buy in England due to its quick sell-by-date.

The food in Alba was unlike anything they’d ever eaten before…

The couple still vividly remember one favourite Osteria Sognatori in Alba where they were treated like old friends and served a culinary feast of antipasti, salami, cheese, pasta and ravioli to start, before moving on to a main of meat and fresh vegetables served with local wine. Finishing their meal with coffee and the customary grappa, Alan and Susan were amazed to find the whole meal at Osteria Sognatori cost just €45.

Tommaso' vineyard in Veneto
Tommaso Bussola vineyard in Veneto

Alan and Susan spent the remainder of the trip in the Piedmont region of Italy driving to nearby hilltop towns of Bra, La Morra, Neive, Mango and Nebbiolo, stopping to visit their hotel owner’s vineyard in Barolo in between and sampling some fantastic local produce to bring back home.

Picking up salami and cheeses at various other stops on their trip, Alan and Susan were taken aback by the beautiful scenery in the Piedmont region.

 

Six days of adventure passed all too quickly and it was time to head to the airport via Liguria and Monte Carlo – but not before Susan stopped a local fisherman to ask where they might find the best seafood restaurant in Noli, Liguria to enjoy one last fantastic meal here.

 

A sketch from Alan's sketchbook of the beach at Liguria
On the beach at Noli, Liguria – by Alan Reed

 

Sketchbook watercolour from the couple's trip to Alba, Piemonte
Sketchbook watercolour from the couple’s trip to Alba, Piemonte titled: “On the way from Mango to Stephano Belvo”

With a sketchbook full of reference of vineyards, street scenes, rich Italian landscapes and a head full of memories of bustling streets lined with wine bars and friendly locals who “never get English people here” – Alba was not yet on the tourist radar, but Italy enthusiasts Alan and Susan had certainly discovered a true hidden gem.

 

Fast forward from March to September 2005 and Alan and Susan were packing their bags for Italy once again. Thanks to an influx of incredibly cheap Ryanair flights during this time, there was no excuse not to, and so the couple booked to stay at La Mason, a complex of apartments near Verona.

Landing in Bergamo, they headed for the Veneto along the motorway following La Serenissima, once an ancient trade route between Venice and Milan. They spent 7 days exploring the area. Travelling off the beaten tourist track,  Alan and Susan also discovered one of the most incredible seafood restaurants they had ever eaten at.  Said to be a favourite of one of the famous Formula 1 champions, they were in good company as they dined at Il Tenere where the owner, an enormous hulk of a man sat down in front of them and asked them what they wanted. Instead of being presented with menus, they were treated to an incredible meal of fresh fish and local wine.

Alba and Veneto

Such is the life of an international artist,  Alan visited the historic towns of Marostica, Asolo, Asiago, Padua and Vicenza on this particular research trip.

Providing him with an abundance of reference for a forthcoming exhibition, the trip was also a perfect opportunity to meet up with their old pastor Paul in Marostica and Alberto Brazzale, the publisher whom they had met a year earlier in Rome.

 

Working on location, often battling against quickly fading light conditions gave Alan’s work a painterly sense of immediacy and energy. Painting directly with his paintbrush using watercolours rather than pencil or charcoal gives Alan’s work a truly distinctive style enjoyed the world over – from their gallery in Ponteland to London’s La Dolce Vita and even at the airport in Italy!

 

Alan Reed artist sketching in Veneto
Alan sketching on location in Veneto

Alberto and Tommaso
“We try to make two working trips to Italy each year, every trip is different and deepens our love affair with the country.”

From the very first Italian Collection of paintings assembled on his very first trip to Venice in the early 90s, to an ever-expanding collection over ten years later, Alan Reed Art had certainly seen The Light when it came to focusing on Italy as a collection of paintings, not least because it meant jetting off to Italy for research purposes, painting on location and getting to uncover some memorable hidden treasures, but more on that later…

 

 

 

 

 

The Grand Tour…

Flanked by sprawling vineyards, olive trees and succulent lemon groves; Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake and an area of such outstanding natural beauty that it makes almost everyone’s to-do list when planning their sightseeing adventures across Italy.

Limone, Lake Garda by Alan Reed
Limone, Lake Garda by Alan Reed

Alan and Susan first visited Lake Garda on a week-long trip with two friends, Bob and Heather in September 1999. Though not a research trip, unlike their previous trip to Rome to discuss the possibility of showcasing Alan’s ever-expanding Italian Collection of paintings, Lake Garda proved to be a bountiful source of inspiration for Alan – none more so than the popular beauty spot Limone, situated on the North West shore of Lake Garda in Northern Italy.

Hiring a car for the day, Alan and Susan drove to Vicenza in Northern Italy – a city off the beaten tourist track but one bathed in history and splendour nonetheless. It was on this trip that Alan and Susan had the opportunity to meet up with old friend and Pastor Paul Finch, his wife Elaine and his family whom she was close with whilst living in Venice several years previously. The trip was a chance for Alan and Susan to explore more of Italy’s history and heritage together, providing Alan with a unique source of inspiration for his collection of Italian paintings which remained hugely popular both in originals and Alan’s new limited edition series of prints.

Florence from Piazza Michelangelo by Alan Reed
Florence from Piazza Michelangelo by Alan Reed

Fast forward to the long-awaited millennium and Alan and Susan were preparing for another trip to Florence to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Their plan was to hire a car whilst there and visit Siena, a city in the centre of Tuscany dominated by magnificent medieval architecture and true Italian spirit. Alan and Susan had booked to stay at the beautiful Hotel Paris in Florence  on this trip, just a stone’s throw away from Florence Cathedral and the city sights – a perfect way to celebrate their  7th wedding anniversary.

Alan and Susan’s love for Italy has only deepened over the years, especially after these early years of exploration – in sickness and in health the couple have made wonderful, lasting memories. Susan remembers spending much of their trip curled up fast asleep in the back of the car, as she was beginning to suffer from kidney failure.

A husband and wife team through and through, Alan remembers one day in particular during their trip to Siena in which he pulled over and sketched by the side of the road in San Gimignano as Susan slept soundly, resting in the back of the car. Having caught sight of local workmen burning olive branches, a painting he would later complete known as Burning of the Vines.

Burning the Vines, Tuscany by Alan Reed
Burning the Vines, Tuscany by Alan Reed

The couple’s adventures across Italy provided Alan with some fantastic references for his popular collection of Italian paintings – along with wonderful memories sitting people watching in busy piazzas, relaxing by the shore of Lake Garda and impromptu sketching of some truly unique, real scenes of daily life in Italy.

It was a buoyant time for the young family, and for the Alan Reed Art Gallery back in Old Eldon Square too. Despite Susan’s ill health, the couple made the best of a bad situation and squeezed every last drop out of life – unsure of what the future would hold…

A New Frontier

The business of art is conducted much like any other commercial venture, in which something is bought, sold, or traded, yet a work of art is not a commodity in the ordinary sense of the word…

For artist Alan Reed, who regularly showcases his work through exhibitions in galleries across the world and in a permanent space in his home in Northumberland, it wasn’t until an opportunity presented itself in 1996 as part of the Arts Council’s “Arts 2000” project which sought to celebrate the artistic achievements of artists across the country from 1990 to the year 2000 that Alan considered the business of selling his art and a new commercial venture.

It was an exciting time for all involved as the year 1996 was “won” for the North East by the regional art association Northern Arts. Bringing together the counties of Cleveland, Cumbria, Durham, Northumberland and Tyne & Wear, the region prided itself on listing more than 3000 exhibitions, events, commissions and residencies from March until December 1996. It was during this time that Eldon Gardens approached Alan about potentially installing his artwork in a “pop up” style gallery in their busy shopping mall.

Reedart Holidays in Italy

For six weeks, an empty unit within Eldon Gardens was transformed into a hive of activity – attracting shoppers, art lovers and tourists to the region, resulting in a phenomenally successful month of sales for Alan Reed Art and a boost overall in the community’s interest and perception of art. As the six weeks quickly drew to a close, Alan and Susan discussed the idea of opening a gallery full time within Eldon Gardens, having been inspired by the Arts Council’s initiative.

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With its crisp white walls and striking black exterior, neither Alan nor wife Susan could have imagined what the future had in store for the “Alan Reed Gallery at Eldon Gardens”.

As the gallery flourished, Alan and Susan decided it was time to take another trip to Italy, this time to explore the idea of meeting a printer/publisher who could help promote Alan’s artwork across Italy – an idea inspired by the success of his Venetian themed artwork in an earlier exhibition “A Tale of Two Cities” at the Malcolm Innes Gallery in Edinburgh.

Reedart Holidays in Italy
A watercolour 14″ x 10″ painted “en plein air” by Alan of the market at Campo di Fiori in 1998

The couple arranged to meet with a gentleman in Rome, whilst staying at a hotel in Campo de’ Fiori in Rome to discuss their idea. After two hours’ discussion, the couple had lots to think about and the week away spent exploring a new Italian city gave Alan the opportunity to sketch and further build his portfolio of Italian-inspired artwork.

Having browsed various shops and markets for art to bring home as a souvenir of their trip, Alan and Susan were surprised to discover there were very few original paintings or prints they could buy, instead choice was limited to old engravings or amateur watercolour paintings sold for the equivalent of a few pounds at the local market.

Reedart Holidays in Italy
Alan and Susan enjoying supper with Susan’s old friend Maria Rose and her family – a snapshot of a typical Italian family meal and wonderful memories for the couple.

In a twist of fate, Alan and Susan got into conversation with a couple from the South of the UK at the airport on the way home, who shared their frustrations that they couldn’t find any original artwork or good quality originals of Rome to take home as a souvenir. Laughing that he actually had some sketches in his luggage, the couple promised to visit the new Alan Reed Gallery in Newcastle and take a look.

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True to their word, the couple they met in the airport did pay a visit to the gallery and buy a print from Alan’s ever-expanding “Italian Collection” of paintings which also included scenes from Tuscany, including San Gimignano, Siena and Florence.

Reedart Holidays in Italy
Alan’s much-loved painting of San Gimignano Limited edition Print

What Alan and Susan soon realised is that they’d spotted a gap in the market for high quality paintings or sketches of Italy, and so Alan met with his printer Di Rollo whom Alan had worked with to publish his paintings of Edinburgh from 1993 onwards.

Di Rollo spotted some of his Newcastle scenes in the Malcolm Innes Gallery in Edinburgh and the pair began chatting about the best way to create a series of limited edition prints from his original artwork to solve the problem. Giclée prints* had not yet become the popular, mainstream way of printing or reproducing original artwork as they are today and so the pair decided on a lithographic method to reproduce the prints.
*(Giclée prints were a revolutionary new way of accurately reproducing paintings, drawings or artwork and has become very popular with artists wishing to sell their art to a wider audience.)

With the new gallery flourishing, his mind swimming with inspiration from another insightful trip to Italy and an exciting new distribution opportunity in the pipeline, 1996 was an exciting chapter in the story of Alan Reed Art – and one that continued right up until 2002 when Alan and Susan decided to relocate the Alan Reed Gallery back to their beautiful home in Northumberland.

A Tale of Two Cities

Venice…

Moonlight shone brightly on the gently rippling waters of the Orseolo Basin, illuminating a shoal of gondolas tied together for the evening; a picture-perfect scene young artist Alan Reed would later capture during his stay at the historic Hotel Cavalletto on the family’s long-awaited return to Venice in 1994.

His watercolour study of the hotel itself was bought by one of the North East’s most renowned opera singers Graeme Danby, signalling the beginning of something special for the 14 paintings Alan painted on this return trip to Venice.

La Gondola, Venice Limited edition Print
The view from our hotel gave us a wonderful view of the gondolas berthed for the night in the tiny canal below. The sweeping composition gave the impression of them being like a shoal of fish darting through the water.

Staying at the Hotel Cavalletto for three days before moving on to Marghera in the suburb of Venice to stay with Susan’s friends Franca and her family, it was here Alan began to entrench himself in the Venetian way of life, often stealing himself away for a morning’s painting by getting the bus into Venice at 7am before returning for lunch at one o’clock on the dot – an Italian custom. The pace of life in Venice can be wonderfully sedate as Susan Reed knows to well, who went from rushing into town on the bus for the school run to waiting patiently to be sailed down the Grand Canal in a Vaparetto.

A scene from Alan’s pocket sketchbook filled with mementos of Venice

Reedart Holidays in Italy

Reedart Holidays in Italy

Day trips to fair Verona, morning service at Chiesa Evangelica di Padova and boat trips to beautiful Burano to see its famous coloured houses, to Treviso and the coastal town of Chioggia with wife Susan and two children Louise and Oliver provided Alan with an abundance of inspiration for his artwork and fond memories for the young family.

Squeezing as much sightseeing as they could into their fourteen day trip, Alan’s mind raced with visions of this enigmatic, unique city on his return

Edinburgh…

A city famed for its iconic architecture and the next big city to his home in Newcastle, Alan would often find himself on a train heading north and spend the day exploring Edinburgh and capturing its timeless beauty in his pocket sketchbooks….

Capturing the hustle and bustle of the crowds of Christmas shoppers on Princes Street on a late winter’s afternoon, or the dappled sunlight that bathes the old stonework of the Grassmarket, Alan’s artwork proved very popular with tourists and residents alike. Given the couple’s love of Venice, it’s no surprise that the Valvona & Crolla Ristorante and Deli in Edinburgh became one of their favourite restaurants to visit during their frequent trips to Edinburgh. Scotland’s oldest Delicatessen and Italian Wine Merchant; their visits were a dream come true for Susan who could buy fresh fruit and vegetables flown in from Milan that morning and pick up gourmet goodies that the family used to enjoy whilst living in Venice.

Alan Reed
One of my favourite paintings of the city of Edinburgh which captures the hustle and bustle of a late winter’s afternoon on Princes Street. Carefully laid out washes create a sense of depth and light. Limited edition Print of Princess Street, Edinburgh

The relationship between Edinburgh and Venice goes back to the 18th century when Edinburgh continued to expand rapidly. The medieval part of Edinburgh, now known as the Old Town was no longer large enough to contain the city’s rapidly growing population. A solution to the problem was sought in the form of a public competition inviting plans to develop the city. The young architect James Craig won – his plan being an elegant Neo-classical development located to the north of the castle. Building work carried out between 1767 and 1830 became known as the New Town and was noted as a huge success. The result was one of the most attractive cities in the whole of Europe, and Edinburgh was soon dubbed the “Venice of the North”.Reedart Holidays in Italy

A Tale of Two Cities 

A chance meeting with his father and his father’s agent during a trip to Edinburgh later led to an exhibition of his work titled A Tale of Two Cities at the Malcolm Innes Gallery, Edinburgh in 1995.

It was here that Alan drew upon the similarities between Venice and Edinburgh, two very distinctive cities in terms of architecture, but both equally as unique and enigmatic as one another.

Showcasing his series of paintings from his trip to Venice a year earlier and some of his most popular Edinburgh street scenes the exhibition remains one of Alan’s favourite exhibitions he has curated throughout his career.

As the exhibition opening date drew closer, Alan had planned to invite guests to a preview evening – only for their plans to be interrupted thanks to a postal strike, meaning very few people actually received their invitations to the event. In a twist of fate, this is when Susan joined the business and suggested they schedule an exhibition of the paintings in their home for those who didn’t receive their invites in time. Working tirelessly to call customers past and present, design new invitations and organise the event – A Tale of Two Cities part two was the start of a truly special working relationship for the couple, and an opportunity for families to reconnect as Susan reconnected with her father’s cousin Dr Alan Rutherford who was working in Edinburgh and spotted Alan’s artwork in the Malcolm Innes Gallery!

As their story unfolds, Venice and Edinburgh continue to be two cities that define Alan’s artwork. Featured in various publications and exhibitions, Venice and Edinburgh are enjoyed the world over…

City Church Portraits by Alan Reed

City Church Portraits by Alan Reed

Tyne and Wear annual Heritage Open Days programme.
Coinciding with the launch, will be the unveiling of 22 oil portraits of church members, painted from life by artist Alan Reed who works from his Studio and Gallery in Ponteland, Northumberland.

The launch event will take place at the listed CastleGate building in Melbourne Street, Newcastle on 9th September at 7.30pm All Welcome.